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Jersey accused in row over 'sale of war zone blood-gold'

Jersey financial regulators and the police have been accused of failing to act against a firm allegedly involved in moving gold sourced from a war zone.

Swiss company, Hussar Ltd, is nominally owned by a Jersey trust company. It is the subject of an inquiry by Swiss authorities over claims it procured gold from the DR Congo linked to rebel militia, so-called blood-gold. The Jersey Financial Services Commission said Hussar was not a regulated financial company. The allegations that employees of Hussar Limited supplied the metal to Switzerland-based gold refiner Argor-Heraeus SA in the period 2004-5, are being investigated by Swiss regulators.

'Compelling' evidence

Argo-Heraeus has previously issued statements strongly refuting the claims.

The Conflict Awareness Project (CAP), founded by former UN investigator Kathi Austen, claims it has submitted "forensic and compelling" evidence to the Jersey authorities but has received no response. Ms Austin, executive director of the CAP, said she had personally visited Jersey to raise the issue with the authorities.

"I visited Jersey, I met with the police department, the Financial Crimes Unit, I also met with the Financial Services Commission, making the complaint, bringing forward the same evidence the Swiss considered so egregious that they opened up their federal criminal case," said Ms Austin. "For now we haven't had any word." The allegations centre on claims that Hussar procured gold from middlemen connected to rebel militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is frustrated at what she says is a lack of progress and fears the authorities have been slow to act out of fear for the island's reputation. "For some reason the Jersey, Channel Islands authorities do not seem to be moving quickly on this case," said Ms Austin, who has investigated arms trafficking for the UN, under former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

'Move forward'

Hussar Limited is nominally owned by Jersey trust company Osiris Trustees Limited, but when contacted by the BBC it declined to comment. The Attorney General for Jersey and the Financial Crimes Unit have not yet responded to BBC requests for a response to the CAP allegations. Prime Minister David Cameron recently called for more transparency in financial markets in Crown Dependencies such as Jersey.

Ms Austin said Jersey's recent decision to recognise the International Criminal Court (ICC) could help move the case forward. Although Jersey has voted to recognise the ICC, this was not necessary for the island's regulators to act, she said. "The case I have brought forward to the Jersey authorities, they can prosecute that regardless of the new decision, but I think the new decision creates the momentum to move forward, and quickly," said Ms Austin. The issue of precious metals and minerals sourced from war zones and used to finance armed conflict was highlighted by the UN when a 1998 Security Council resolution banned the purchase of conflict diamonds, or so-called blood diamonds, from Angola.

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