By Damien Gayle
Diamonds from Zimbabwe’s notorious Marange field have been sold for the first time since the international ban on the country’s ‘blood diamonds’ was lifted.
Gems worth £103million ($160million) were offered for sale by the state-owned Zimbabwe Minerals Marketing Corporation in Harare to buyers by invitation only.
Authorities would not give details of the volumes of stones traded, but reports said selling on Monday had to be extended because of numbers of bidders and stones on offer. Pressure groups fear the profits could be going straight to President Mugabe’s Zanu PF, the ruling party of the pariah state.
It is thought the Central Intelligence Organisation, whose officers are accused of acts of violence against opposition supporters, benefits from off-budget diamond revenues. The Kimberley Process, the watchdog set up to keep so-called ‘blood diamonds’ off the world market, only lifted its ban on the Marange field last month.
Zimbabwe’s government had seized the 1,800 hectare alluvial diamond field at gunpoint from a British company in 2006, turning it over to local diggers. Two years later the field, where countless loose stones lie on the surface, was again cleared by the military in an operation which resulted in 200 deaths.
Mining rights to Marange have since been handed over to foreign companies working in partnership with Mugabe’s military cronies. This week’s gems sale was held on behalf of Anjin investments, a locally registered joint venture between a Chinese state corporation and the Zimbabwe Army, the Times reported.
It was recently revealed that one of the Zimbabwean directors of Anjin is Brigadier-General Charles Tarumbwa, a serving army officer who is barred by sanctions from travelling to or investing in Western countries.
Anjin says it has invested $310million (£200million) in an open cast mine at Marange and stockpiled as much as 2million carats while barred from trading by the Kimberley Process.
On Monday, Global Witness, a London-based environmental pressure group, withdrew from the certification scheme in protest at Zimbabwe’s re-admittance.
Charmain Gooch, the group’s founding director, urged people not to buy the Marange diamonds. She said: ‘Over the last decade, elections in Zimbabwe have been associated with the brutal intimidation of voters. Orchestrating this kind of violence costs a lot of money.
‘As the country approaches another election there is a very high risk of Zanu PF hardliners employing these tactics once more and using Marange diamonds to foot the bill. The Kimberley Process’s refusal to confront this reality is an outrage.’ UK Daily Mail