The world’s second biggest rough diamond producer, De Beers mining company, this week denied fresh claims that it was involved in “looting” tonnes of diamonds at Marange fields (Zimbabwe), on the pretext that they were only carrying out ‘exploration exercise’.
The Zimbabwean government said last week it will drag the multi-billion Pula diamond company to court for such ‘looting’, state-owned Herald newspaper reported on Friday. “We are going to sue De Beers. They looted our gems on the pretext that they were under an exploration exercise and if you look at this, one can easily note that these gems are worth billions of dollars,” said mines and mining development minister Obert Mpofu.
He was speaking at the recent Zimbabwe Diamond Conference that brought top Zimbabwean officials and the diamond industry to deliberate on the future of the industry. According to the Herald, information from experts in that country suggests that De Beers looted diamonds amounting to over 100 000 tonnes worth billions of dollars at Marange field for nearly 15 years.
Botswana government owns 15 percent of the diamond company, while diversified firm Anglo American holds the rest. Until recently, the Oppenheimer family was part of the company. When contacted this week on allegations of looting, De Beers flatly denied such claims. The company also said it was not aware of a looming lawsuit from Harare.
“As we have said repeatedly before, these allegations are totally untrue,” pointed out Lynette Gould, De Beers head of media relations. In a response to Botswana Guardian questions, De Beers confirmed that it once did exploration exercise at Marange area. The Marange diamond fields are an area of widespread small-scale diamond production in Chiadzwa, Mutare West, Zimbabwe.
In recent times, privately owned mining companies, such as Botswana Stock Exchange listed-Botswana Diamonds have been granted exploration rights in the region, in joint ventures. The Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe are one of the world’s biggest diamond deposits. The fields remain key to the country’s recovering economy, which has been under strain for over a decade.
“The presence of diamonds in Marange was first discovered in the period 2001 to 2003 by De Beers during its exploration search for primary deposits (kimberlites),”said De Beers this week. Exploration at Marange by De Beers was concluded in 2006. De Beers would later relinquish its prospecting license in the region in the same year. During exploration activities, Gould said they routinely collected soil and rock samples across Marange region, which were taken to their South African laboratories for analysis.
“Such samples were exported through and with the authorisation of the Geological Survey of Zimbabwe in accordance with all the necessary export procedures and signed off,” added Gould On the contrary, the Herald reported that a team of experts stated that De Beers only took such samples to Europe and United States between 1995 and 2005.
Meanwhile, Mpofu did not state when they would take the once publicly listed company to court. “My office is currently finalising on a raft of measures so that we can take them to the courts. A team of legal experts will soon be set and De Beers has to answer before the courts because these are the same players that have been soiling Zimbabwe’s gems on the international market,” said Dr Mpofu.
The fresh allegations by Robert Mugabe led government comes at a time when officials linked to ZANU PF in that country have also been accused of ‘stealing’ Marange diamonds. Meanwhile, De Beers, like many diamond companies is also faced with declining consumer sales, due to the poor economic performance.
During the first half of the year, the company’s profit before finance charges and tax fell to $502 million, down from $1 billion in the first half of 2011. In the first half of the year, sales of rough diamonds by the Diamond Trading Company (DTC), a distribution arm of De Beers, were $3.1 billion.