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Episodes 2017; 40(2): 132-140

Published online June 1, 2017


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

The role of forensic geology in the illicit precious metals trade

Roger Dixon1*, Robert Schouwstra2

1University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; Officer for Africa, International Union of Geological Sciences, Initiative on Forensic Geology (IUGS-IFG); *Corresponding author, E-mail: roger.dixon@up.ac.za
2Independent Consultant: Mineralogy, Roodepoort; Adj. Prof. JKMRC, UQ; Affiliated Assoc. Prof. Geology Dept, UFS; Adj. Prof, Chem Eng. Dept., UCT, South Africa, E-mail: robertschouwstra5@gmail.com

Correspondence to:*E-mail: roger.dixon@up.ac.za

Received: November 7, 2016; Revised: March 7, 2017; Accepted: March 7, 2017

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The proceeds of the illicit trade in precious metals are used as currency to pay for, for example, other illicit goods and support terrorism. Precious metals are often mined in less developed countries and exported to and refined in more industrialised regions. International cooperation, sophisticated analytical techniques, combined with representative databases make it possible to trace the source of these stolen precious metals with the aim of obtaining successful prosecution of the culprits. In this paper the problem of illicit trade in precious metal-bearing materials and the effects it has on the countries in which the material originates is discussed. Combined with geological knowledge of the origin of the material and knowledge of the beneficiation processes utilized, enables determination of the provenance of unknown materials and whether the suspect material is illicit or not. Recent legislation with regard to international trade and the need to ensure the legality of the material traded is discussed, and some examples of the effectiveness of the forensic investigation of gold and platinum-group metal criminal cases are provided.