According to a report by public prosecutors and the Federal University of Minas Gerais, an astounding 28% of gold exported from Brazil in 2019 and 2020 came from illegal mines.
The report is a pointer to widespread forging of documents and a lack of effective law enforcement.
In the two years, the report found indications of illegality related to 48.9 tonnes of gold.
Many wildcat miners in Brazil typically extract gold from areas where no mining permit has been given, including protected nature reserves or indigenous land. Such mining done without regard to environmental regulations, drives deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and has also been shown to poison rivers with mercury.
According to the report, the quantity of gold being extracted out of the areas in question, is beyond the capacity of the mines. The report only considered gold that was registered with the federal government in order to pay taxes on the precious metal and cross referenced that data with satellite images on the reported locations of the mines.
“There was an attempt to launder this gold, to hide its real origin. But by cross referencing it with images, there is no way this gold came from the declared origin,” said Raoni Rajao, an environmental management professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, an author of the report.
While 6.3 tons of gold have supposedly been extracted from mines to authorities, referencing the data through satellite imagery showed no evidence of mining. Tons of gold supposedly mined from places bordering protected areas also showed no signs of having been invaded by miners.
According to government data, 111 tons of gold was exported in 2020, while the total production of gold was 92 tons, thus indicating that tons of gold have come from illegal sources.
Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
In 2019 and 2020, Canada, Switzerland and Great Britain bought 72% of Brazil’s gold exports.