The allegations were made during the "Four Corners" program on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC). The show uncovered documents that the Land Down Under's official bullion mint withheld evidence in order to protect its reputation. The Perth Mint had been accused by the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) for not meeting gold purity standards.
Responding to the ABC program's accusations on March 6, the Perth Mint emphasized that there is no question about the purity and value of the gold bars it has sold.
"At all times, the 1kg bars the Perth Mint produced and sold contained at least 99.99 percent gold, as per their specification," it said in a statement on its official website. "This has never been in dispute."
The mint said their gold bars contain up to 0.01 percent of non-gold materials such as silver and copper. However, it clarified that these specifications meet industry standards, and align with those set by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) – the international market authority for gold bullion.
According to reports, SGE informed Gold Corporation – the company operating the Perth Mint – that it did not meet the Chinese company's specification that the silver content of the gold bars should not reach more than 50 parts per million. Following this, the mint immediately launched a review of its refining practices, including how it applied the industry-wide accepted process of "alloying" its one-kilogram bars.
"Due to the nature of the refining process, there are varying amounts of extra gold above 99.99 percent in each bar. This is known in the industry as the gold giveaway because the customer does not pay for this extra gold," it said in the announcement. The mint also assured that following a review of its refining practices, new processes were implemented to ensure that gold bars carried an average minimum purity of 99.996 percent – higher than the 99.992 percent industry standard.
According to the Perth Mint, doping is done in the gold refining industry "to minimize the gold giveaway without affecting the minimum purity." While doping is a somewhat accepted practice in the industry, it poses a high risk for refiners as adding impurities like silver and copper lowers the bullion quality.
But the Australian national broadcaster pointed out that the mint did not only supply the SGE with impure gold, it also refused to disclose the scale of the issue to the exchange.
"Four Corners" first launched its probe in late 2021 after the SGE raised concerns. According to the investigation, the Perth Mint knew that the problem was not limited to one bad batch. Many of the gold bars it supplied to its Chinese client between 2018 and late 2021 might have been non-compliant, it added.
The Perth Mint allegedly revised its processes, but did not inform the SGE what had happened. (Related: U.S. Mint unable to keep up with "surging demand" for gold, silver.)
"For a $600,000 [saving per year] benefit to risk a reputation of delivering sub-standard gold to a major client, a major exchange really reflects an organization that just doesn't have its hands correctly applied to dealing with risk," financial regulation expert Nathan Lynch said.
Meanwhile, LBMA announced they had already commenced an "incident review process" over the matter and said it was taking the allegations "very seriously."
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Watch this video about the Perth Mint hiding leased silver.
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