BMW, Volkswagen, Samsung and Apple are among those multinational companies who have purchased tungsten from firms which allegedly have ties with Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, the FARC, US television network Bloomberg reported.
Bloomberg found evidence to suggest that all the tungsten exported in Colombia comes from a FARC-controlled mine known as Cerro Tigre, or Tiger Hill, in the eastern Guainia department.
The FARC use the labor of local indigenous people to find the tungsten ore. They then sell it on to 14 small companies, who in turn sell it on to the larger companies that extract the tungsten, Bloomberg said.
Tungsten is a super-hard, heat-resistant metal that is used inside car engines, computer screens, phones, tablets, televisions, and also in the petroleum industry.
“They’re buying a kilo of tungsten ore for 20,000 Colombian pesos [or little less than $10] at the mine, and in the international market tungsten itself costs around $400 for 10kg. There’s the potential to make a big profit,” Bloomberg reporter MIchael Smith said in an interview with bluradio on Friday.
Police say that the mine at Tiger Hill can produce 15 metric tons of tungsten ore a week.
Major exporters of Colombian tungsten, like Cali-based Geo Copper, claim that all of their tungsten comes from a site called Caney de los Cristales, located about 150km west of Tiger Hill. But Smith claims that this is almost certainly false.
“The national police, the army and the environment ministry all say that the only tungsten is from Tiger Hill.” Smith confirmed in the radio interview. “Those who are exporting tungsten are saying that it’s from a legal source, but it isn’t.”
In the Bloomberg article Smith describes how a Colombia professor, Thomas Cramer, was invited to evaluate the potential of the Caney mine but failed to find any sign of tungsten.
Tax records show that Geo Copper sells much of its tungsten ore to a U.S unit of Plansee SE, an Austria-based metals processor. This is the company that provides tungsten to major car companies like BMW, Ferrari, Porsche and Volkswagen, and to engineering firms like Siemens.
“Wherever you go and touch any devices, you have a relatively high chance that somewhere or somehow Plansee is involved,” boasts the Plansee spokesman Denes Szechenyi.
Electronics giants Apple, Samsung and Hewlett-Packard all buy screens from Taiwanese company AOU, which is provided with material from Plansee.
When Smith confronted Plansee with the evidence of their involvement in indirectly funding the terrorist group FARC, they immediately pledged to stop buying tungsten ore from Colombia.
“When we went to [the companies] to explain to them what was happening they reacted quickly and told us that they didn’t know, because the sellers had all their papers in order. So they thought that it was all legal.” Bloomberg reporter Smith said in the radio interview.
“The same day that I presented my findings, they told me that they wouldn’t buy any more tungsten ore from Colombia.”
The Colombia government has responded to the Bloomberg investigation by opening an investigation into companies that may be buying tungsten ore from Tiger Hill.
The 2010 Dodd-Frank law requires that publicly traded companies be transparent about whether they’re buying gold, tungsten or tantalum from mines that finance wars in Central Africa, but it does not require the same transparency from those companies that mine in Colombia.
One of the reasons why the Colombia government haven’t been able to stop mining at Tiger Hill is because of its isolation. Police commander Colonel Luis Montenegro told Smith that it is in a difficult-to-reach part of the jungle guarded by 170 elite FARC troops. Moreover, since the mine is located on indigenous land any attack would likely harm local Indians.
The FARC have turned to mining, of both tungsten and gold, to fund their guerrilla war since losing control over much of the cocaine trade in Colombia.
The FARC have been fighting the Colombian state since 1964. The rebels are currently involved in peace talks with the Colombian government to end the conflict that has killed more than 200,000 Colombians.
- How Colombian FARC Terrorists Mining Tungsten Are Linked to Your BMW Sedan (Bloomberg Markets Magazine)
- Interview with Michael Smith (bluradio)
- Farc venden mineral a multinacionales para fabricar carros de lujo (El Espectador)
- When Financial Reform Meets Human Rights: Dodd-Frank Act Takes on Conflict Minerals (PR Web)