Here are the key takeaways from the investigation into Southern Africa’s biggest gold and money laundering operations.
A four-part investigation by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) has revealed a series of gold smuggling gangs in Southern Africa that helped suspected criminals launder hundreds of millions of dollars, getting rich themselves while plundering their nations.
The Gold Mafia investigation shows why the precious metal is so valuable as a way to turn dirty cash into sparkling clean, seemingly legitimate money for those with large amounts of unaccounted wealth. They do so by using a complex web of companies, counterfeit identities and fake documents.
The investigation also exposes the involvement of high-ranking officials from Zimbabwe in smuggling and money laundering, which help the country get around the crippling grip of Western sanctions. And it identifies the global nature of these crimes, in which gold smuggled from one nation could end up in the form of cash deposited in offshore accounts of front companies halfway across the world.
What Alistair Mathias said about Ghana and the U-turn
From the 11th minute of the 1 hour :13 minutes investigative documentary, Alistair Mathias, a gold trader said to be a designer of money laundering schemes for African leaders is introduced in the documentary.
“There’s no head of state or president that either of us [Mathias and his team] can’t get to on this continent. Next door in Swaziland, the king is a close friend of mine. Zambia’s president is a close friend of my friend. DRC Congo, the president has invited me several times to come and build a refinery,” he said.
Unknowing to him, Alistair Mathias, a Canadian man, also described as a financial architect in the documentary, thinking he was meeting with Chinese businessmen seeking to launder money from Africa, was rather meeting with undercover reporters from Al Jazeera, who had posed as the Chinese businessmen.
It was during that meeting that he boasted and alleged he had a relationship with many African leaders and mentioned the President of Ghana as well.
Alistair Mathias said that his work has given him access to every president or head of state on the continent.
Speaking in the final of four episodes of the undercover investigations of gold smuggling in Africa by the Investigative Unit of Al Jazeera, Alistair Mathias, who is one of the main characters in the video, boasted about his relationship with African leaders.
“Ghana’s president is a good friend of mine. In fact, he was my lawyer. Cyril Ramaphosa here; I know him. I know his kids,” Mathias bragged at the meeting with the undercover reporters posing as Chinese businessmen.
Alistair Mathias’s U-turn about Ghana
However, after the undercover investigation and when Aljazeera approached Alistair Mathias he made a U-turn on knowing Ghana’s president.
Before the conclusion of the Al Jazeera video, it stated that “Mr Mathias denied ever being awarded any tender by the Ghanaian government or entering into any government contracts in any African country.
“President Akufo-Addo of Ghana told us [Al Jazeera] that he had no recollection of acting as a lawyer for Alistair Mathias or his company.”
After his meeting with Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters, according to Al Jazeera, “When asked for a formal comment about the findings of Al Jazeera’s investigation, Mathias denied that he designed mechanisms to launder money and said that he had not laundered money or traded illegal gold for Russian clients or anyone else. He told us [Al Jazeera] he had never had any working relationship with Macmillan.”
President Akufo-Addo ‘does not know this Mathias or Guldrest’ – Counsel
Meanwhile, counsel for President Akufo-Addo, Kow Essuman has said President Akufo-Addo has not been in private practice since 2000 for him to have acted as a lawyer for Alistair Mathias.
He reacted to the story in a tweet and urged the public to “ignore the spurious allegations.”
Watch the 4th episode of the documentary in the attached video below
Gold Mafia – Episode 4 – Have The King With You I Al Jazeera Investigations
The net is closing on one of South Africa’s most notorious money launderers.
In the final episode, the Gold Mafia boss issues a threat to anyone who breaks the oath of omertà. “What do you think is going to happen?” “They kill you, don’t they?” “Exactly,” he replies.
A member of the same gang is now in hiding and speaks to the I-Unit from a safe house. “They will come after me, that’s a given. If I stay [in South Africa], I will be dead by the time this [film] hits the first five minutes of play.”
Other Gold Mafia bosses lure undercover reporters for the business to launder their dirty money with promises of political connections.
A senior Zimbabwean diplomat is seeking the approval of the president to use an official plane to carry over a billion dollars of dirty cash from Hong Kong into Zimbabwe.
Two gold mafia bosses tell undercover reporters in Johannesburg, “There’s no president or head of state either of us can’t get to on this continent.”
Another advises, “When you work you must always have the king with you. The president”. Gold Mafia, a four-part series by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit looks at how society’s obsession with gold underwrites a global shadow economy.
Investigators obtain the blueprints of money laundering operations that service southern Africa’s economic and political elite. And the investigation leads to the highest offices of state.
Here are six key takeaways from Gold Mafia:
Clean gold? There’s no such thing
No matter where you buy your gold and regardless of the country’s stamp on it, the very nature of the gold trade makes it extremely difficult to guarantee where it originated from.
The investigation showed how gold smuggled from Zimbabwe makes its way to Dubai and, according to experts in money laundering and illicit trade, is then exported to other major gold hubs like Switzerland and London.
These transfers are possible because gold is melted and refined repeatedly, a process that obfuscates all traces of its origin, making it particularly difficult for law enforcement agencies to build evidence against suspected smugglers.
This also means it is hard to be certain if gold purchased on the open market is ethically and legally clean or whether it is free of laundering and crime. A watch might have been made with gold from a conflict region, or a bar of gold may have been mixed with smuggled gold.
Amjad Rihan, a former partner at the consulting firm Ernst & Young, was responsible for auditing Dubai-based Kaloti a decade ago when it was one of the largest gold refineries in the world. He was blunt in his assessment. “Gold that comes to refiners, once it’s refined, it’s practically brand new gold,” he told Al Jazeera.
The currency of money launderers
Because the origins of smuggled gold – however dubious – can be masked by melting and refining, the precious metal is an ideal tool for money laundering.
Several Southern African gold smuggling gangs offered their services to Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters, who were pretending to be Chinese criminals looking to launder more than $100m of undeclared wealth.
The gangs are based in Zimbabwe, a country that needs United States dollars because the local currency has no value in international trade following sustained hyperinflation over many years. Gold, the country’s biggest export, is a good way to acquire dollars.
Smugglers, who do not face the same sanctions scrutiny as government officials, carry Zimbabwe’s gold to Dubai, where it is then sold in exchange for clean cash. This money is transferred to the bank accounts of the money launderers, who hand over an equivalent amount of their dirty dollars to the Zimbabwe government through the smugglers.
Alistair Mathias, one of the money launderers who met with Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters, told them he has been using gold as a means to move money for several African heads of state.
“I can move as much as I want wherever I want for the most part,” Mathias said. “See, the best thing with gold is it is cash.”
‘Gold Mafia is bigger than the government’
The investigation revealed how gold is at the centre of a dark economy with roots deep in the governments of Zimbabwe and South Africa.
One of Zimbabwe’s top ambassadors, Uebert Angel, appointed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to attract investments from Europe and North America, offered to use his diplomatic privileges to carry more than $1bn of dirty cash into the country. Pivotal to his plans was Henrietta Rushwaya, who heads Zimbabwe’s Mining Association and is Mnangagwa’s niece. Rushwaya told Al Jazeera reporters that they could park their cash with Fidelity, a gold refinery run by the country’s central bank, and carry an equivalent amount of gold out of Zimbabwe.
Angel and his deputy, Rikki Doolan, also tried to get the undercover reporters to open a hotel and casino at the popular tourist location of Victoria Falls, saying an infrastructure project would get the undercover reporters more clout with Mnangagwa.
“Gold is easy, but there is nowhere to cut a ribbon,” Angel said. “A politician wants to open something.”
In South Africa, cigarette mogul Simon Rudland’s money laundering partner Mohamed Khan – better known as Mo Dollars – also bought his way into two of the nation’s biggest financial institutions, ABSA and Standard Bank, and the smaller Sasfin Bank. In each of these banks, he bribed officials to help park dirty money
“The gold mafia is bigger than the government,” Khan’s brother Dawood told Al Jazeera.
The investigation also linked Khan to a criminal network run by the Gupta family, which a South African government investigation concluded was at the centre of state capture by select private businesses under former President Jacob Zuma. The Guptas allegedly bribed top South African officials and politicians to win lucrative deals.
‘Always have the king with you’
“Number one” is how Doolan referred to Mnangagwa. Angel and Doolan repeatedly claimed that Zimbabwe’s president was aware of their schemes and offered to set up a meeting between Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters and Mnangagwa for a fee of $200,000.
That’s just one of the many links to Mnangagwa that Al Jazeera’s investigation exposed, short of conclusively establishing his direct involvement in the gold smuggling and money laundering operations.
At one stage, Angel and Auxillia Mnangagwa, the president’s wife, spoke on the phone in front of Al Jazeera’s reporters, discussing a plan to launder more than $100m.
Kamlesh Pattni, a gold smuggler who was accused of nearly bankrupting Kenya by looting the exchequer through an elaborate scam, showed the undercover reporters text messages that he claimed were exchanged with Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa, Pattni said, “has to be informed” about the operations.
“He knows, of course, yes. But he can’t – he will not talk too openly,” Pattni said of Mnangagwa. “When you work, you must always have the king with you, the president.”
Ewan Macmillan, another major Zimbabwean gold smuggler, claimed Mnangagwa had once been his partner in crime and he had been warned not to rat on the politician when Macmillan was jailed for smuggling in the 1990s.
Finally, there was Alistair Mathias, a gold smuggler and money launderer who also partners with Macmillan and said he works for several African heads of state. Among them is Emmerson Mnangagwa, also known as ‘ED’.
“In Zim, ED is my partner. I can’t say it in public because he’s sanctioned,” Mathias told the undercover reporters.
Dubai, the El Dorado for gold smugglers
Dubai is one of the world’s biggest gold trading hubs. Gold smugglers and money launderers are also drawn to the city, the investigation showed. As Macmillan said: “It all comes out of Dubai. It’s all Dubai, Dubai, Dubai, Dubai, Dubai.”
The city’s emergence as one of the world’s biggest investment destinations is tied to policies that have been crafted to minimise red tape and bureaucracy and to assist businesses in setting up operations there. Those policies are also what make the city appealing to white collar criminals, according to experts.
“Dubai was set up to be a financial capital,” former FBI investigator Karen Greenaway, who now works as an anti-money laundering consultant, told Al Jazeera. “They have set themselves up to be in the middle of the gold trade with lax laws and no enforcement.”
“All of those things make Dubai a great place to have something like this, a major international money laundering operation involving, in this case, gold smuggling,” she said.
Once in Dubai, the gold can be refined, and once cleansed of all traces of its origins, it can be either sold for cash transferred to the accounts of the money launderers or held by criminals as an investment.
“Everything that is gray, I take to Dubai,” Mathias said.
Banks and bribes
None of this would be possible without the involvement of the banking systems of Zimbabwe and South Africa.
In Zimbabwe, Al Jazeera’s investigation showed that Pattni had several members of the central bank on his payroll, including Fradreck Kunaka, at the time the general manager of Fidelity, the bank’s gold refinery. Fidelity authorised smugglers like Pattni and Macmillan to buy gold from Zimbabwean miners on its behalf, documents show. And the central bank also issued letters allowing the smugglers to bring millions of dollars of cash into the country.
In South Africa, Rudland and Mo Dollars bribed officials at ABSA, Standard Bank and Sasfin Bank to help them park dirty money and then move it from South Africa to a host of front companies around the world. In the case of Sasfin Bank, Dawood, Mo Dollars’s brother, said of him: “Mohamed was CEO of that company without them knowing.”
Al Jazeera contacted the individuals and entities named in this investigation. Mathias denied that he designed mechanisms to launder money and said he had never laundered money or gold, or traded illegal gold. He told Al Jazeera that he had never had any working relationship with Mnangagwa or any of the African politicians he identified to our reporters.
Rudland said the allegations against him were part of a smear campaign by an unidentified third party, and he denied any involvement in money laundering. He accepted that he had had dealings with Mohamed Khan, who he agreed “appeared” to be a money launderer, but he denied that any money laundering had been undertaken for him or his businesses.
Mohamed Khan told Al Jazeera that all allegations against him, including those of money laundering and bribery, were false and were based on speculation, conjecture and manufactured and doctored evidence.
Pattni denied involvement in any form of money laundering or bribery and denied being in communication with Mnangagwa or having any business dealings with him.
Fidelity said it was not aware of the payment of bribes to any of its staff and said Kunaka had retired. Al Jazeera was unable to contact Kunaka for comment.
ABSA said it had passed Al Jazeera’s findings on to its Forensic Investigative Unit while Standard Bank told Al Jazeera it has zero tolerance relating to fraud and criminality and would report and assist in any legal investigation.
Sasfin Bank told Al Jazeera it was taking vigorous action against suspended and former employees and clients of its foreign exchange unit and said it no longer had a relationship with any of Mohamed Khan’s businesses.
Others featured in this report did not respond to our inquiries.