An investigation by Bloomberg has revealed Colombia's FARC guerrillas are heavily involved in the mining and sale of tungsten -- a mineral used in the cars, phones, tablets, computers and televisions manufactured by some of the world's biggest corporations.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) purchase tungsten from indigenous miners and operate their own mine -- known as Tiger Hill -- in the Guainia department near the borders with Venezuela and Brazil, according to Bloomberg.
The rebels sell the mineral on to middlemen and mineral companies, who then export it abroad. Over the last five years, records show there have been 40 shipments of tungsten ore out of Colombia by 14 companies, which officials said almost certainly came from Tiger Hill or the wider region.
One of the principal exporters is Cali-based Geo Copper, which owns a mine near Tiger Hill that the company CEO claimed was the only legal source of tungsten in the country. However, independent research showed there were no traces of tungsten at the mine, while officials claimed Tiger Hill and its surrounds was the only known source.
Companies that have bought Colombian tungsten include BMW, Volkswagen, Ferrari, Porsche, Siemens, Apple, and Samsung. Several of these companies told Bloomberg they were unaware of the FARC's role in the trade and would either halt sourcing from Colombia or initiate their own investigations.
Security forces consulted by Bloomberg say they are aware of the illegal operation but can do little about it as the mine is located in an isolated jungle region controlled by the FARC, making military operations difficult and costly.
InSight Crime Analysis
Sourcing minerals can be a murky business. International companies often source from what appear to be respectable national companies, but rarely question where the minerals originally hailed from. When media attention focuses on one region where mineral mining is fuelling conflict -- such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa -- companies often withdraw and seek out alternatives. However, as in the case of Colombia, these alternative sources are not always any "cleaner."
This is not the first time the FARC have been implicated in the trade of conflict minerals. The guerrillas are also believed to be involved in the mining of coltan -- another mineral commonly used in electronic devices -- in Venezuela. Ex-President Hugo Chavez placed a freeze on coltan mining in the country over concerns about its sourcing, however this regulatory vacuum has allowed illegal groups to step in.