Gold Mafia: UAE suspends Gold Refinery over owners’ alleged laundering links

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The United Arab Emirates suspended the accreditation of one of its biggest gold refineries over concerns that its owners had ties to alleged money launderers.

Emirates Gold DMCC — which has operated in Dubai for more than 30 years — was last week suspended from the UAE’s Good Delivery List, according to a government website.

The Emirates Gold Bullion Committee, which is chaired by the Economy Ministry, removed the refinery due to concerns its owners were connected to alleged money launderers, according to people familiar with the thinking behind the decision. An official from the committee said in a statement it could not comment on specific cases but expected accredited members to apply the highest international standards.

The London Bullion Market Association, which regulates the UK capital’s precious metals market, followed suit on Friday and suspended the refinery’s affiliate membership after a due diligence review. It said it “takes very seriously any breaches of the rules,” without giving details.

A spokesperson for Emirates Gold said earlier this week the company operates to the highest industry standards for responsible sourcing and anti-money laundering, and has a long history of compliance audits to show that. Any matters relating to the authorities remain private, the spokesperson said.

According to the people familiar with the UAE decision, two of the ultimate beneficial owners of Emirates Gold are relatives of Zimbabwean businessmen Simon Rudland and Howard Baker. A documentary by Al Jazeera earlier this year alleged that the two men were involved in money laundering through the UAE’s gold sector. It didn’t name any specific UAE refiner in connection with them.

In response to the Al Jazeera documentary Rudland denied involvement in money laundering. Baker didn’t respond to the channel when asked for comment.

Emails and phone calls by Bloomberg to Rudland and his company Gold Leaf Tobacco went unanswered. Baker couldn’t be reached for comment.

The suspension of one of the most storied names in the UAE’s gold business comes as authorities crack down on suspected illegal practices in the sector. The Gulf nation has been implementing tough new laws to curb money laundering, levying large fines on non-compliant firms.

The UAE created its Good Delivery list as a standard for top firms. To maintain that accreditation, refiners must undergo annual audits to ensure they’re complying with anti-money laundering and responsible sourcing laws.

The clean-up of the gold sector is part of the UAE’s bid to rehabilitate its financial reputation, after being added to a watch-list by a money laundering watchdog last year. The Paris-based Financial Action Taskforce named the UAE’s gold industry as a cause for concern before adding the country to its “gray list.”

Emirates Gold was sold last year to a consortium that included relatives of Rudland and Baker, after the death in 2021 of its founder Mohamad Shakarchi, an Iraqi-born precious metals merchant, according to the people familiar with the situation.

The firm was one of just three UAE-based refineries with the nation’s Good Delivery accreditation, making it a top player in the Middle East’s biggest gold market. Other accreditation programs are also used by other refiners in the country.