The truth behind the viral video showing gold bars 'looted in Mali'
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A mysterious video showing two white men opening and inspecting cases filled with stacks of gold bars has intrigued many social media users since it first started circulating online in mid-August. People have come up with different explanations for the footage, with some posts claiming the video shows customs officials intercepting gold stolen by French soldiers in Mali, while others allege the gold was part of a nefarious scheme implicating politicians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After some sleuthing, the FRANCE 24 Observers team managed to contact the men in the video and find out the real story.
The footage, which runs for about 3 minutes, shows several people fussing around some cases, which, once opened, prove to be full of gold bars. Two white men, who are speaking in both French and English, seem to be examining the merchandise. The men speak directly to the camera on several occasions and, at one point, hold up a piece of paper with several names written on it. The video ends suddenly while one of the men is speaking to the camera and discussing the gold bars.
One of the most widely shared captions on this video says it shows Malian customs workers intercepting gold that French soldiers were attempting to smuggle out of the country. In Mali, many people believe that the French army maintains a presence in the country to steal gold.
One tweet suggesting this theory garnered more than 400,000 views in less than 24 hours. It was deleted on September 9, but you can view a screengrab below.
A similar theory was put forward by the Facebook page Kati 24, which has a history of sharing false or misleading information. Kati 24 claimed that the video was filmed in Niger and showed the interception of an illegal gold shipment from Kidal, Mali -- also referencing the idea that the French are stealing Malian gold. This post was viewed more than a million times in a week.
But that’s not all. On August 18, this video was posted online by people who claimed that it showed “Congolese gold”. Some suggested it was gold belonging to the family of President Félix Tshisekedi.
On August 25, the very same video also popped up on social media in Ghana. This time, the caption claimed that the video showed 2,400 kilos of gold being seized at the airport in Accra.
Clues hidden in the video
The FRANCE 24 Observers team quickly discovered two clues in the footage.
First, in the longer version of this video, one of the white men is holding a newspaper in his hand. If you stop the video, you can make out the newspaper’s masthead (The Business & Financial Times) as well as the headline of one of the articles on the frontpage.
The B&FT is mostly distributed in Ghana. The article "Yaa Boateng for Cannes’s SIBI Festival of Creativity" was published on June 10, 2019. The article is still available on the newspaper’s website.
The second clue is the name FarTrade, which appears on a piece of paper held by one of the men. According to its website, FarTrade is a company that offers support to European companies that wish to invest in Africa.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team reached out to FarTrade, but they did not respond to our request for an interview. They did, however, respond to Fake Investigation, telling them to contact “Mr. René Verrecchia for more information".
This screengrab shows the email that "Fake Investigation" sent to "FarTrade" and their response.
“This has all been a gross misrepresentation of a run-of-the-mill inspection carried out during a metal sale”
René Verrecchia, who appears in the video, is an Italian lawyer. The FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to verify that it was indeed Verrecchia in the gold video by comparing it with another video of him that’s easily available online (below, we’ve included a screengrab of this second video).
Italian lawyer René Verrecchia told FRANCE 24 that he was one of the men in the video that has been circulating online since mid-August. The image on the right shows Verrecchia in the gold video, while the image on the left shows Verrecchia in a video about a financing operation in Dubai.
Verrecchia runs his own legal practice in Rome. He says that he knows FarTrade but that the company had nothing to do with the gold in the video.
He also told the FRANCE 24 Observers team by phone that he was indeed one of the men in the video and gave us the following explanation.
This video was filmed about two months ago in Accra. My friend, who is also Italian, and I were hired to represent potential buyers who wanted to establish themselves in commodities sector. This has all been a gross misrepresentation of a run-of-the-mill inspection carried out during a metal sale.
We were inspecting the merchandise and the documents. The video was filmed by one of the intermediaries, who wanted to show his client that the merchandise had arrived at its destination and was under inspection.
The names that I wrote on the paper were the potential buyers of the gold. They didn’t even know that this inspection was going on. As for FarTrade, it’s completely random that their logo appears in the video. I was looking for a piece of paper and that was the first one that I came across.
As far as I know, the sale wasn’t completed. After this inspection, I advised my client not to purchase this gold because I had doubts about the documents detailing its origins. Also, the way they wanted to carry out the transaction seemed dodgy to me.
Verrecchia did not want to divulge the names of the clients he represented. He also said that the sellers of the gold didn’t give him information about its origins.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about this video. We don’t know the origins of the gold, nor do we know what became of it.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to the Ghanaian customs, who said they didn’t know anything about this video and that they didn’t have any information about recent seizures of gold at the border.
One customs official said that the video definitely didn’t show customs seizing gold because there would have been a lot more agents involved in the operation. He guessed that it was an individual operation or potentially a case of corruption.
Our team also showed the video to Gilles Labarthe, author of the book “L’or africain” (“African Gold”), about the gold trade on the continent. He hadn’t seen the video before but shared his expert opinion.
This looks like a normal cargo inspection. They take several bars with them for further examination. The sheer quantity of gold that appears in the video is pretty surprising, though.
What’s strange is that the gold bars aren’t stamped. And there is no name or logo on the cases. It might be a case of a mining company selling gold wholesale to be transformed, in Europe, perhaps.
For the time being, the FRANCE 24 Observers team has not established who leaked this video to social media, but we are continuing our investigation. If you have any solid information about this video, please contact us at email@example.com.