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Investigation reveals global market for illegal Brazilian gold

FILE - Dredging barges operated by illegal gold miners converge on the Madeira River, a tributary of the Amazon, in Autazes, Amazonas state, Brazil, Nov. 25, 2021. Gold illegally mined in the rainforest mixes into the supply chain with clean gold to become virtually indistinguishable. (AP Photo / Edmar Barros, File)

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Brazil News Director David Biller, Latin America correspondent Joshua Goodman, freelance journalist Sam Cowie and photographer Andre Penner teamed up to expose those involved in Brazil’s illegal gold trade, from the illicit mining on Indigenous lands to the global market.

Mining on Indigenous lands in Brazil is not new. Numerous stories have been done on the practice, detailing the environmental and cultural impact of the illegal gold mining. But the AP investigation went a step further, naming those involved in the practice and tracing how the precious mineral travels from the mines of Brazil to global brands.

For their widely read investigative stories,published in English,Spanish and Portuguese,Biller,Goodman and Cowie obtained dozens of documents and conducted interviews with prosecutors,federal law enforcement agents, miners and industry insiders.

Cowie and photographer Penner trekked hundreds of miles into the Amazon to report comprehensively on those engaged in the illegal mining and those involved in the illegal gold trade — a cross section of individuals and companies ranging from shady fly-by-night operators to legitimate businesses.

Among their findings: Brazil is investigating an air taxi company contracted by the country’s health mionistry that transports Indigenous people and medical equipment. The company is also suspected of using its planes to bring in prospectors and supplies for illegal mining.

And a thorough AP review of public records revealed that Marsam,a refinery that provided minerals for Brazil’s 2016 Olympic gold medals and now processes gold ultimately purchased by hundreds of well-known publicly traded U.S. companies — among them Microsoft, Tesla and Amazon — is linked to an intermediary accused by prosecutors of buying gold mined illegally on Indigenous lands and other areas deep in the Amazon rainforest. The illegal mining also happens under the noses of an international certification program used by manufacturers to show they aren’t using minerals that come from conflict zones.

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