BRASILIA (Reuters) – Almost 30% of the gold exported by Brazil between 2019 and 2020 – 48.9 tons – has evidence that it came from illegal mining areas, in a mix of inspection failures, irregular action by companies and false documents used to wash gold extracted from protected areas, shows a survey carried out by the Public Ministry and researchers from the Federal University of Minas Gerais.
The crossing of data presented in the study considered only the gold registered in Organs federal agencies, with payment of the Financial Compensation for the Exploitation of Mineral Resources (CFEM), the tax collected by the government for the exploration of ore – that is, the gold supposedly obtained and exported legally .
The researchers cross-referenced the declared data of the gold’s origin with high-definition satellite imagery. In 13% of cases – 6.3 tonnes of gold – the irregularity was obvious: the declared location had no evidence of mineral exploration, which is considered strong evidence of an attempt to wash gold taken from illegal areas, such as mining units. conservation or indigenous lands.
In the remainder, 42.6 tons were exported, the study classifies as potentially illegal because there are strong indications that the gold did not leave the authorized mining site – usually, areas bordering indigenous lands or conservation units.
The study with satellite images shows that the mining exploration areas far exceed the area authorized by the National Mining Agency, entering through indigenous lands or conservation areas. The amount of gold extracted and declared would also be incompatible with the size of the vein, according to the researchers.
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“It’s a sloppy wash. There was an attempt to wash this gold, trying to hide its real origin, but with the crossing of images there is no way that the gold came from the declared location”, explains Raoni Rajão, one of the authors of the study and coordinator of the Environmental Services Management Laboratory at UFMG.
Only the annual production and export data for Brazil’s gold already show that the country has been selling several tons of illegal ore. In 2020, for example, according to federal foreign trade data, Brazil exported 111 tons of gold. However, the country officially registered the production of only 92 tons of gold, according to figures from the ANM.
“Unless everyone suddenly decided to sell their gold alliances, the government lost control and the ability to inspect and collect tax,” Rajão said. “And this we are talking about legally exported gold, not the one that crosses the hidden border, which is much more.”
Sought to assess the inspection, the Ministry of Mines and Energy did not immediately respond to the request for comment.
A crossover made by Instituto Escolhas – an NGO that deals with sustainability – with data from the ANM itself shows that some States, such as Minas Gerais and São Paulo, register a much larger amount of exported gold than their production. At the same time, there is no record of sufficient legal production in that amount in Mato Grosso and Pará.
The crossing matches the data collected by prosecutors and researchers from UFMG, who see a continuous growth of exploitation with characteristics of illegality in the Legal Amazon, especially in the two states mentioned.
“Pará and Mato Grosso reached 26.9 and 19.5 tons of gold extracted between 2019 and 2020, with 17.7 and 14.2 tons respectively being identified as irregular”, points out the study.
Of the total production in the two years, the researchers concluded that 85% of the confirmed illegal gold washing, 5.4 tons, took place in Pará, with the municipalities of Jacareacanga, Novo Progresso and Itaituba as the center of illegal gold washing.
Irregular gold laundering, the authors say, is the result of a combination of flawed oversight and possible collusion by authorities, in addition to the active participation of mining and exporting companies.
The survey shows that of the 6.3 tons of gold with confirmed illegalities, 61% comes from just four people and two cooperatives, whose names were not revealed.
Also, only three operators were responsible for the purchase of 71% of the confirmed illegal gold: OuroMinas DTVM, D’Gold DTVM and Carol DTVM. The three are the target of an action by the Federal Public Ministry, accused of involvement in illegal trade.
On Monday, the Federal Public Ministry of Pará filed lawsuits asking for the suspension of the activities of the three operators for having sold illegal gold.
“In addition to having their activities suspended specifically in this region, companies may be ordered to pay a total of 10.6 billion reais in social and environmental damages,” the MPF said in a statement.
When contacted, OuroMinas stated that “the company does not help in the export of illegally sourced ore at all” and that it invests in technology to filter registration information and supports sustainable mining.
“In addition, all company acquisitions are strictly made in accordance with the law that states that the seller is responsible for the origin of the gold and not the companies that make the purchase. The inspection of garimpos is the exclusive responsibility of public authorities and not private companies”, says the note sent to Reuters.
The owner of Carol DTVM, Alberto Robles Filho, stated that the company has not yet been named and has not had access to the lawsuit, and therefore could not comment on the accusations. “It’s kind of weird that it first comes out in the media, before we know it. I can’t give an answer because I don’t know the content of the action. Our legal department is trying to find out so that we can respond”, he said.
D’Gold’s advisors have not yet responded to the request for clarification.
The study shows that the lack of control happens in Brazil but, unlike other exports, such as wood and even soy, in which international buyers started to demand certificates that they would not come from deforested areas, buyers of Brazilian gold do not ask for robust guarantees when purchasing the ore.
In 2019 and 2020, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom bought 72% of Brazilian exports.
“These are countries with strict legislation, with a high standard of human rights protection. But these countries are not doing their homework,” said Rajão.
Illegal mining, according to the study, led to the deforestation of 125 km² of the Amazon rainforest – a constant concern of Europeans – and environmental damage of 1.7 billion dollars in the region.
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