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Brazil central bank backs electronic receipts to crack down on illegal gold

BRASILIA — Brazil’s central bank and other government agencies are studying the adoption of electronic tax receipts for buying and selling gold in order to track whether it was illegally mined, the bank said in documents published on Monday.

The move is aimed at cracking down on illegal gold mining that has led to the invasions of protected lands in the Amazon rainforest and indigenous reservations where wildcat miners have brought malaria, armed violence and malnutrition in a humanitarian tragedy.

The central bank said the goal was to implement “a new inspection system that allows the traceability of the gold extracted, as well as the adoption of electronic invoices,” according to a notice sent to the country’s Supreme Court.

The bank said it could only intervene once the gold enters the financial system as an asset.

Half of the 100 tonnes of gold produced each year by Brazil, or about 52 tonnes, is thought to be illegally mined and laundered by financial brokerages that are regulated by the central bank, which does not currently know if the gold it buys is legal or illegal, mining industry lobby group Ibram said.

The mining lobby has been calling for the adoption of electronic invoices to end the illegal gold trade, Ibram President Raul Jungmann said.

Brazil’s new leftist government last week launched an enforcement operation to remove some 20,000 wildcat miners from the Yanomami reservation on the border with Venezuela after declaring a medical emergency due to deaths from malnutrition.

The miners devastated much of the reservation that is the size of Portugal, polluting rivers with mercury used to extract the gold, terrorizing the Yanomami and reducing the game they hunt.

Jungmann, whose lobby represents multinational and large domestic mining firms operating in Brazil, asked the government to take steps to break a network that launders illegal gold through the financial system for sale to jewelry makers and export to countries like Switzerland and Britain.

Currently, gold is sold with paper receipts based on the “good faith” of the seller, making it impossible to trace the origin of the gold.

Illegal mining surged along with deforestation in the Amazon during the previous far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro.

The new administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has revoked some of Bolsonaro’s policies that eased off environmental protections. It has pledged to stop deforestation in the Amazon, a biome whose health is considered vital in the fight against climate change. — Reuters

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