Argor-Heraeus investigation (re Dem. Rep. of Congo)

Pour la version française de ce profil, cliquez ici.

On 1 November 2013 the Swiss NGO TRIAL filed a criminal complaint (dénonciation pénale) with the Swiss federal prosecutor’s office against Argor-Heraeus SA, a Swiss gold refinery, alleging that the company had been involved in money laundering.  TRIAL claimed that Argor-Heraeus had refined gold that had been pillaged by an illegal armed group (Front nationaliste et intégrationniste (FNI)) from the northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The armed struggle to control mineral wealth in this region of DRC has led to extensive human rights abuses.  FNI allegedly used the proceeds from the sale of the gold to finance its operations and purchase arms.

The Swiss prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal investigation into TRIAL’s complaint.  On 10 March 2015, the investigation was closed.  The prosecutor concluded there was not enough evidence that the company was aware of the criminal origin of the gold to prosecute it.

- "Swiss slammed for closing DR Congo 'dirty gold' case", AFP, 2 Jun 2015
- “Punish companies that pillage”, James G. Stewart, University of British Columbia in New York Times, 14 Nov 2013
- “Swiss gold refiner accused of abetting Congo war via money laundering”, Kerry A. Dolan, Forbes, 4 Nov 2012

Argor-Heraeus SA:
- [PDF] Press Release – Argor Heraeus firmly refuses any accusation, 4 Nov 2013

TRIAL (Track Impunity Always):
- "Swiss decision to close Argor case encourages "head in the sand" attitude", with Conflict Awareness Project, Open Society Justice Initiative, 2 Jun 2015
- [PDF] Stop Pillage – Pillage is a war crime, 4 Nov 2013

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Author: Laura Ces et Bénédict De Moerloose, TRIAL

« Classement de l'affaire Argor-Heraeus : De la difficulté de tenir responsables les sociétés qui profitent du pillage », 29 juin 2015

Le 30 octobre 2013, l'ONG suisse TRIAL, soutenue par Open society justice initiative (OSJI) et Conflict Awareness Project (CAP), déposait une dénonciation pénale contre l'une des plus importantes raffineries au monde, l'entreprise suisse Argor-Heraeus SA. Les nombreux éléments de preuves à l'appuis...démontraient que l'entreprise avait raffiné, entre 2004 et 2005, près de trois tonnes d'or pillé par un groupe armé au Nord-Est de la République Démocratique du Congo (RDC)... Le 10 mars 2015 malgré l'inculpation d'un dirigeant de la société, malgré une perquisition...des mois d'enquêtes et une décision du Tribunal pénal fédéral, le Ministère public de la Confédération suisse (MPC) classait [l'] affaire...Cette décision, considérée par les organisations actives sur le dossier comme « un encouragement à la politique de l'autruche », appelle plusieurs commentaires...[L']'autorité de poursuite suisse a confirmé la provenance criminelle de l'or...Le MPC a ensuite observé que l'entreprise suisse avait violé son propre règlement anti blanchiment d'argent...Reste à se demander si l'affaire aurait été tranchée de la même manière dans un Etat dont la législation serait moins complaisante avec les abus des transnationales...[Fait aussi référence à Hussar]

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Author: AFP

Le parquet de la Confédération (MPC) a décidé de classer la procédure pénale ouverte en octobre 2013 à l'encontre d'Argor-Heraeus SA, dénoncée par l'ONG TRIAL pour avoir raffiné de l'or sale en provenance de RDC. Le MPC reconnait pourtant l'origine problématique de l'or….Dans son ordonnance rendue en mars, le MPC conclut qu'Argor a bien raffiné près de trois tonnes d'or pillé par des rebelles congolais entre 2004 et 2005 et violé son règlement interne. Le MPC «estime pourtant que la société n'a pas commis de délit, puisqu'elle n'a pas nourri de doutes sur la provenance de l'or», assure l'ONG [La Déclaration de Berne]…L'ONU et des ONG dénoncent le rôle clé de ce commerce dans le financement des milices, dont les exactions ont fait des millions de victimes…«Cette décision sape les efforts internationaux pour éliminer le commerce des ressources illégales qui finance les conflits dans le monde» [a déclaré le directeur de TRIAL]. Argor…s'est félicitée du jugement affirmant «n'avoir jamais douté de cette décision puisque toutes ces allégations n'étaient pas fondées». [Fait aussi référence à Rand]

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Author: Conflict Awareness Project, Open Society Justice Initiative et TRIAL

Le Ministère public de la Confédération (MPC) a décidé de clore les poursuites contre Argor Heraeus SA. L’entreprise suisse spécialisée dans le raffinage de métaux précieux avait été dénoncée aux autorités suisses par l’ONG TRIAL (Track Impunity Always), pour soupçons de blanchiment et de complicité de pillage. Si le Ministère public de la Confédération (MPC) a reconnu que de l’or pillé avait bien été raffiné par Argor et que l’entreprise avait violé son devoir de diligence, il a pourtant décidé de classer l’affaire. Cette décision suscite l’incrédulité des ONG actives sur le dossier. Après plusieurs années d’enquête, Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) et Conflict Awareness Project (CAP) avaient soutenu la dénonciation soumise par TRIAL, assortie de preuves démontrant que l’entreprise avait raffiné près de trois tonnes d’or sale en provenance de République démocratique du Congo (RDC). Selon les ONG, le classement de l’affaire fragilise les efforts menés pour mettre en terme au commerce illicite de matières premières qui alimente parmi les conflits les plus violents dans le monde...

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Author: Olivier Longchamp, Déclaration de Berne, pour l'Agence économique et financière à Genève

...Dans son ordonnance rendue en mars, le MPC [Ministère public de la Confédération] conclut qu'Argor a bien raffiné près de trois tonnes d'or pillé par des rebelles congolais entre 2004 et 2005 et violé son règlement interne. Il estime pourtant que la société n'a pas commis de délit, puisqu'elle n'a pas nourri de doutes sur la provenance de l'or...[Cette affaire] souligne...les limites de ces codes de conduite : aussi stricts soient-ils sur le papier, leur application reste très relative et se heurte toujours à la logique des profits qui dicte les choix des sociétés. Et surtout, leur violation n'est pas sanctionnée...Pour protéger l'intégrité de la Suisse, il est nécessaire de disposer d'une loi obligeant les sociétés à connaître l'origine des produits qu'elles commercialisent et à s'assurer que ceux-ci n'aient pas été obtenus ou fabriqués en violation des droits humains ou des normes environnementales. C'est ce que demande l'initiative pour des multinationales responsables lancée par 65 organisations suisses...

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Author: Blick.ch

Die Tessiner Goldraffinerie Argor Heraeus muss sich nicht vor Gericht verantworten. Ihr waren Geldwäscherei und Beihilfe zu Kriegsverbrechen vorgeworfen worden. Die Bundesanwaltschaft hat ein entsprechendes Verfahren im März eingestellt, wie nun bekannt wurde...Die Nichtregierungsorganisation TRIAL (Track Impunity Always) hatte Ende Oktober 2013 Strafanzeige gegen Argor Heraeus eingereicht. Sie beschuldigte die Firma, von Juli 2004 bis Juni 2005 rund drei Tonnen geplündertes Gold eingeschmolzen und zu Feingold verarbeitet zu haben. Daraufhin eröffnete die Bundesanwaltschaft (BA) im November 2013 ein Strafverfahren wegen Verdachts auf Geldwäscherei und Kriegsverbrechen respektive Beihilfe zu Kriegsverbrechen. Sie durchsuchte den Sitz der Firma in Mendrisio TI und ordnete eine Telefonüberwachung an...

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Article
2 June 2015

Swiss decision to close Argor case encourages “head in the sand” attitude

Author: Conflict Awareness Project, Open Society Justice Initiative & TRIAL

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAGS) decided not to further prosecute the Swiss precious metals company Argor-Heraeus SA, that handled dirty African gold. While Swiss authorities acknowledged that Argor did refine looted gold and violated its duty of diligence, the case was nonetheless closed, a decision met with disbelief by the three NGOs working on the case.Together with Conflict Awareness Project (CAP), the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) supported a legal complaint filed in November, 2013 by TRIAL (Track Impunity Always), in which the Swiss NGO accused Argor of illegally processing over three tones of pillaged gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the NGOs, this decision undermines international efforts to eliminate the illegal resource trade that fuels conflicts around the world.On 10 March 2015, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland...closed the Argor case and concluded that there was no reason to believe that the company had been aware of the criminal origin of the three tons of gold...TRIAL, OSJI and CAP find this outcome hard to believe...

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Article
2 June 2015

Swiss slammed for closing DR Congo 'dirty gold' case

Author: AFP

Activists on Tuesday accused Swiss authorities of encouraging impunity, after prosecutors shut a case against a company suspected of laundering gold pillaged by armed groups in Democratic Republic of Congo. The Swiss attorney general's office decided in March to close a case against Argor-Heraeus, which faced allegations of "complicity in war crimes and pillage" after it refined three tonnes of gold ore pillaged...In its ruling, which was quietly made public a month later, the prosecutor's office said there was not enough evidence that the Swiss firm...was aware of the illegal origin of the gold...believed to have been illegally mined by a group called the National Integrationist Front...Argor, which claimed ignorance of the gold's origin, welcomed the decision and told AFP it "never doubted the decision since all allegations are without cause"..."It is completely incomprehensible," TRIAL director Philip Grant told AFP, insisting that Argor should have known, or at least suspected, that the precious metal did not come from gold-poor Uganda but had been pillaged in DR Congo... [Also refers to British Hussar, Rand Refinery]

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Report
20 March 2015

New guide for funders: "Advancing human rights accountability for economic actors"

Author: Daria Caliguire, SAGE Fund - Strengthening Accountability in the Global Economy

"Advancing Human Rights Accountability for Economic Actors: An introductory field guide for funders", Jan 2015

Advancing Human Rights Accountability for Economic Actors - credit:  SAGE F und – Strengthening Accountability in the Global Economy

[This guide provides]...an overview of a select set of strategies that seek to hold economic actors (primarily non-state actors) accountable to human rights obligations. We hope that this mapping:

  • Introduces an important body of work, issues and approaches to donors and others with an interest in learning more
  • Highlights some key opportunities for support and impact
  • Begins a conversation in the field among donors and activists, spurring additional strategy development, field building and investment

...This guide is a reference for funders seeking a broad overview of efforts to hold economic actors – corporations, development finance institutions, and others – accountable to human rights obligations within the larger field of human rights and the global economy. It provides an introduction to some of the field’s complex range of institutions, actors, and approaches… [It] examines more traditional human rights strategies that focus on enforcement as a means of advancing accountability, rather than engagement...

Contents [include]...

State of the Field: Focus on Enforcement
   1. Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives: Movement toward Binding Agreements
      Binding Agreements and Worker-Driven Social Responsibility

   2. International Standard-Setting: Renewed Momentum for Binding International Obligations
      United Nations Guiding Principles; International Treaty on Business and Human Rights

   3. Development Finance Safeguards: New Push for Strengthened Standards

   4. Accountability Mechanisms: Need for Compliance and Remedy
      OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; IFI Complaints Mechanisms; ECA Complaint Mechanisms

   5. Regulatory Regimes: Gaining Traction with Disclosure and Due Diligence...

   6. Legal Strategies: Constructing Accountability and Access to Remedy
      Corporate Liability; Access to Remedy; Extra-Territorial Obligations 

Emerging Issues: Rise of Private Finance; Fiscal Policy and Financial Regulation; Increasing Influence of BRICS; Trade and Investment Agreements; Climate Finance

A Call for Donor Action: Regulation; Legal Strategies; Field Building

[refers to Vale, Coca-Cola, Dinant, Posco, Pacific Rim; lawsuits against Lahmeyer, Nestlé, Argor-Heraeus, Anvil Mining (now part of China Minmetals), HudBay Minerals]

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Article
19 February 2014

The Turn to Corporate Criminal Liability for International Crimes: Transcending the Alien Tort Statute

Author: James Stewart, University of British Columbia in New York University Journal of Intl. Law & Politics (USA)

In November 2013, Swiss authorities announced a criminal investigation into one of the world's largest gold refineries on the basis that the company committed a war crime. The Swiss investigation comes a matter of months after the US Supreme Court decided in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. that allegations like these could not give rise to civil liability under the aegis of the Alien Tort Statute ("ATS")...In this paper, I argue that coupling corporate criminal liability with international crimes in national systems, as in this new Swiss case, is the next obvious “discovery” in corporate responsibility. In addition, at least one international court has now adopted corporate criminal liability for international crimes. These moves promise to transcend several of the doctrinal and conceptual problems that plagued the ATS...

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Article
11 January 2014

Prosecuting Corporate Pillage

Author: Hasan Dindjer, Rights Watch (UK)

Pillage is a war crime...[and] is both a serious breach of the laws of war...and, as resource-fuelled wars across the world attest, one that sustains some particularly brutal conflicts...[H]ow can corporations that buy pillaged resources themselves be held legally accountable?...[Recently] Swiss authorities launched a criminal investigation into the gold refiner Argor-Hareaus following a complaint [which alleges] that gold pillaged by the FNI, an armed group in the DRC, was sold...to Argor. [The company] vigorously denies the allegations...The complaint also alleges the “direct involvement” of Jersey-based Hussar Ltd...[and] Hussar Services Ltd...The results of the investigation [have been passed] on to the UK authorities and the Jersey authorities. [In the UK] pillage is incorporated as a domestic criminal offence by the International Criminal Court Act 2001, [but] the question remains whether corporations can be prosecuted under the ICC Act at all...

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