Patrick A. Heller
Recently, the German television station ProSieben ran a news story covering W. C. Heraeus in Hanau, Germany, the world's largest privately owned refinery. In the story, Wilfried Hörner, the head of the gold foundry, shows a 500 gram bar (16.0755 troy ounces) received from an unidentified bank. The bar had the right physical dimensions to be an authentic gold bar, but one of the Heraeus employees suspected something funny. After the bar was cut in half, you can see that the inside is tungsten, with only a coating of gold on the outside.
Last fall, Rob Kirby of Kirby Analytics in Toronto reported that China's central bank had discovered some 400-ounce gold-plated tungsten bars among those it had recently received from bonded warehouses. It was later learned that at least four counterfeit bars were found and that all had come from sources in the United States. As suspicions grow about counterfeit bars among those held in bonded warehouses for delivery against either COMEX or London Bullion Market Association contracts or shares of exchange traded funds, investors could panic. So, you can understand that there has been almost a total blackout on news coverage on this story.
Tungsten is the only lower value metal that has a specific density close enough to gold to fabricate passable counterfeit pieces of the same size and weight as genuine coins and ingots. Over the years, there have been a few isolated reports of smaller coins and bars found to have been drilled to remove some of the gold which was replaced with tungsten. However, it is far more profitable to fabricate larger original bars of tungsten that are then gold-plated.