The United Arab Emirates has become a key hub for Russian gold trade after Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine cut off Russia's more traditional export routes.
Customs data on nearly 1,000 gold shipments in the year since the war began show the Gulf state imported 75.7 tonnes of Russian gold worth $4.3 billion - up from 1.3 tonnes in 2021.
The next largest destinations were China and Turkey, importing about 20 tons each between February 24, 2022 and March 3, 2023. According to data for this period, these three countries accounted for 99.8% of Russian gold exports.
Within days of the invasion of Ukraine, many multinational banks, logistics companies and precious metals processors stopped handling Russian gold, which was normally sent to London, the center of gold trading and storage.
The London-based Precious Metals Market Association has banned Russian bullion made from March 7, 2022, and the UK, European Union, Switzerland, US, Canada and Japan have banned imports of Russian gold bullion until the end of August.
However, export data show that Russian gold producers have quickly found new markets in countries that have not imposed sanctions against Moscow, such as the UAE, Turkey and China.
Louis Marechal, an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development expert on gold sourcing, said there was a risk that Russian gold could be melted down and then returned to the US and European markets with disguised origins.
"When Russian gold comes in, is melted by a local refiner, bought by a local bank or trader, and then sold in the market, you have a risk," he said. "That's why due diligence plays an important role for end buyers who want to make sure they sanctions regimes are followed.
Customs figures from Russia show exports of 116.3 tonnes between February 24, 2022 and March 3 this year, although consultancy Metals Focus estimates that Russia produced 325 tonnes of gold in 2022.
The rest of the gold mined in Russia likely either stayed in the country or was exported under unreported deals.
Most of the supplies of Russian gold to China went through Hong Kong. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the country's cooperation with Russia "should not be disrupted or coerced by any third party."
Meanwhile, the gold industry in the UAE has been thriving for a long time. Trade data show that the country imported an average of around 750 tonnes of pure gold per year between 2016 and 2021, meaning that the supplies reported by Russia represent only around 10% of its imports.
The UAE is a major exporter of bullion and jewellery.
The manager of one company that sent large volumes of Russian gold to the UAE said that Russian firms were selling bullion there at a discount of about 1% to global reference prices, offering an incentive for trade.
The manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said most of the gold his firm sent to the UAE was destined for refineries where it would be melted down.
In many cases, the customs documents only list the shippers or traders involved in the transactions, and not the final buyer, which could be a processor, jeweler or investor.
Records show that the largest processor of Russian gold exported to the UAE was Temis Luxury Middle East, a subsidiary of French logistics company Temis Luxury in Dubai, which was involved in the shipment of 15.6 tonnes worth $863 million between April 2022 and March 3.
European sanctions do not usually apply to foreign subsidiaries, so European firms whose subsidiaries were involved in supplying Russian gold to the UAE, Turkey or Hong Kong were not necessarily breaking any laws, according to Tan Albayrak, a sanctions lawyer at Reed Smith in London.
In Hong Kong, the Chinese logistics company Vpower Finance Security Hong Kong Ltd handled most of the Russian gold deliveries. According to the documents, between May 2022 and March 3, she was involved in the import of 20.5 tons of gold worth $1.2 billion.
Seeking to further isolate Russia, Washington has warned countries including the UAE and Turkey that they could lose access to G7 markets if they do business with entities subject to US sanctions.