GENEVA – 2 JUNE 2015
Swiss decision to close Argor case encourages “head in the sand” attitude
The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAGS) decided not to further prosecute the Swiss precious metals company Argor-Heraeus SA, that handled dirty African gold. While Swiss authorities acknowledged that Argor did refine looted gold and violated its duty of diligence, the case was nonetheless closed, a decision met with disbelief by the three NGOs working on the case. Together with Conflict Awareness Project (CAP), the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) supported a legal complaint filed in November, 2013 by TRIAL (Track Impunity Always), in which the Swiss NGO accused Argor of illegally processing over three tones of pillaged gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the NGOs, this decision undermines international efforts to eliminate the illegal resource trade that fuels conflicts around the world.
GENEVA – 4 FEBRUARY 2014
UK Authorities Called to Act on “Blood Gold” Case
following Swiss Ruling on Argor-Heraeus Appeal
A key ruling by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court has given momentum to a war crimes case against the Swiss gold refining giant, Argor-Heraeus SA, alleged to have laundered millions of dollars of looted gold from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
GENEVA – 5 NOVEMBER 2013
TRIAL and its partners Open Society Justice Initiative and Conflict Awareness Project welcome the decision of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor to open a criminal investigation into the activities of the Swiss refinery company Argor-Heraeus SA for laundering of looted gold and complicity in war crimes.
This decision follows the filing of a denunciation against the Swiss company, by the NGO TRIAL (Track Impunity Always) on 1 November 2013. The Swiss association against impunity along with Open Society Justice Initiative and Conflict Awareness Project welcomes the opening of the criminal investigation by the Swiss Federal Prosecutor.
« The opening of the investigation is a strong signal to corporations fueling war. Countries at war are not law-free zones and impunity is no longer ensured to those who break the law. The private sector can also be held accountable, » said Philip Grant, Director of TRIAL.
« The Conflict Awareness Project is pleased that the Swiss Prosecutor is investigating Argor for criminal charges. For far too long, Argor has claimed that it was exonerated by the United Nations for its criminal involvement in the pillage of gold from Congo, which is not the case. The forensic evidence leaves no doubt that Argor was refining gold supplied by unlawful armed groups in the DRC, » said Kathi Lynn Austin, Executive Director of the Conflict Awareness Project.
« The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s decision appears to be the first effort to hold corporate actors accountable for pillage and related offenses since the Second World War. This case goes far beyond Switzerland to the international commodity and financial markets. Companies who choose to trade directly or indirectly with unlawful armed groups must understand that they risk prosecution for the war crime of pillage, » said Kenneth Hurwitz, Senior Legal Adviser at Open Society Justice Initiative.
The three NGOs now await the result of the investigation with trust and great interest.
GENEVA – 4 NOVEMBER 2013
TRIAL files a criminal denunciation to the Swiss Federal Prosecutor against a Swiss refinery company suspected of laundering looted gold from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
TRIAL (Track Impunity Always) has submitted to the Swiss Federal Prosecutor a criminal denunciation against the precious metals refinery Argor-Heraeus SA. The Swiss anti-impunity NGO holds information suggesting that the company may have laundered pillaged gold. The investigation and the evidence gathered indicate that between 2004 and 2005, Argor-Heraeus SA may have refined almost 3 tons of gold that had been pillaged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by an unlawful armed group that financed its operations by trafficking in gold. According to TRIAL, the refinery knew or should have assumed that the gold resulted from pillage, a war crime. TRIAL therefore requests law enforcement authorities to open an investigation and to establish whether an offense has been committed, and if so, to sanction the company.
On 1 November 2013, TRIAL filed a complaint (dénonciation pénale) to the Swiss Federal Prosecutor supported by extensive evidence against the Swiss precious metals refinery Argor-Heraeus SA. The Swiss anti-impunity NGO suspects that the refinery may have committed “aggravated laundering” (under article 305bis of the Swiss Penal Code) when it allegedly refined pillaged gold from the DRC, the sale of which contributed to financing the operations of an unlawful armed group in a brutal conflict.
The complaint follows investigations into the DRC-sourced gold supply chain that were conducted in the years 2004-2005 by the United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, pursuant to its mandate to monitor the arms embargo on the country. All of the African businesses and businessmen implicated in this affair were severely sanctioned by the UN Security Council, while Western businesses and businessmen were not, notwithstanding recommendations from the Group of Experts that all participants in the illegal supply chain be sanctioned.
In light of the evidence obtained up to 2012 by Kathi Lynn Austin – former investigator in the UN Group of Experts – TRIAL believes that Argor-Heraeus SA could not have been unaware of the criminal origin of the gold. Accordingly, in refining almost 3 tons of gold pillaged from the DRC in less than a year, Argor Heraeus SA may have committed aggravated money laundering. “Even if Argor-Heraeus SA was able at the time to escape UN sanctions under the embargo, that does not mean that it did not violate Swiss law” said Bénédict De Moerloose, the TRIAL lawyer in charge of the case.
Bénédict De Moerloose added : “For a long time we have been investigating the activities of Argor-Heraeus SA during the years 2004-2005, with regard to Swiss law, in particular, money laundering. Today, thanks to newly obtained evidence, our suspicions are sufficiently well grounded for us to refer the matter to the international criminal law department of the Federal Prosecutor’s office. It is now for them to determine if Argor-Heraeus SA should be criminally prosecuted for the alleged conduct.”
For Philip Grant, Director of TRIAL : “It is unacceptable that pillaged raw materials that are feeding violence in a brutal and horrific war should be refined and prepared for marketing in Switzerland, with total impunity. These practices run contrary to law, but without a clear signal from law enforcement authorities, they will continue. This complaint should serve as a reminder that corporations are subject to the law and must also be held accountable.”
The Stop-Pillage Campaign
Launched jointly by three NGOs dedicated to the struggle against impunity – TRIAL, Conflict Awareness Project (the NGO started by Kathi Lynn Austin), and the Open Society Justice Initiative – a broader campaign started in parallel of the filing of the complaint. The Stop-Pillage Campaign seeks to raise public awareness in Switzerland and abroad regarding the impact of the pillaging of raw materials, its link to armed conflict, and the responsibility of all actors in the supply chain. The NGOs call for a judicial response to this problem targeting every link in the chain, no matter in which country.
The Front des Nationalistes et Intégrationnistes (FNI) is an unlawful armed group that began operating in 2002 in northeastern DRC, seizing control of the city of Mongbwalu (Ituri) and of a gold concession named « Concession 40 ». In violation of the embargo imposed by the UN Security Council in 2003, the FNI exploited this concession to finance its operations and buy arms. The FNI is widely accused of massacres, systematic violence against the civilian population of Ituri, sexual violence, pillage, and recruiting child soldiers.
With the collaboration and air transport provided by a local businessman, Dr. Kisoni Kambale, a large portion of the gold was sold in Uganda to a company called Ugandan Commercial Impex Ltd. (UCI). This company resold the gold, in turn, to a buyer named Hussar Limited, a Jersey, Channel Islands company, and its London affiliate, Hussar Services Limited, which asked the Swiss company Argor-Heraeus SA to refine the gold, in the period between July 2004 and June 2005. The refined gold ingots were then sold to banking institutions.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a territory rich in widely coveted natural resources (gold, coltan, tungsten, diamonds, precious woods). The struggle for control of this natural wealth, together with regional tensions and ethnic conflicts, have led to devastating conflict in the Congo (with millions dead and hundreds of thousands displaced). Since 1994, the population of the Northeast of the country (North and South Kivu and Ituri) has suffered massive and continuing waves of crimes and grave human rights violations committed both by unlawful armed groups and by the Congolese national security forces. These regions have also been the locus of systematic pillage of natural resources by the armed groups in the region.