(Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has become a key trade hub for Russian gold since Western sanctions over Ukraine cut Russia's more traditional export routes, Russian customs records show.
The records, which contain details of nearly a thousand gold shipments in the year since the Ukraine war started, show the Gulf state imported 75.7 tonnes of Russian gold worth $4.3 billion - up from just 1.3 tonnes during 2021.
China and Turkey were the next biggest destinations, importing about 20 tonnes each between Feb. 24, 2022 and March 3, 2023. With the UAE, the three countries accounted for 99.8% of the Russian gold exports in the customs data for this period.
In the days after the Ukraine conflict started, many multinational banks, logistics providers and precious metal refiners stopped handling Russian gold, which had typically been shipped to London, a gold trading and storage hub.
The London Bullion Market Association banned Russian bars made from March 7, 2022, and by the end of August, Britain, the European Union, Switzerland, the United States, Canada and Japan had all banned imports of Russian bullion.
The export records show, however, that Russian gold producers quickly found new markets in countries that had not imposed sanctions on Moscow, such as the UAE, Turkey and China.
Louis Marechal, a gold sourcing expert at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said there was a risk Russian gold could be melted down and recast and then find its way back into U.S. and European markets with its origin masked.
"If the Russian gold comes in, is recast by a local refiner, sourced by a local bank or trader and then sold on into the market, there you have a risk," he said. "This is why carrying out due diligence is instrumental to end buyers wishing to ensure they respect sanctions regimes."
The UAE government's Gold Bullion Committee said the state operated with clear and robust processes against illicit goods, money laundering and sanctioned entities.
"The UAE will continue to trade openly and honestly, with its international partners, in compliance with all current international norms as set down by the United Nations," it said.
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