Marange diamonds 'scale of illegality mind-blowing'

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF has siphoned diamonds worth over $2 billion from Marange diamond fields, according to an organisation leading the campaign against conflict diamonds.

Partnership Africa Canada (Pac), which published the report yesterday, said the plunder of diamonds in the eastern part of the country is “the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes,” the colonial tycoon who exploited South Africa’s Kimberley diamonds a century ago and moved to colonise Zimbabwe.

Pac is a member of the Kimberley Process, the world regulatory body on alluvial diamond trade.

Marange is one of the richest deposits in the world and mining has been taking place since 2006 when artisanal miners flooded the land searching for stones.

Notwithstanding the rich diamond deposits, there has been no marked upturn on the country’s economy which is still emerging from a decade-long recession caused by political turmoil and hyper-inflation.

Funds accrued from the diamond sales, according to the Pac report, are lining the pockets of Mugabe, his ministers as well as the army.

The report, released on Monday to coincide with the Zimbabwe government’s conference on the diamond trade in Victoria Falls, severely knocks Mugabe’s government efforts to preen the industry’s image on the global arena.

“Marange’s potential has been overshadowed by violence, smuggling, corruption and most of all, lost opportunity,” the Pac report stated.

“The scale of illegality is mind-blowing,” and has spread to “compromise most of the diamond markets of the world,” said the report.

The report describes the $2 billion reported to be unaccounted to the Zimbabwe Treasury as a “conservative estimate”.

In 2010 leading industry insiders, including Filip van Loere, a Belgian diamond expert working for the Zimbabwe government, said the country could produce as much as 30 million to 40 million carats a year, worth about $2 billion annually, the Pac report said.

Finance minister Tendai Biti was forced to cut down his economic forecast growth this year after Treasury failed to get the $600 million revenue expected from diamonds.

Biti only received $41 million.

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