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Factbox-Russian gold shipments to the UAE, China and Turkey

FILE PHOTO: Production of gold at Krastsvetmet precious metals plant in Krasnoyarsk

By Peter Hobson

LONDON (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has become a key trade hub for Russian gold since Western sanctions over Ukraine cut Russia's more traditional export routes, Russian customs records show.

The records, which contain details of nearly a thousand gold shipments between Feb. 24, 2022 and March 3 this year, reveal the names of over 100 non-Russian companies that have handled Russian gold since Western markets banned imports from Moscow.

The shipments in the records, supplied to Reuters by a commercial provider, may not cover all exports in the period.

In many cases, the records show only shippers or traders involved in the transaction, not the end buyer, which could be a refiner, jeweller or investor.

Following are details of some of the companies that have been involved:

LONDON

According to the customs records, a handful of Russian shipments arrived in London after the Ukraine war started, but before Western import bans kicked in.

U.S. bank JPMorgan was sent 72.4 kg of gold worth $4.5 million in shipments in March and April last year while Swedish security firm Loomis was sent of 97.4 kg worth $5.9 million during March, May and June.

Both companies operate precious metals vaults in London.

The customs records for the shipments to JPMorgan and some of those to Loomis named French bank Societe Generale as the recipient.

A source close to Societe Generale said while the bank cannot comment on specific client matters, any transactions of such a nature were debt settlements arranged prior to the war in Ukraine and would contain gold bars made before March 7, 2022, when the London Bullion Market Association banned Russian gold.

A spokesperson for JPMorgan declined to comment.

Loomis said it does not conduct business with any sanctioned parties or sanctioned goods and does not buy or take ownership of goods, only transports them for clients.

The firm declined to comment on specific shipments but said it seemed the customs records referenced by Reuters contained incorrect information, without specifying what.

UAE

The records show the biggest handler of Russian gold exports to the UAE was Temis Luxury Middle East, a Dubai subsidiary of French logistics provider Temis Luxury, which participated in the import of 15.6 tonnes valued at $863 million between Feb. 24, 2022 and March 3 this year.

It was followed by Transguard, which is part of the Emirates Group, the airline-to-hotels conglomerate owned by the Gulf state's wealth fund, with 14.6 tonnes worth $820 million.

Temis Luxury said it fully complied with the laws and regulations of the UAE for freight forwarder activity.

Emirates said Transguard had not bought any Russian gold and had now stopped transporting Russian bullion.

The next largest handlers of gold shipped to the UAE in the year to March 3, 2023 were Shams Gold Trading with 8 tonnes, Privilege Group DMCC with 7.5 tonnes, Al Aseel Jewellery LLC with 5.3 tonnes and Paloma Precious DMCC with 5.1 tonnes, the customs documents showed.

Privilege did not respond to an email seeking comment, a lawyer representing Paloma said it had not committed any wrongdoing and Reuters was unable to reach Shams or Al Aseel for comment.

Another 17 non-Russian companies were each involved in transporting more than a tonne of Russian bullion to the UAE between Feb. 24, 2022 and March 3, 2023.

The other companies that helped shipped Russian gold to the UAE each handled fewer than 5 tonnes, in most cases far less.

Some large importers were, like Temis, subsidiaries of European firms.

Open Mineral, a metals trader in Switzerland set up by former traders at global commodities house Glencore, shipped 3 tonnes of Russian gold worth $167 million to the UAE, some before Swiss sanctions came in, and some afterwards.

All the deals after Swiss sanctions came into force involved Open Mineral's subsidiary in Abu Dhabi, not the Swiss company.

"Open Mineral was in full compliance with the relevant sanctions' regime in place at the time of these trades," the company said.

HONG KONG

Almost all the Russian gold shipments to Hong Kong and mainland China were handled by Vpower Finance Security Hong Kong Ltd, a Chinese logistics company. It was involved in the shipment of 20.5 tonnes of gold worth $1.2 billion between May 2022 and March, the records showed.

Vpower Finance Security did not respond to requests for comment.

Five other non-Russian companies handled more than a tonne of gold imports from Russia. Most of these shipments also involved Vpower.

TURKEY

No individual non-Russian company shipped more than a few tonnes of gold to Turkey. Eight took part in the import of more than one tonne of Russian gold in the year to March 3, 2023.

LBMA

At least two of the companies named in the customs records are members of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA). Vpower Finance Security is a full member and Transguard an affiliate member.

The LBMA said members and accredited refiners must comply with its rules, which include complying with U.S., UK and EU sanctions against Russia. It said it would investigate any allegations that LBMA members handled Russian gold and could rescind the membership of any companies that had done so.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; Editing by David Clarke)