Brazil produced more than 50 tons of gold with evidence of illegality in 2021, study reveals

The illegally extracted metal was declared to the National Mining Agency, by the criminals, as if it had come from areas where exploitation is allowed (Reproduction)
Iury Lima – Cenarium Magazine

VILHENA (RO) – As a reflection of the inefficiency in the traceability of ores extracted and processed in Brazil and the ease in the scheme of ‘gold heating’, the country produced, in 2021, 25% more of the metal with signs of illegality in relation to the previous year: 52.8 tons, which “may have left” Indigenous Lands (TIs), Conservation Units (UCs) and places that go beyond the limits allowed for mining, according to a survey by the Choices Institute.

The value, which represents more than half of the national production, highlights the constant threat to traditional peoples and communities and reinforces, for example, the existence of an illegal trade in gold for large technology companies worldwide, the so-called big techs.

More than half of the gold produced in Brazil in 2021 has evidence of illegality (Art: Thiago Alencar/CENARIUM MAGAZINE)

The institute’s estimate, taking into account data obtained from the National Mining Agency (ANM) and the Mapbiomas Network, is that last year the Brazilian production of gold reached 97 tons. Only 46% of this, or a little more than 44 thousand kilos, was produced in a legal way. The other 54% have flaws, either in the proof of origin, or in the lack of record in the official production of what was exported.


In 2021 alone, 11 kilos of the metal with indications of illegality had no origin information; more than 170 kilos may have been extracted from areas overlapping UCs, while more than 6 tons went to the international market, even without registration in the country’s official production. The study also points out that 20 tons had ‘ghost titles’, that is, they didn’t even show signs of extraction and that another 25 tons may have originated in areas outside the limits allowed for mining.

The research also indicates that almost 150 kilos of gold may have been explored in territories of native peoples. “We are facing a very serious situation. It’s not new today, but it has been getting worse”, says the portfolio manager of the Escolhas Institute, Larissa Rodrigues. She attributes the illegal circulation of gold in the market to the lack of control and traceability. “It is very easy to take gold, to steal gold from an Indigenous Land, from a Conservation Unit, and put it on the market through gold laundering schemes. This is made easy, even made easier by the law”, criticized Rodrigues, in an interview with CENARIUM MAGAZINE.

For Larissa Rodrigues, it is “absurd” that gold still does not have a solid traceability system.
(Choices Institute/Reproduction)

Damage can be greater

The researchers of the Choices Institute analyzed more than 40,000 records of gold trading to arrive at the results of the survey. Still, the indicators may be much higher, as Larissa Rodrigues explains.

“Until recently we had no idea how much illegal gold circulated in the market (…) Of course this value can be even higher, because we know that there is gold that barely passes through any control system and is not registered at all”, she pondered.

Rodrigues adds that the team continues “‘linking’ discrepancies and exchanges of market information to make volume and give an idea [of the problematic scenario] to society, the government and people, in general”.

Technology giants are interested in Brazilian gold for manufacturing electronic products (Photo: Reproduction)

Interest of the ‘big techs’

Because it resists time and is considered a great conductor of electricity, Brazilian gold is coveted by valuable brands in the ‘big techs‘ market. These companies use the metal to manufacture parts that go into cell phones and televisions. This is the case of Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, exposed in a recent report by the website Repórter Brasil, a non-governmental organization dedicated to investigative journalism.

According to the report published last July, the four companies bought gold processed by the Brazilian Marsam Refinadora, originating from illegal mining in Indigenous Lands of the Yanomami, Munduruku and Kayapó people in the Amazon. Marsam, in turn, received the metal from two other companies, which were responsible for the extraction in these Indigenous Lands: FD’Gold and C.H.M do Brasil.

The consequence was the loss of the quality seal granted to the refiner by RMI, an entity that accredits mineral suppliers around the world. With the removal from the list, Marsam is no longer considered reliable to sell gold to about 300 companies listed in the United States Stock Exchange.

Repórter Brasil also links the loss of certification to the preventive imprisonment of the founder of FD’Gold, Dirceu Frederico Sobrinho, known as the ‘King of Gold’ in Brazil. He is investigated by the Federal Police (PF) for involvement in the Amazon River mining raft scheme. His daughter is a partner in Marsam.

“This connection between Marsam and Dirceu is what causes the problem for this refinery”, Repórter Brasil journalist Daniel Camargos told CENARIUM MAGAZINE.

“We showed, had access to documents and were able to prove all of this, how this gold suspected of illegality, of being illegally extracted in Indigenous Lands, passes through FD’Gold, arrives at Marsam, from there it is refined and reaches the big techs”, Camargos detailed.

“The market for gold bought from miners is very susceptible to counterfeiting, because the note can be handwritten. It is very susceptible to gold laundering, falsifying its origin. This gold was passing quietly through the North American market”, lamented the journalist.

Illegal gold mining in Roraima (Daniel Marenco/AP)

For Camargos, the irregularities are inflated by federal omission. “It is a criminality that is finding fertile ground in the lack of inspection by the federal government in recent years. And the indigenous people, especially, are the biggest victims of this neglect”, he said.

About the loss of the Marsam quality seal, Larissa Rodrigues comments that it is a victory for the forest people. “The indigenous territories have been invaded by illegal operations to steal gold. So, every time we have a charge, a questioning of the origin of the gold, it is positive, yes. And this also shows how important it is to have this set of proofs and documentation of origin, so that when there is a certification or a seal, this is anchored in reality”, he said.

The companies Marsam, C.H.M do Brasil, and FD’Gold, which belongs to Dirceu Frederico Sobrinho, were contacted by this reporter but had not replied by the time this story was published. The big techs Google, Microsoft and Amazon said they will not comment on the case. Apple had already informed the site Repórter Brasil that it will no longer buy from Marsam Refinadora.

Tracing is possible (?)

To ‘wash the gold’ or ‘heat the gold’ are terms that show how easy it is to evade inspections. An example is what happened last September in Rondônia. The Federal Police discovered that a criminal organization was financing clandestine mines in the state, falsifying the provenance in Mato Grosso, and declaring the origin to the National Mining Agency as if the metal had been extracted from permitted areas.

Larissa Rodrigues says that to revert “and even break” the invasion of territories, it is necessary that traceability, in fact, works as a system. “It’s not otherworldly stuff, it’s stuff that already exists”, says the Choices Institute expert.

“It’s basically giving, both to the consumer and to the companies that are producing gold in a legal and correct way, a guarantee that they have information about where this gold comes from and all the path it goes through until it reaches the consumer. This can be done through electronic invoice registration all the way, transport and custody documents, that is, every time the gold leaves from one point to another, it needs to be controlled”, he explained.

“And, also, through documentation of origin and environmental licensing. When we have this set of documents, it is possible to control the flow of gold, from the area of origin to exports”, added Larissa Rodrigues.

She considers it “absurd” that many other products have traceability systems, like coffee, but not gold. “Besides generating all these problems that we see in the Amazon and being a market that is flooded with evidence of illegality, it has a very high value. Traceability should be done immediately”, lamented Rodrigues, finally.


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