Sunday, May 29, 2011

De Beers unaware of ‘expert’ panel

Diamond mining giant De Beers said it has not yet been approached for a comment and is therefore unaware of an ‘expert’panel set up by the Zimbabwean government to probe alleged looting of diamonds by the company.

Zimbabwe's Mines Ministry announced at the beginning of this month that an ‘expert’ panel had been set up to investigate the alleged diamond fraud committed by De Beers when it held prospecting rights in Marange prior to 2006.

Harare said it would take De Beers to court if the report by its panel confirmed their suspicions. However, De Beers spokesperson Lynette Gould said this week: ‘We are not aware of any such 'expert' panel nor have we been approached to comment.’

She said her company had nothing to hide and was confident it would be cleared of any wrongdoing by the panel when the investigation commences.

‘We are confident that should such a panel be convened that they would find absolutely no wrongdoing on the part of De Beers. By way of background, De Beers was prospecting in Zimbabwe for around 10 years until it departed in 2006. It carried out prospecting in the Marange area for only two years, all of which is recorded by the relevant authorities,’ Gould added.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu and Deputy Mines Minister Gift Chimanikire say the South African diamond giant took rough stones from Marange but never declared their value to the state.

The government officials argue that De Beers allegedly told Harare that it was looking for Kimberlite pipe diamonds that required deeper digging than alluvial diamonds. This raised questions as to how De Beers could have missed stones that artisanal miners extracted with hoes and hands.

Gould insisted that De Beers' business model was based on exploring for primary deposits. ‘Marange is a secondary or alluvial deposit and we thus concluded that it was not appropriate for our portfolio,’ she said.

Political analysts have said the move by the Zimbabwean government was an attempt to divert attention from alleged looting of diamonds from the controversial Marange field by shadowy firms working in partnership with senior Zanu (PF) officials.

Human rights organizations have alleged serious abuses by Zimbabwean military units in control of Marange, and others say millions of diamonds are being smuggled out to the enrichment of a clique with close ties to President Robert Mugabe's Zanu (PF) party.

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