Emirates urged to clean up their act amid numerous reports about role in dirty gold trading
There are no mines under Dubai’s sands with artisanal miners or children toiling away trying to strike gold. But there is the Dubai Gold Souk and refineries that vie with the largest global operations as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) strives to expand its position as a major gold hub.
In recent years, the UAE, with Dubai in particular, has established itself as one the largest and fastest-growing marketplaces for the precious metal, with imports rising by 58 percent per annum to more than $27bn in 2018, according to data collated by the Observatory for Economic Complexity.
With no local gold to tap, unlike neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the UAE has to import gold from wherever it can, whether it be legitimately, smuggled with no questions asked, sourced from conflict zones, or linked to organised crime.
Gold has become so important to Dubai’s economy that it is the emirate’s highest value external trade item, ahead of mobile phones, jewellery, petroleum products and diamonds, according to Dubai Customs.
And it is the UAE’s largest export after oil, exporting $17.7bn in 2019. Gold’s importance has only increased as Dubai’s oil reserves have dwindled and the UAE has tried to diversify its economy.
But to retain the trade, the UAE may have to police the sector better, having been the focus of numerous reports about its role in the dirty gold trade, and chastised by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the world’s standards settings body for anti-money laundering rules, for inadequate oversight of the sector in an evaluation report published in April.
A report by the UK’s Home Office and Treasury earlier in December also named the UAE as a jurisdiction vulnerable to money laundering by criminal networks because of the ease with which gold and cash could be moved through the country.
“If Dubai wants to see more international customers they need to seriously reform their gold due diligence policies. Otherwise, they risk losing a lot of customers, and the gold trade is such a big part of the economy,” said Sasha Lezhnev, deputy director of policy at The Sentry,