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Two of the world's largest banks, HSBC and JPMorgan, have stopped buying gold from the Perth Mint, citing potential damage to their reputation and concerns the government-owned refiner could lose its London accreditation.
The black ban follows revelations in The Australian Financial Review that the mint was buying up to $200 million of gold a year from a convicted killer in Papua New Guinea and that child labour and toxic mercury were present in its supply chain.
In response, the London Bullion Market Association, the world's largest precious metals exchange, said it was reviewing Perth Mint's ethical sourcing accreditation.
Children often work with their families mining gold in PNG. supplied
The investigation by the LBMA, which said it was taking the revelations "very seriously", has seen HSBC suspend purchases of 400 ounce gold bars and the smaller 1kg bars from the mint. JPMorgan has suspended purchases of the 1kg bars.
The mint, which is owned and guaranteed by the WA government, is the largest refiner of newly mined gold in the world.
"Both the banks (HSBC and JPMorgan) are concerned that by doing business with the mint they could be implicated in its troubles," one source who has spoken with staff at the two banks about the new policy said.
"They are concerned their own reputation could be brought into question."
Another issue for the banks, cited by the source, was that they could suffer heavy losses if the mint lost its LBMA accreditation and they were holding its gold at the time.
HSBC and JPMorgan declined to comment.
In a statement, the mint said it was "precluded by its governing legislation from publicly commenting about any of its customers".
The mint, which is overseen by WA Premier Mark McGowan, previously claimed to have the "highest standards for responsible sourcing".
Insiders have questioned this claim and said the mint was paying little more than lip service to this pledge by dealing with PNG firm Golden Valley.
Golden Valley is owned by Justin Parker, who was convicted of manslaughter in August 2017 and sentenced to 13 years' jail after beating his helicopter mechanic to death. He was released on parole last year.
In addition, Golden Valley's managing director, Luke von Boehm, admitted child labour and mercury were used by the small-scale or alluvial miners from whom it purchased gold.
This gold was then on-sold to the mint, which purchased about $200 million of metal from Golden Valley last year, according to insiders.
When a mint employee asked a delegation of senior managers from Golden Valley how they dealt with competition in PNG, a representative said: "It's easy – a gun to the back of the head."
Mr von Boehm has denied such a conversation ever took place.
The mint has since suspended all purchases from alluvial gold miners in PNG and its chairman, Sam Walsh, and Mr McGowan have pledged an investigation by an independent third party.
"This review will specifically consider the Golden Valley matter and all existing customers, and make recommendations about whether there needs to be tighter controls in the future," a spokesman for the WA Premier said in mid-June.
The LBMA said its "incident review process" had been triggered by the revelations about Golden Valley and it would investigate the potential breach.
As part of its ethical sourcing accreditation, refiners commit to not buying gold that promotes conflict or human rights abuses, including child labour, and also commit to ensuring that the product is sustainably sourced.
"Failure to adhere to the LBMA's responsible sourcing program will result in the removal of the refiner from the good delivery lists," the association has said.
In addition to potentially having its LBMA accreditation revoked, the West Australian corruption watchdog has begun making inquiries about the mint, following allegations of nepotism and related-party dealings.