Skip to main content

UAE receives most of Africa’s smuggled gold, investigation finds

Report by Swissaid finds that Abu Dhabi received $115 billion worth of illicit gold from the continent in 10 years
A man walks past a jewellery shop at the gold market in Dubai on 18 August 2021 (AFP)
A man walks past a jewellery shop at the gold market in Dubai on 18 August 2021 (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates is the leading recipient of illicit gold smuggled out of the African continent every year, according to a Swiss report published on Thursday.

According to Swissaid, between 2012 and 2022 the UAE received over 2,500 tonnes of smuggled gold from Africa, with an estimated value of $115bn.

Alongside Switzerland and India, the UAE is accused of taking advantage of the nearly 80 percent of annual African artisanal gold production that is not officially declared.

The NGO’s report says that gold smuggled from Africa “generally lands in the UAE”, which received 47 percent of total gold imported from Africa to non-African countries in 2022. 

In 2022 alone, Swissaid said that around $31bn worth of gold was smuggled out of Africa.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


For decades, the UAE has worked to establish itself as one of the world’s leading gold marketplaces, while exploiting illegal pathways.

Statistics from 2022 show that gold imports to the UAE were worth around $15bn, a 50 percent increase in just one year.

The illegal transfer of gold is facilitated in the UAE due to a lenient global system which traces the origin of gold to the country it is in at the time of entering the international market, rather than the source country.

A report by the UK Home Office recently named the UAE as a country which has “deficiencies” that make it “vulnerable” to money-laundering networks, which take advantage of international legal loopholes. 

Gold hub

Dubai, known as the City of Gold, is a hub for the UAE’s flourishing gold import and export markets.

In the 10 years between 2012 and 2022, gold exports to the UAE from Africa shot up from 86.3 tonnes to around 204 tonnes.

Dubai, Switzerland, London: How the UAE became a smuggling hub for 'blood gold'
Read More »

Sudan, Mali and Zimbabwe lead the 38 African countries investigated in the report from which non-declared gold is smuggled. 

A 2021 US State Department report on Zimbabwe found that the country could be losing up to $100m every month to smuggling networks.

In Sudan, UAE-backed militia leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti, has been revealed as a main beneficiary of the gold smuggling trade in the region, which reportedly relies on his connection with Abu Dhabi and the Wagner Group

Illicit trade and smuggling have dominated Sudan in recent years of a civil war, with rival armed factions participating in the smuggling of even medicine and fuel. 

With the price of gold reaching record highs in 2024, the increased importance and value of gold-smuggling networks are likely to intensify conflict in countries like Sudan, and the Congo, said Swissaid.

The UAE receives 93 percent of undeclared African exports, the report said.

The UAE’s role in the illicit gold trade from Africa continues in spite of a change in official legislation in 2018 and 2022, which claimed an official crackdown on money laundering and illegal trade.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.