Monday, December 28, 2009

Uganda: Ugandans in illegal gold trade

Kampala (Uganda) — Ugandan businessmen have been named in illegal gold trade and supporting a Rwandan rebel group, FDLR, operating in eastern Congo.
According to a report compiled by a group of five experts last month and sent to the UN Security Council, FDLR gold networks are tightly intertwined with trading networks operating within Uganda, Burundi and the United Arab Emirates.
The report cites Ugandan businessman Roy Joseph Ziwa, who used to own DAS Air and DAS Handling Services in Entebbe, to have been in telephone contact 41 times between April and September 2009 with Bande Ndagundi, a Congolese gold and arms trafficker.
The report says seven different gold traders interviewed separately in Butembo, Kampala and Dubai confirmed that the main personalities involved in orchestrating gold laundering and smuggling from Butembo to Kampala and Dubai were Indian traders in Kampala. They are named as Rajendra Vaya and family and J. V. Lodhia (known by Congolese and Indian traders as “Chuni”), together with his son, Kunal Lodhia.
The Indian traders, the report says, have extensive family ties in Nairobi. According to the report, Vaya is the director of Machanga Limited and J. V. Lodhia is the director of Uganda Commercial Impex Limited.
“Gold traders confirmed that both the Vaya and Lodhia families pre-finance cash to trusted intermediaries who then offer slightly above market prices in order to guarantee maximum interest from local traders in the DR Congo,” the report notes.
Vaya’s network is reported to handle a larger volume of gold than Lodhia’s. “The gold is smuggled to Kampala by road or by commercial flight to Entebbe and finally to Dubai, where it is handled by an associate of both families, called Jigar Kumar,” the report notes.
Kumar, who works at Asia Exchange Centre forex bureau in Dubai, was named as a gold supplier on the 2008 client list of Emirates Gold, a major gold refinery in Dubai.
The report says that although Vaya denied having any ongoing business relationship with gold dealers, the experts obtained receipts showing that he purchased over $40,000 in flight tickets between May and June 2009 for associates travelling between Entebbe, Bujumbura, Nairobi and Mumbai. “Vaya has been unable to explain what these flight tickets were purchased for.”
The group is still investigating more FDLR contacts in Uganda, including another unnamed Kampala-based trader who has been in contact using satellite telephones belonging to FDLR operatives over 600 times from August 2008 onwards.
The experts noted that by helping the FDLR sell their gold, the Ugandan businessmen are supporting the rebel group.
FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda) is a militia formed by the defeated Rwandan Hutu refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo which allegedly counts among its ranks some members of the Interahamwe who carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The group is fighting the Rwandan government.
The report says experts have traced the flow of gold from sites exploited and taxed by FDLR and other militia showing significant amounts of gold being trafficked through Uganda and Burundi and eventually to the United Arab Emirates. The team interviewed traders in Uganda, Tanzania, DR Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Dubai. They found that money was being wired to the FDLR rebels through Western Union.
The report says FDLR contacts in Uganda received the highest number of calls among the people the militia called in 28 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa since the beginning of this year. Uganda’s FDLR contacts received 650 calls, followed by those in Tanzania with 572 calls, Belgium 351 and Germany 258. Other countries FDLR operatives called to are the UK, the US, France, Italy, Morocco, Norway and Kenya.
The researchers say that the networks in Uganda and Burundi are interrelated and both have commercial ties to individuals operating in the United Arab Emirates. However, the researchers said the respective governments did not co-operate when contacted.
“Several gold traders interviewed in Kampala and Dubai, as well as an anonymous contact, informed the group in separate interviews and communications that major gold trading businesses in Kampala were instructed to shut down their activities during the week of the group’s visit to Kampala in June 2009,” the report states.
The experts cited strong indications of high-level protection and in some cases complicity in the illicit gold trade by governments and commercial airlines, notably Emirates Airlines, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.
In Uganda, the researchers complained that they were provided with incomplete customs declarations for gold exports by the Ugandan Revenue Authority (URA), which officially provided records of 130 gold exports between January 2008 and May 2009.
“We were nevertheless able to obtain statistics through an employee of URA displaying 215 recorded gold exports during the same period. These records have been archived at the United Nations.
“We were also informed by Ugandan-based gold traders that they were encouraged to declare Congolese gold they imported or re-exported from Uganda as gold of Southern Sudanese origin on their official documentation,” the report says.
Posted by africanpress on December 17, 2009

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