Watch in disbelief as gold smugglers launder $40m of Ghana’s gold every month.

Ghana has been mining gold for over a century, but the communities where it is extracted are a glaring example of the country’s poverty index. The lack of infrastructure, including poor road networks, and chronic unemployment, especially among the youth, have left the country with little to show for its precious metal resources.

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On March 23, 2023, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit broadcast the first episode of a four-part series on gold smuggling in Africa called Gold Mafia. The first episode focused on Zimbabwe, but Ghana also featured prominently.

One of the main characters, Alistair Mathias, told undercover journalists posing as Chinese criminals that he could smuggle $40 million worth of gold out of Ghana every month. He is just one smuggler among many.

The activities of gold smugglers in Ghana are well known, but there is little information on effective state action to curb them. While occasional arrests of suspected smugglers occur at the Kotoka International Airport, they generate little interest among the population, and the media’s coverage of the court cases is limited.

Evidence suggests that Ghana is losing billions of dollars from gold smuggling. In addition, illegal miners, known as galamsey, have polluted water bodies and destroyed farmlands across the country.

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According to a 2017 Ghana Business News article, an estimated $2.3 billion worth of illegally mined gold left Ghana in 2016, while the country earned only $3.2 billion from official gold exports in 2015. This suggests that illicit small-scale mining (galamsey) accounts for over 70% of all gold production in Ghana.

Last year, at a public forum organized by the Media Foundation for West Africa, Mr. Abdulai Bashiru Dapilah, Head of Organized Crime and member of the illicit financial flows unit of the Ministry of Finance, indicated that investigations by the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO) on eight gold exporting companies in Ghana for the period 2019 to 2021 found a total of over $1.1 billion illicitly flowed out.

An investigation by Ghana Business News found that five Ghanaian gold exporters, some with no identifiable office locations, contributed to Dubai-based Kaloti’s $2.8 billion gold deals.

Ghana’s economy is in crisis, with public debt exceeding sustainable levels, and the country has defaulted on its debts.

The government has been forced to seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international partners to secure a $3 billion extended credit facility. Meanwhile, as the Al Jazeera investigation shows, and according to allegations by the former Minister of the Environment, Prof Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, government officials are colluding with smugglers and illegal miners to steal the country’s gold.

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