The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) is to conduct a world-wide study in September to discover the role of illegal gold mining in the production and distribution of gold.

UNICRI director Jonathan Lucas was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying: "Organised crime plays a role in the chain from mining precious metals to the marketplace.

"Countries are losing significant funds."

According to a Wall Street Journal report, South Africa topped among the countries across the globe in terms of illegal mining and illicit gold trading activities.

"We are very close to the point where there will be more illegal miners than legal miners."

In 1970, South Africa accounted for 80% of the world’s global gold supplies and today the country accounts for less than 1%, due to mine closures and other countries increasing their production rates.

According to data from South Africa’s Council for Geoscience, there are currently around 4,400 abandoned mines that are being illegally mined by locals. Records state that there are around 150,000 officially employed gold miners in South Africa.

South African mining consultant Anthony Turton told the news agency that: "We are very close to the point where there will be more illegal miners than legal miners."

According to estimations by South Africa’s Chamber of Mines, the country loses around 5%, or $2bn, worth of annual mineral output to illegal mining activities.

In 2010, the government estimated to have lost $500m in tax and export revenues from illegal mining, as against $2bn that it generates in corporate taxes a year from all mining firms.

With the new study, UNICRI aims to gather information from different countries during the period, from September to December this year or January 2015, and produce a report which will not only highlight the issue but also provide recommendations for countries and companies to deal with the issue.