Around $2 billion worth of diamonds have been siphoned out of Zimbabwe in the past four years by a network of government ministers and military officials aligned with President Robert Mugabe, an Ottawa-based global watchdog said on Monday.
"Conservative estimates place the theft of Marange goods at almost $2 billion since 2008," Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) said in a report that coincided with the start of an international diamond conference held to boost Zimbabwe's diamond sector.
The report singled out Mines Minister Obert Mpofu for clearing mining concessions for security chiefs.
"Far from defending the best interests of Zimbabwe, Minister Mpofu has presided over a ministry that has awarded concessions to dubious individuals with no prior mining experience, often under very questionable terms or circumstances.
"He has solicited and approved applications from members of Zimbabwe’s security forces, including those implicated in human rights abuses in Marange."
Zimbabwe's diamond industry has been tarnished by allegations of graft, and labour and human rights violations when Harare deployed security forces to drive away illegal miners from the eastern Marange diamond fields.
Global watchdog Kimberley Process suspended exports from the area at the time, but lifted the ban after the government said it had pulled the security forces out of the area.
In an interview with the state-controlled newspaper The Herald ahead of the conference, Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa denied the charges that diamond profits had been funnelled out of the country by people close to Mugabe.
But the PAC report 'Reap What You Sow: Greed and Corruption in Zimbabwe's Diamond Fields' said: "Hundreds of millions of dollars owed to Zimbabwe’s treasury have been lost in both illegal and legal trades."
Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a member of the anti-Mugabe Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, complained in July that of the $600 million in diamond revenues expected this year, only $46 million had materialised.
"Many top securocrats loyal to" Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party were under scrutiny by PAC, which serves as the country's natural resource extraction watchdog.
An industry expert told the diamond conference in the resort town of Victoria Falls that Zimbabwe was selling its diamonds to few takers at give-away prices as most foreign buyers shunned the country, which has been isolated by its former western allies.
Chaim Even-Zohar, president of the Tel Aviv-based diamond consulting service Tacy Limited, said that Zimbabwe has the potential to produce 8.0 to 10 percent of global gem production but was not benefiting fully as potential buyers were worried about trading with the country.
He said that while Zimbabwe complied with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, "major companies are scared, insurance companies are afraid" of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, forcing the country to dispose of its gems at 25 percent less than their full value.© ANP/AFP