As reported by Reuters, on Thursday, July 7th, federal police officers in Brazil raided the operations of an alleged criminal gang accused of using crypto tokens to launder money being illegally made from gold mining.
During the operation, dubbed “Greed”, police arrested five people and served 60 search and seizure warrants. According to the officers, the scheme involved healthcare companies that had reportedly been laundering money from illegal gold mining enterprises in the northern state of Rondonia from as early as 2012.
Among other laundering techniques, the gang had been running their own crypto token, which was used to justify the movement of billions of dollars raised from the illegal extraction of gold. The token was launched by one of the gang’s shell companies to create the illusion that the funds, which in reality came from gold mining, were the result of investments that had been made by third parties seeking high returns.
Federal police conducted a banking analysis which revealed that, between 2019 and 2021, over 16 billion reais ($3 billion) was moved through the group’s bank accounts.
Police also claim that the gang owned a mining company with invalid environmental permits that laundered gold extracted from a number of other illegal mines in the northern regions of the country.
Illegal Gold Mining Is Booming
Brazil is among the world’s top ten gold exporters, with mining regions expanding sixfold across Brazil between 1985 and 2020–growing from 31,000 hectares, to 206,000.
A significant portion of these mining operations are being performed illegally. Illegal mining has surged across the Amazon in Brazil, being heavily driven by the spike in the price of gold. The extraction and trade of the valuable metal not only fuels corruption, money laundering, and criminal violence, but has also accelerated the deforestation of the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
Researchers have documented tens of thousands of small-scale miners, and more than 320 illegal mines throughout Brazil. Even so, the true numbers remain unknown, and are likely even higher.