Saturday, November 8, 2008

Zim loses $2bn worth of diamonds a month through smuggling

By: Oscar Nkala, 7th November 2008

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) says the country is losing nearly US$1,2-billion worth of diamonds a month to more than 500 syndicates that are operating in the diamondfields of Chiadzwa and Marange, in the east of the country.

In a paper presented to a law enforcement symposium in Harare, RBZ governor Gideon Gono says the staggering losses are enough to rescue the sliding economy from total ruin and return the country to prosperity in less than a decade.

“A reliable estimate shows that US$1,2-billion per month would be realised from diamond sales in the country, enough to solve the economic challenges the country is currently facing. We have investors who are able to mine and [generate] US$1,2-billion every month while we only need US$100-million a month for all our difficulties to go [away],” he adds.

Gono says illegal dealing and smuggling are also rife in the gold-mining sector.

He says members of the main syndicates operating in Manicaland are dealers and smugglers from Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Mali, Congo, Senegal, Angola, Zambia and the Central African Republic.

Despite the arrest and deportation of more than 20 foreign nationals from the area last year, the problem is far from over.

Illegal diamond-mining in Zimbabwe took off four years ago, following the discovery of the gems in Manicaland province.

However, a senior police officer from Manicaland tells Mining Weekly that the diamond smuggling syndicates cannot be uprooted because they have political and security establishment connections.

“Like all illegal activities that involve huge amounts of money, this problem of illegal panning and smuggling will simply not go away. Many a time we have arrested people with big stashes of diamonds and even cash in US dollars, only to get a phone call from some high-ranking government or party official to say we should release the suspects and give them back ‘their’ loot.

“All the security services are here – police, police intelligence, the Central Intelligence Organisation, the army and its Military Intelligence. But the area is still swarming with foreign dealers who openly hire entire communities to do illegal panning on their behalf. These are the untouchables.

“It defeats logic – you try to arrest one of these people and the next officer on duty releases them [after charging them with] loitering, which attracts a meagre fine of Z$20. That is why everyone now takes a bribe. “The RBZ may want to see this ended quickly, but they would have to arrest top government and security establishment officers, who are bleeding this country to death,” says the officer.