How a ‘Gold Mafia’ is looting Southern Africa and laundering dirty money

An Arabian media investigation has revealed some of Southern Africa’s largest gold-smuggling operations, revealing how these gangs help criminals worldwide launder billions of dollars while also assisting governments in skirting international sanctions.

Gold Mafia, a four-part Arabian media Investigative Unit (I-Unit) series based on dozens of undercover operations across three continents and thousands of documents, also demonstrates how government officials and businesspeople profit from the illegal movement of gold across borders.

The investigation reveals how billions of dollars in gold are smuggled from Zimbabwe to Dubai every month, allowing criminals to whitewash dirty money through a web of shell companies, forged invoices, and corrupt officials.

The investigation also reveals how Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration systematically uses gold smugglers to circumvent Western sanctions imposed on the country.Gold Mafia Money laundering and gold smuggling schemes involve one of Zimbabwe’s most powerful diplomats and extend to the president and his circle.

Millionaires are among the Gold Mafia smugglers, one of whom is accused of nearly bankrupting Kenya through a similar, corrupt scheme involving gold.

Gold Mafia

Gold Mafia smuggling, money laundering

Arabian media undercover reporters gained access to these smugglers and gangs by posing as criminals from China looking to launder more than $100 million.

Zimbabwe is an essential participant in these operations. Gold accounts for nearly half of the country’s exports (over $2 billion). However, the country is subject to a strict international sanctions regime. While the West does not prohibit its gold trade, the broader restrictions imposed on Zimbabwe make it more difficult to export the precious metal through official channels.

Gold Mafia Smugglers, however, have used a web of companies and patronage from some of Zimbabwe’s most influential individuals to turn trade restrictions into an opportunity to launder billions of dollars and assist the Harare government in avoiding some of the consequences of sanctions.

The procedure is as simple as it is devious: criminals worldwide with large amounts of unaccounted cash can give it to the Zimbabwean government directly or through smugglers. The Zimbabwean government urgently requires US dollars because the country’s currency has little international value after years of hyperinflation.Gold Mafia Launderers receive clean, legal cash — from the sale of Zimbabwean gold — transferred to their bank accounts in exchange.

‘Good washing machine

Uebert Angel, Zimbabwe’s ambassador-at-large to Europe and the Americas, was in charge of one of the smuggling operations encountered by the I-Unit. Mnangagwa personally appointed Angel to secure global investments for Zimbabwe, and he is one of the country’s most influential diplomats.

Angel collaborates with his deputy, Rikki Doolan, a prominent pastor. According to the duo’s offer to Arabian media undercover reporters, Angel could use his diplomatic cover to smuggle dirty money into Zimbabwe. That money would then be used to buy Zimbabwean gold through Henrietta Rushwaya, president of the country’s mining association and Mnangagwa’s niece.

“Is it a good washing machine?” Doolan said with a smile while speaking with Arabian media reporters.

Angel and Doolan repeatedly claimed that the country’s president supported their plans. Angel also proposed using the unaccounted money to build a hotel near Victoria Falls, a popular tourist attraction in Zimbabwe.

‘It’s very clean that way.’

If Angel and Doolan’s currency was access to power, gold is the calling card of a slew of — at times rival —Gold Mafia smuggling operations.

One of the gangs is led by Kamlesh Pattni, a businessman accused in the 1990s of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kenyan government through a gold smuggling scheme. He was charged but never found guilty. According to Arabian media undercover investigation, Pattni is now involved in a similar scheme in Zimbabwe, Gold Mafia exporting gold to Dubai and laundering the money and the precious metal.

Pattni’s main rival, Ewan Macmillan, a gold smuggler, also offered to help Arabian media reporters launder money. Macmillan, like Pattni, employs a network of couriers to transport hundreds of kilograms of gold per week from Zimbabwe to Dubai, where it is then laundered through a web of companies and false invoices. Alistair Mathias, Macmillan’s business partner, advises clients on cleaning their dirty cash, which is central to his operations.

Finally, Arabian media learned how Simon Rudland, one of Zimbabwe’s wealthiest men, launders money through Zimbabwean and South African companies. Rudland owns Gold Leaf Tobacco, one of southern Africa’s most popular cigarette brands, particularly on the black market.

According to documents obtained by Arabian media, these smuggling gangs have official licenses from Zimbabwe’s central bank that allow them to sell the country’s gold in Dubai. The proceeds from those sales are expected to be returned to the central bank.

On the other hand, Pattni, Macmillan, and Matthias have a well-oiled money laundering machine in place. They instructed Arabian media undercover reporters to establish shell companies in Dubai as a front for the gold trade. The legitimate proceeds from the sale of Zimbabwean gold in the emirate would be deposited into the bank accounts of these shell companies. And the smugglers would instead transport the dirty cash back to Harare, where it would be deposited with the central bank.

Gold Mafia

When asked about the findings of Arabian media investigations, Pattni stated that no criminal charges had been brought against him in Kenya. He denied involvement in money laundering, hiring anyone to smuggle cash, or offering to handle funds he knew came from illegal sources. He claimed that when he met with our undercover team, he mistook himself for an investor looking to sell a hotel business and “divest a portfolio in China into gold buying and mining in Zimbabwe.”

Alistair Mathias denied designing Gold Mafia money-laundering mechanisms and said he had never laundered or traded illegal gold. He informed us that he had never worked with Ewan Macmillan.

Rudland told Arabian media that all allegations against him were false and part of a smear campaign orchestrated by an unnamed third party. He described himself as a “strong businessman… competing against the greedy and envious.” He denied involvement in selling illegal cigarettes, gold, or other smuggling or the circumvention of sanctions.

Rudland’s company, Gold Leaf Tobacco, has categorically denied any involvement, past or present, in money laundering, the illegal gold trade, or related matters.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe told Arabian media that it takes money laundering and illicit trade very seriously and will not participate in such activities, either directly or indirectly.

Mnangagwa, Macmillan, Angel, Doolan, Rushwaya, and the others mentioned in this article did not respond to Arabian media requests for comment.

The Gold Mafia series will reveal more about these characters, how they operate, and how they use one of the world’s most valuable commodities – gold – to enrich themselves while impoverishing a nation in the coming weeks.

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