CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Illegal miners in South Africa are swallowing unrefined gold and platinum in condoms as a new tactic to avoid arrest for smuggling that is costing the industry $1.5 billion a year, the police told parliament on Friday.
Illegal mining has plagued South Africa’s mining sector for decades, and extends from small time pilfering to global organized crime networks. The crime costs the industry and government an estimated 20 billion rand ($1.5 billion) a year in lost sales, taxes and royalties, the Chamber of Mines, an industry body, says.
“They are ingesting the amalgam concealed in condoms and this is done for two principle reasons. One is to be able to bypass mine security and the other is also to prevent being robbed by opposing groups,” Brigadier Ebrahim Kadwa, a commander in South Africa’s Hawks organized crime unit, said, showing parliament slides of gold-filled condoms in miners’ x-rays.
Potentially toxic clumps of mercury and gold concentrate can be refined to extract gold once passed through the body.
Illegal mining in South Africa involves a complex criminal web that extends from desperate unemployed workers, many from neighboring countries, to gun-toting gang bosses and front companies exporting refined products to global markets.
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