You know the saying, “All that glitters is not gold?” Well, that might ring truer than ever these days. A recent gold doping incident has sent shockwaves through the industry.
A scandal has erupted on a global scale in the precious metals industry between two major players — the Perth Mint and the Chinese government. According to an internal report, the Perth Mint is alleged of selling diluted or "doped" bullion to China and then covering it up. The discovery of two faulty gold bars evaluated by the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) could result in the Perth Mint facing a potential $9 billion recall of gold bars.
According to Four Corners, documents have revealed how the Western Australian government-owned mint started "doping" its gold in 2018. Furthermore, the documents illustrate how the mint concealed evidence from its biggest customer to safeguard its reputation.
The report found that although the gold from the mint is still upheld under precious metal industry scrutiny, an estimated up to 100 tonnes of gold sent to the SGE potentially did not comply with Shanghai's strict purity standards for its silver metal alloy content.
A scandal of this size is unprecedented for the mint, according to a Perth Mint insider. As the largest processor of newly mined gold in the world, sitting on a $20.3 billion gold sales legacy in 2022 alone, this scandal could have enormous implications for the reputability of precious metal assets produced at the mint. Let’s find out more about what the big deal with gold doping is and how this salacious event could further damage the credibility of the 124-year-old institution.
What Is Gold Doping?
As a precious metal, gold’s softness and malleability can put its structural integrity at risk. To mitigate this risk, it is a common practice for refineries to add other metals or elements to gold to improve its physical properties, such as strength or durability.
In the process of adding a small amount of base metal, like copper or silver, to gold products to increase the hardness and durability of gold, refineries aim to make it more resistant to wear and tear. Additionally, base metals can give gold a different color or hue, which some investors or consumers may find more appealing. However, the practice of gold doping can also decrease the overall purity of the gold, which can negatively impact its value.
How Does Gold Doping Affect the Value of Gold?
Refineries, mints, and other gold producers must be careful about how gold doping is applied. For instance, gold doping can potentially increase the value of gold products by improving their appearance and meeting specific industry standards. This can benefit the mint or refinery that produces the gold as it may create more profitability.
However, there are also several drawbacks to gold doping. For one, it can lead to a lack of transparency and trust in the industry if the process is not disclosed to customers. Perth Mint’s attempts to cover up the gold doping scandal by withholding evidence from its largest client, the SGE, can make buyers question the industry's reliability. In an effort to protect its own reputation, Perth Mint’s actions have harmed consumer trust in producers in the precious metals industry.
Additionally, if the doping process is not done correctly, it can potentially decrease the overall purity and value of the gold. Finally, if the use of doping is discovered and exposed, it can lead to negative consequences for the mint or refinery and damage its reputation. Failure to provide information about non-compliant bars and providing misleading information about the source of the non-compliance has magnified these consequences.
How Do the Perth Mint’s Gold Purity Standards Compare to Gold Standards Set by the SGE?
The gold purity industry standard is 99.5% or 995 parts per thousand. This means that the gold product comprises 995 parts pure gold and 5 parts other metals, such as copper or silver. Industry organizations and government agencies enforce these standards to ensure the quality and authenticity of precious metal products.
The Perth Mint's gold purity standard criteria require that their gold products must have a minimum gold purity of 99.99%. This is known as "four nines" gold, meaning the gold content is 99.99% pure. The Perth Mint is a renowned refiner of precious metals known for producing high-quality gold products that meet or exceed industry standards.
In 2018, the mint began doping its gold to offset production costs by around $620,000 a year marginally. Tell-tale signs of trouble reared their head at the onset of this initiative, with concerns from the mint’s refinery staff that silver and copper levels may have exceeded the amounts allowed by the SGE.
However, despite the concerns raised, the staff at the refinery continued with the process of gold doping.
Officially, the SGE has set a minimum purity standard of 99.5% for gold bars and ingots traded on its exchange. In September 2021, it was claimed by the SGE that two bars did not meet their purity specifications due to excessive silver content.
One of the two gold bars assayed for purity by the SGE had already been red-flagged within the refinery. The bar failed to measure up to the SGE's strict standards for silver but was still above the crucial 99.99% purity threshold. This called into question whether or not most of the gold bars produced during the three-year doping program would uphold under the scrutiny of Shanghai’s purity Shanghai standards.
If a recall ensues, the Perth Mint would have to cough up roughly $8.7 billion to buy back the faulty bullion to be recast and resold. Receiving financial backing to fund a recall of such magnitude would pose a challenge for the mint and could possibly become a burden to Australian taxpayers.
What Did the Perth Mint Have to Say About Their Involvement?
As you may presume, the Perth Mint is in some hot water with this scandal and has been deeply involved in the investigation. According to the Perth Mint, gold doping was aimed at improving the quality of the gold, not deceiving customers.
They claim that their internal investigation found that the doping levels were within industry standards and that there was no question about the value and purity of gold bars sold to customers in China. This statement rides on the coattails of newly implemented procedures after reviewing its refining practices in 2021.
The Mint's CEO, Richard Hayes, stated that the company is fully cooperating with regulators and conducting its own internal investigation. In a statement released on its website, the Mint has said that it takes the issue of product quality and integrity very seriously and is committed to transparency and openness in all its operations.
What Was the Verdict on the Perth Mint?
The final verdict found that the Perth Mint had been cleared of all gold doping allegations by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and the SGE. In fact, the SGE claims that the media jumped the gun on these reports and that there is no indication that any doping or cover-up occurred.
While the Perth Mint was cleared of all allegations, this gold doping scandal has raised concerns about the integrity of the precious metals industry and the accuracy of assays used to determine the purity of gold. The incident has highlighted the need for greater transparency and oversight in the industry. This scandal serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining trust and confidence in the integrity of the global precious metals market.
How Can Investors Protect Themselves from Gold Doping?
Investors and consumers should take precautions to protect themselves from fraudulent practices and ensure that the precious metals they purchase are properly assayed and verified. Investors can protect themselves from gold doping by being knowledgeable about the purity standards set by international organizations such as LBMA and SGE.
They can also choose to buy gold bars or coins from reputable dealers that are known to follow strict purity standards and have a transparent supply chain. Additionally, investors can request a certificate of authenticity and assay report for the gold they purchase to ensure it meets the required purity standards. It is also essential to be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true, as gold prices that are significantly lower than market prices may be a red flag for counterfeit or doped gold.
How are Precious Metals Assayed?
Precious metals are assayed using specific chemical and physical tests to determine their purity and composition. Here are some of the most common methods used for precious metals assaying:
Fire assay is the most widely used method for assaying gold and silver. In this method, a small sample of the metal is melted in a furnace. Different substances are mixed with the melted metal to remove impurities and determine its chemical makeup.
X-Ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF)
X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) is a way to check what elements are in a sample without damaging it. XRF works by shooting high-energy X-rays at the sample, which makes the atoms in the sample emit fluorescent X-rays. These X-rays are then measured to see what elements are in the sample and how much of each element there is. The amount of X-rays emitted is related to the concentration of each element in the sample.
Optical Emission Spectroscopy (OES)
In OES, the metal sample is vaporized using a high-temperature plasma, which produces a spectrum of light emissions. By applying a high-energy spark to the sample, the light emitted from the atoms is analyzed to determine the sample's elemental composition without causing a defect to the metal. The intensity and wavelength of the emitted light correspond to the concentration of the elements in the sample.
Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS)
In ICP-MS, the metal sample is dissolved in an acid solution and vaporized using a plasma torch. The high temperature in a plasma converts the atoms into ions. These ions are then sorted by their weight and analyzed using a mass spectrometer to determine the metal's composition. The sensitivity and accuracy of ICP-MS make it a commonly used technique for trace element analysis in various fields such as environmental monitoring, geology, and materials science.
Gravimetric analysis is a method used to determine the quantity of a substance in a sample by measuring its mass. This technique involves isolating the substance of interest through a chemical reaction, filtering and washing the precipitate (the formation of a solid substance caused by a chemical reaction), and then weighing it to determine its mass. The mass of the precipitate can be used to calculate the quantity of the substance in the original sample.
Gravimetric analysis is commonly used in analytical chemistry to determine the purity of compounds and the composition of complex mixtures.
These methods are highly accurate and widely accepted in the industry. By using these methods, precious metals can be accurately assayed to determine their purity and composition. This gives precious metals investors in particular, peace of mind by reassuring them that they are getting genuine precious metals.
The U.S. Gold Bureau — Your Trusted Precious Metals Dealership
The U.S. Gold Bureau has also felt the aftershocks of this scandal that’s shaken the precious metals industry. We understand that trust and integrity are imperative when it comes to precious metals investing. Rest assured, each of our Precious Metals Specialists has been through an extensive training program and is well-equipped to assist you at all stages of the process.
We offer the highest-quality investment grade and bullion precious metals products sourced from the US Mint and other mints around the world known for producing high-quality, pure precious metals. Our process handles the grading and certification steps to ensure each product’s authenticity.
To help ensure that customers receive the highest quality precious metals that meet or exceed industry standards, we work closely with precious metals industry experts, like former US Mint Director Edmund Moy and numismatics legend Michael Standish.
We are fully compliant with the top associations and governing bodies of the precious metals industry. As an authorized dealer for the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), you can trust the quality of the precious metal products received. Lastly, The U.S. Gold Bureau is an authorized bulk purchaser of coins from the U.S. Mint, licensed to sell high-grade investment coins. We promise that all our products are genuine, pure, and of the utmost quality.
Call us at 800-775-3504 for a best-price quote, or contact us through our live chat to learn more about our precious metals products and how we can guarantee the origin, authenticity, purity, and quality of every product we offer.