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Looted diamonds cost Zimbabwe hundreds of millions, report says

November 12, 2012|By Emily Alpert
  • Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe delivers a speech during the first day of the Zimbabwean Diamond Conference in Victoria Falls.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe delivers a speech during the first… (Jekesai Njikizana / AFP…)

When diamond fields were discovered in eastern Zimbabwe six years ago, the revelation raised hope that the gems could change the economic fortunes of the impoverished country.

Instead, the prized stones have been looted from the Marange fields to enrich elites and criminals, “perhaps the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes,” a new report asserts.

Under the watch of Mining Minister Obert Mpofu, hundreds of millions of dollars that could have gone to the state treasury have evaporated, said Partnership Africa Canada, a watchdog group based in Ottawa. While diamond money goes missing, elites close to President Robert Mugabe raise suspicions by flaunting wealth far beyond their government salaries, it wrote.

The new report echoes concerns raised by Finance Minister Tendai Biti, an opposition party member who has questioned smaller-than-expected diamond revenues. In July, Biti reportedly said the government had reaped only $46 million out of an expected $600 million for the year.

Government officials at a Monday conference on the diamond trade told the Associated Press the allegations of theft were “totally false.” Mugabe and mining officials contend United States sanctions, not mismanagement, are behind the disappointing revenues from its diamond haul.

“Our buyers have been threatened by the Americans and the British” daily, Mpofu told the Herald state newspaper last month. "Some payments from our buyers have been intercepted. Our customers are being deterred from buying our diamonds by these things."

The government has sought to improve the image of its diamond industry abroad: Mugabe told the Monday conference in Victoria Falls that Zimbabwe was planning a new law "to further assure the global diamond industry that the government takes seriously good governance in the extraction and eventual trading of diamonds," the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

Besides the suspicions of graft, the industry has faced persistent reports of human rights abuses in the diamond fields. The question of how to handle its diamond trade has divided monitors: The Kimberley Process monitoring group lifted a ban on diamond sales from Marange last year, infuriating one of its founding groups, Global Witness, which pulled out of the monitoring effort and denounced it as "an accomplice to diamond laundering."

In its report, Partnership Africa Canada urged Zimbabwe to make the diamond trade more transparent, regularly airing production, trade and payment figures. It also recommended that Zimbabwe start requiring top officials to publicly disclose their business holdings and assets, demilitarize diamond deals and ramp up parliamentary oversight of mining contractors.

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