In partnership with the NGOs Open Society Justice Initiative and Conflict Awareness Project, TRIAL International, filed a report against Argor-Heraeus SA before the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland in November 2013. That company was accused of refining nearly three tonnes of gold pillaged by rebels in the north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 2004 and 2005.
What followed on from this was the opening of an investigation of Argor for war crimes and aggravated money laundering, a search and seizure operation, and a civil society campaign against the pillage of precious metals in times of armed conflict. By rejecting the appeal lodged by the Swiss company against the investigation and the search, the Federal Criminal Court agreed with TRIAL International’s report, thus underscoring the importance of the evidence provided by the NGO.
After an investigation lasting for nearly 18 months, on March 10, 2015, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland ordered the case to be closed, finding that there was no evidence of the company knowing that it had been refining gold of illegal provenance. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland did find, however, that gold had been pillaged from DRC by rebels and that the company had breached its anti-money laundering obligations. This very controversial decision also highlighted the shortcomings of Swiss legislation, which did not allow such acts to be prevented or punished.
Regardless of the outcome, the Argor-Heraeus SA case represents a considerable step forward and highlights the problem of raw material pillage by western companies. It was also the first criminal investigation opened for pillage within a context of armed conflict since the cases resulting from the Second World War.
In parallel to this case, Argor’s commercial partner company, the British company Hussar Ltd, was reported for the same acts to the Metropolitan Police in London. The investigation is ongoing.