Arusha, November 5, 2013 (FH) – Swiss federal authorities have launched an investigation into Swiss company Argor-Heraeus for suspected complicity in war crimes, in connection with the laundering of three tons of gold pillaged in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2004, Swiss newspaper Tribune de Genève reported Tuesday.

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This comes after Swiss NGO Track Impunity Always (TRIAL) filed a complaint against the company to the Swiss authorities. 

“We have examined this complaint and we have decided to open a criminal investigation into the company for suspected money laundering linked to a war crime and complicity in a war crime,” the newspaper quotes a federal government spokesperson as saying. Argor-Heraeus has denied the allegations.

TRIAL’s complaint is based notably on 2004-2005 investigations into the DRC-sourced gold supply chain by a UN Group of Experts, under a mandate to monitor the arms embargo on the country. All the African businesses and businessmen implicated were severely sanctioned by the UN Security Council, while Western businesses and businessmen were not, despite the Experts’ recommendations, TRIAL notes. 

According to TRIAL, the FNI armed group in northern DRC continued to exploit a gold concession it seized to finance its operations and buy arms, despite the UN arms embargo. A large part of this gold was sold to intermediaries who in turn sold it to precious metals refiner Argor-Heraeus. “Argor-Heraeus SA could not have been unaware of the criminal origin of the gold,” says TRIAL. 

The company has strongly rejected the allegations, saying  the 2005 UN investigation cleared its name and concluded it was not implicated either directly or indirectly in this affair.

Acts of pillage committed during armed conflict may constitute war crimes. Ordering or encouraging such pillage in any way is also a crime under international criminal law. Thus pillage was one of the war crimes for which the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) this year convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor and sentenced him to 50 years in jail. Taylor  was found guilty of aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone, who pillaged natural resources, among their numerous other crimes.