Argor-Heraeus Rejects Allegations on Congo Conflict Gold

Switzerland’s Federal Public Prosecutor opened a criminal investigation into Argor-Heraeus SA to examine allegations the privately-owned company illegally refined gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2004 to 2005.

The investigation was initiated after authorities received a criminal complaint from Trial, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, on Nov. 1.

The public prosecutor in Bern “has examined such information and decided to initiate criminal proceedings against the company concerned for suspected money laundering in connection with a war crime and complicity in war crimes,” spokeswoman Jacqueline Buehlmann said in an e-mailed statement, adding that the prosecutor’s office is unable to provide more information given the “secrecy of the investigation.”

Mineral-rich eastern Congo has suffered almost two decades of conflict since the aftermath of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spread across the border. More than a dozen foreign and Congolese armed groups are active in the region, some of whom help support their activities by taxing or smuggling tin ore, tungsten, coltan and gold.

Accusations Rejected

The Mendrisio-based refiner rejected the allegations. “Argor-Heraeus firmly refuses any such accusation since an in-depth investigation by the UNO, the SECO and Finma resulting that Argor-Heraeus has been cleared of all above mentioned allegations,” the company said in a statement yesterday, referring to the United Nations, Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority.

Trial, an acronym for Track Impunity Always, said in a statement it had submitted a criminal complaint and requested an investigation against the precious metals refiner, saying it had information suggesting the company may have refined almost three tons of gold pillaged by an armed group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that financed its operations by trafficking the metal.

Argor-Heraeus said it had been told of the accusation by the Swiss authorities, and that the allegations dated back to 2004-2005 when the company’s name appeared in a report of the UN’s Group of Experts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that analyzed some shipments by Hussar Ltd. processed by Argor-Heraeus.

The refiner also said that as a precautionary measure it decided in 2005 not to accept any material for processing at its plant from Uganda and other unstable regions, and to end all commercial transactions with Hussar.

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