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Forensic geology and the clean gold program

30 August 2022

Dr Laurance Donnelly at the 2022 international seminar on ‘gold forensics and illegal gold trade investigation’ at the National Institute of Criminalistics in Brasília, Brazil. (Credit: Photograph, Laurance Donnelly)

In summer 2022, Dr Laurance Donnelly, together with a colleague from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was invited by INTERPOL and the Brazilian Federal Police (BFP) to attend an international seminar on ‘gold forensics and illegal gold trade investigation’ at the National Institute of Criminalistics in Brasília, Brazil.

With attendees from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), public oversight institutions, ministries and mining companies and law enforcement personnel from about 19 countries, the purpose of the meeting was to develop a greater understanding of how criminal gangs, cartels and terrorist organisations operate in the minerals, mining and metals industries. The discussions considered geological (and other) methods and strategies for the management and mitigation of risks including: (1) illegal mining beyond regulatory control, (2) fraud, (3) theft, (4) adulteration of mineral concentrates or processed metals, (5) the substitution of samples ahead of assaying, (6) the mining and trading of conflict minerals, (7) mineral smuggling, and (8) fakery. The discussions also included the tracking, tracing and provenance determination of gold and other precious metals and minerals in the global supply chain, the impacts on human rights violations, money laundering and misconduct in illegal and illicit mining and minerals activities around the world.

The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) awarded Dr Donnelly and the Initiative on Forensic Geology (the IUGS-IFG) a ‘Special Project’ to investigate crimes in the minerals, mining and metals industries. The scale of such criminal activity is at present poorly documented but is suspected to take place around the world and is linked to serious and organised crime cartels, terrorist organisations and political regimes. Mining crime can directly or indirectly affect many parts of society. The Special Project has the following objectives to: (1) evaluate the current global scale of mining-associated crimes, and (2) assess the geological methodologies that may aid law enforcement agencies in the detection, prevention, management and mitigation of mining crime, the identification of the research priorities needed to develop rigorous protocols to aid law enforcement and the global minerals supply chain. For more information, please visit https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/iugs/IUGSSpecialProject/

Dr Donnelly has been advising police and law enforcement on the applications of geology to investigate major and high-profile crimes around the world for over 30 years, including crime scene examination; geological trace evidence; searches for buried graves and other items related to homicide, serious and organised crime, and counter terrorism; and minerals and mining crime.

2022 marks the 20th Anniversary of Dr Donnelly’s landmark presentation on ‘The Moors Murders and Forensic Geology’, which was given at Westminster Place, House of Commons, as part of the All-Parliamentary Group for Earth Sciences. This presentation drew attention to a new search strategy that Dr Donnelly had been developing (The Geoforensic Search Strategy), which is now used by police and law enforcement around the world. In the four years that followed this pioneering meeting, Dr Donnelly worked to create a Specialist Group at the Geological Society of London, the Forensic Geoscience Group (FGG), which was approved by Science Council and launched in 2006, and he served as its first chair. Following its success, Dr Donnelly then went on to found the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), Initiative on Forensic Geology (IFG) in 2011, and he is the current chair. IUGS-IFG promotes and develops the applications of geology to police and law enforcement around the world, working with geologists, police and law enforcement.


Dr Laurance Donnelly, Founder and current Chair of the IUGS Initiative on Forensic Geology, Founder and first Chair of the Geological Society of London’s Forensic Geoscience Group, and Chief Geologist and Head of Technical Department at AHK International.

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