Congo seizes $ 1.9 million worth of gold from Okapi Wildlife Sanctuary By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A general view shows miners in an artisanal gold mine near Kamituga, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, August 1, 2018. Photo taken August 1, 2018. REUTERS / Djaffar Al Katanty

By Hereward Holland

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Congolese authorities seized 31 kg of gold, worth around $ 1.9 million, from the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the northeast of the country, a rare loss for the smugglers who fraudulently bring tons of Congolese gold into the world market every year.

Lt. Jean de Dieu Musongela, chief of the military prosecutor’s office in Mambasa, said on Tuesday that the gold came from Muchacha, which he described as a mine in the Okapi reserve.

Mining in the reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to okapi, forest elephants and other endangered species – is illegal, but the Congolese mining record shows the okapi covers an area smaller than on UNESCO maps.

Three Congolese men were arrested, Musongela said, but two other men, who were Chinese, fled. The three suspects were taken to the provincial capital Bunia for further questioning.

“These people not only mine for gold, but they also melt it,” Musongela said, adding that authorities did not know the extent of the operation.

In a report released last week, the United Nations Group of Experts on the Congo said Muchacha is on the PE7657 mining concession, owned by MCC Resources. The report said, citing photographic evidence, that members of the Congolese armed forces were at the Muchacha site, in violation of Congolese law.

MCC Resources did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The mine is about 200 km from the Ugandan border, through which most of the province’s gold passes, said Danny Munsense Muteba, head of investigations at the Ituri Ministry of Mines.

UN experts, who have reported that Kampala is a hub for the trade in smuggled gold from Ituri, said large-scale smuggling along this route continued in 2020.

Uganda’s energy and mining development ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Guillaume de Brier, a researcher at the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), said estimates show Congo produced between 15 and 22 tons of gold last year, worth more than half a billion dollars, but only collected $ 72,000 in taxes.

“This means that 99% of the gold mined in the DRC is smuggled to neighboring countries,” he said.

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