Analysts’ “grill” Gold Mafia documentary producer as Al Jazeera maintains defence line

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By Alois Vinga

ANALYSTS’ Sunday took AL Jazeera’s Gold Mafia documentary producer over hot coals for misinterpreting the country’s mining value chain among other inconsistencies with the Qatar based news network insisting the script is well above board and promising more to come.

The documentary which premiered its first episode last week alleges the existence of illicit gold dealings, money laundering among other illegal practices, leaving tongues wagging in Zimbabwe and beyond.

In an interview run on the SABC’s It’s Topical  program Sunday , political analyst Kudzai Mtisi grilled AL Jazeera’s Investigation Unit producer, Alexander James for coming up with a piece which he said scandalises Zimbabwe’s gold mining value chain.

He said the problem of smuggling has been present in all mining countries and not unique to one country alone adding that gold mining starts with registered artisanal miners who handover the bullion to the rest of the value chain.

The analyst said there is domestic and external trade which leaves room for no scandal as purported because people who are licensed buy the gold from small scale miners and transmit it onwards to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s unit Fidelity Printers and Refineries (FPR).

“What I disagree with the documentary is that they scandalize the whole country and every participant in the gold industry. They also scandalize the RBZ as if it’s an enabler and facilitator. In the documentary, the people who were claiming to be smuggling gold are shown without clear evidence on whether they smuggled it in the end.

“We saw them (gold dealers), claiming that they were doing it. These people actually said the RBZ does not know where they are getting the money. This means that they are licensed but no one can know whether this money came from selling tomatoes and that’s what money laundering is about.

In response, James maintained that there are irregularities pointing to the existence of a scandal in the sector which is dominated by well-known gold smugglers like Ewan Macmillan.

“The whole scandal is coming through evidence we presented in the documentary. If you want to see more, stick with the series because there is plenty,” he said.

Mtisi challenged the producer on why he chose to select a few gold dealers while ignoring hundreds of licensed dealers who are conducting the trade ethically as if to paint the picture that the country’s gold trade is scandalous.

He said with respect to artisanal miners, it’s legal in Zimbabwe  to be an artisanal miner  and they don’t keep the gold in their  houses because they have to sell it to licensed dealers to  earn money and once it is bought, it is either taken to FPR or exported.

The analyst maintained that the law is only broken when people are trying to avoid selling to FPR because of lower prices.

Another panelist on the discussion, Rutendo Matinyarare challenged James to explain the implication of the illegalities of artisanal miners when in fact 1,2 million of them are duly registered by the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) .

However, James said the fact that people like Macmillan and Pattni are connected to a network of buyers on the ground who in turn deliver the gold to FPR – an entity which cannot also pay for the gold on its own leaves evident anomalies.

“So they are given export licenses in return so they sell the gold in Dubai on condition that they bring the proceeds back in US$ cash .

“The money launderers present an opportunity to launder massive amounts of money because you need to bring some cash into the country and if you can declare it at the airport as proceeds of gold sales gives an opportunity for dirty money to come into the country. I don’t think there is anything contradictory.

“In the documentary, you also heard the ZMF president, Henrietta Rushwaya presenting the opportunity to these money launderers to bring it as a cash investment. When talking about smuggling and money laundering relies on a system,” the IU producer said.

Matinyarare in response dismissed the explanation arguing that it does not support the hints in the film.

“It actually sounds like nonsense because FPR didn’t have money to buy the gold in the first place which is why they licensed gold buyers to go and buy gold from the miners. FPR doesn’t need to buy this gold from the miners because they now own the gold and these buyers only need this gold to be certified to leave the country and to be smelted so that it leaves the country.

“So they go to FPR and refineries to refine the gold. They are supposed to pay for that service of getting the gold refined, certified and getting the licencing to leave the country and to pay Zimbabwe Revenue Services for them to leave with the gold.

“Once that is done they have left the royalties to Zimbabwe and they take the gold because it belongs to them. So where is this issue that they are bringing back US$ to Zimbabwe when they have already left everything paid in US$.

“And they get a less that 4% return as opposed to AL Jazeera claim that they get 16% return. That’s not it. This is the problem we have with the documentary because it is full of falsehoods,” he said.

He also challenged Rushwaya’s  “baseless involvement”  in the film describing it as an allegation that is not substantiated and described such parts as not even admissible in court as they are prone to manipulation.

In response, James said the channel upholds high professional standards and follows globally reckoned professional standards.

“We also give all those people in the documentary the right to reply. These are just under cover fishing traps as well.

“We have to provide Prima Facie evidence before we begin our undercover work and the evidence is backed up by documents from the RBZ itself. So we build a case based on evidence we uncovered through our investigation. It is not just propaganda campaign pieces coming from propaganda,” he added.