Who are the Gold Mafia? A cigarette don and a man named ‘Dollars’

Al Jazeera infiltrates some of Southern Africa’s biggest smuggling gangs laundering gold and millions of dollars.

They operate from the shadows. Al Jazeera’s latest investigation, The Gold Mafia, brings their crimes out into the open. Last week, Part 1 of ‘Who are the Gold Mafia?‘ dove into the lives of some of Southern Africa’s biggest money launderers and smugglers, from pastors to diplomats.

Now, in Part 2, meet one of the region’s biggest cigarette moguls, a showoff money launderer and their crafty partners who are plundering their nations of money and gold using a web of highly-placed connections, front companies and carefully doctored documents.

Simon Rudland is one of Zimbabwe's richest men and owner of Gold Leaf Tobacco [Al Jazeera]
Simon Rudland is one of Zimbabwe’s richest men and the owner of Gold Leaf Tobacco [Al Jazeera]

Simon Rudland

One of Zimbabwe’s richest men, Rudland co-owns Gold Leaf Tobacco, among the largest cigarette manufacturers in South Africa. But in 2022, the South African Revenue Service accused Rudland’s company of selling illicit cigarettes and avoiding taxes.

Al Jazeera’s investigation shows that his web of crime extends far beyond that, to an elaborate money laundering and gold smuggling scheme that helps him hide millions of dollars of unaccounted cash.

Documents and witness statements reveal that Rudland also loans some of his money to Zimbabwe’s government, which is cash-strapped because of Western sanctions. In exchange, Fidelity Printers and Refiners, the Zimbabwe central bank’s refinery, lets his couriers carry millions of dollars of gold to Dubai for sale through frequent trips. “He gives Fidelity the money, to buy the gold, for him to export,” fellow Zimbabwean gold smuggler Ewan Macmillan said in secretly recorded interviews, claiming that Rudland “bankrolls the whole country”.

At the centre of Rudland’s money laundering operations is a company in Dubai called Aulion that buys Zimbabwean gold using his dirty cash. Macmillan claimed Rudland has access to Zimbabwe’s highest-ranking officials, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the head of the central bank. Among Rudland’s business partners are a retired general, a former sanctioned energy minister and a former minister of foreign affairs, the investigation shows.

In 2019, two men attempted to assassinate Rudland, an incident he barely survived. Rudland was shot while in his car, but the culprits were never caught.

Map showing the location of the Gold Mafia smugglers

Asked for a response to Al Jazeera’s investigation, Rudland told us that the allegations against him formed part of a smear campaign by an unidentified third party. He described himself as “a strong businessman … competing against the greedy and the envious”.

He denied any involvement in the sale of illicit cigarettes, in gold or other forms of smuggling and in sanctions busting. He also denied any knowledge of Aulion and its activities and told us that it was not true that money passed from his accounts to Aulion.

He admitted to dealing with Mohamed Khan, who he agreed “appeared” to be a money launderer, and that two of Rudland’s companies had authorised Khan’s company to act as their agent, but denied that any form of money laundering had been undertaken for him or any of his businesses.

Gold Leaf Tobacco, his company, emphatically denied any involvement, past or present, in money laundering, the trade in illegal gold or related matters. No “untaxed” or “illegal” cigarettes could be “attributed” to Gold Leaf, though the proceeds of the illicit sale of its products by others did appear to have been moved between jurisdictions and thereby laundered.

Fidelity Printers and Refiners denied all wrongdoing.

Mohamed Khan sitting in an aeroplane seat.
Mohamed Khan built his money-laundering empire by bribing influential people in several South African banks [Al Jazeera]

Mohamed Khan, aka Mo Dollars

He likes flashy cars, has a weakness for women and is deadly dangerous, Khan’s ex-wife Wardah Latief and brother Dawood told Al Jazeera. Khan, who is known as Mo Dollars, owns PKSA and SALT Asset Management, South African financial services firms that help Simon Rudland and others launder large sums of money through fake invoices and stolen identities.

Khan built his money-laundering empire by bribing influential people in several South African banks to either turn a blind eye or work actively with him on his schemes: Al Jazeera’s I-Unit has accessed bank statements revealing how he pays them off every month.

Dawood said the brothers were poor growing up and often mocked by other children.

Khan loves to show off his newfound wealth: He travels business class, stays in the most expensive hotels in Dubai, and would get Latief all the designer clothes she wanted.

But Khan also has a much darker side. Audio recordings obtained by Al Jazeera reveal veiled threats against his own brother Dawood if he decided to turn into a witness against Mohamed and his clients. “You know what happens, right?” Khan asked Dawood’s wife on a phone call. “They kill you,” she responded. “Exactly,” Khan said.

Mohamed Khan told us that all allegations against him were false and based on speculation, conjecture and manufactured and doctored evidence. Khan confirmed he owned PKSA and SALT Asset Management but denied involvement in money laundering or other criminal activity. He denied bribing anyone.

PKSA and SALT Asset Management did not respond to requests for comment sent by Al Jazeera.

Howie Baker holding a shot glass next to two unidentified people.
Howie Baker, Simon Rudland’s point man in Dubai, is considered the glue that held the Gold Leaf Mafia together [Al Jazeera]

Howard ‘Howie’ Baker

Howard ‘Howie’ Baker is Rudland’s point person in Dubai, the investigation shows. He is the owner of several gold-trading companies, including Aulion Global Trading — the firm at the centre of Rudland’s laundering operations. The company buys the Zimbabwean gold exported by Rudland’s couriers.

It also receives tens of millions of dollars from the accounts of Gold Leaf Tobacco via fake invoices created by Mo Dollars and — earlier — by his brother Dawood. These invoices create the illusion of tobacco imports by Gold Leaf into Zimbabwe that in reality do not exist.

According to Dawood, Baker was considered the “glue keeping everything together”.

Baker, who like Rudland and Macmillan is from Zimbabwe, also is the owner of Rappa Refinery, a gold refinery in South Africa which supplies Aulion with gold, the investigation shows. He did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for a response.

Andries Greyvensteyn
Andries Greyvensteyn is co-owner of several companies involved in illicit gold trading [Facebook/Al Jazeera]

Andries Greyvensteyn

Andries Greyvensteyn is a partner in Aulion Global Trading.

Together with Baker and Mo Dollars, Greyvensteyn is also the director of a South African gold dealer called Gold Kid — whose offices serve as the headquarters of Gold Leaf’s dodgy operations.

It is another company used to move gold and illicit funds. Documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s I-Unit show that Gold Kid was one of the companies Mohamed Khan used to launder money.

Greyvensteyn is also the owner of a company in the United States called Liberty Gold, used by Mo Dollars to launder millions of dollars to the US using fake invoices, documents accessed by Al Jazeera show.

In response to our questions, Greyvensteyn said that he had not knowingly participated in any money laundering scheme. Liberty Gold denied all knowledge of the matters and individuals featured in this report. Gold Kid did not respond to Al Jazeera’s inquiries.

Composite image of six of the Gold Mafia couriers: Peter Bowen, Terence Ian Keith, Patrick Keith, Johannes Swan Jr, Johannes Swan Sr, and Talmage George Alexander.
The gold smuggling couriers: Left to right: (Top row) Peter Bowen, Terence Ian Keith, Patrick Keith      (Bottom row) Johannes Swan Jr, Johannes Swan Sr, Talmage George Alexander [Al Jazeera]

The Couriers

The gold mafia consists of multiple rival gangs, and each has its own set of couriers. These relatively low-level operatives are the people who move gold and money between different countries. They mostly travel between Zimbabwe and Dubai, carrying dozens of kilos of gold and millions of dollars with them on the trips.

Documents and footage obtained by the I-Unit show couriers such as Patrick Keith, Johannes Swan Sr, Johannes Swan Jr, and Peter Bowen take these trips multiple times per month, each time carrying large amounts of gold and cash back and forth.

The couriers did not respond to our inquiries.

Source: Al Jazeera