Saturday, August 2, 2008

Diamond dealers eastablish powerful cartels

Illegal diamond dealers have now organized themselves into powerful cartels that have become immune to arrest and prosecution despite repeated threats by Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono that they would be brought to book.
This has stoked fears this otherwise quiet eastern border city of Mutare could soon be plunged into a hub of organized crime and lawlessness.
Mutare is close to the Chiadzwa diamond fields in Marange.
Diamond dealers now do their illegal transactions publicly on the streets amid reports the country is losing several millions of United States dollars every week as a resulting of the illegal trading of the precious gems.
The dealers operate in organized groups with some of them armed with small firearms. There have been reports of people being killed after diamond deals went sour.
Three weeks ago a 21-year old man from Chikanga was murdered at a nightspot after a transaction had culminated into a heated dispute.
Police have launched superficial raids at the Chiadzwa diamond fields in Marange, which have only netted small-time miners and dealers.
Up to 2000 people have been arrested since an operation to stem the illegal mining and selling of diamonds was launched in May this year under Operation Restore Order at Chiadzwa.
Only last week about 334 illegal miners and 74 dealers were nabbed under the operation.
The police recovered 334 pieces of diamonds, US$17 295, 7 923 Rands and ZW$ 18 trillion during the operation. Seventy-six vehicles were also impounded during the operation.
Several of those arrested have been brought to court were they were sentenced to jail terms of upwards of two years.
But police sources said only the small players were nabbed leaving behind the barons known to enjoy immunity from both the police and other security organs.
“What we are seeing here is a situation where the bid diamond dealers have become so powerful so much that it is now very difficult of them to be arrested,” said a police officer who participated in the last operation. “These guys have organized themselves into very powerful cartels. We are also now becoming afraid of them because they are above the law.”
The police sources said it was now an open secret that big diamond dealers were greasing the palms of top officers in the force to ensure they are immune from arrest and prosecution.
But police spokesman in Manicaland Province, Brian Makomeke, said the police would thrive to end the illegal mining and trading of the gems.
“We want to want people that Chiadzwa is a protected area and sporadic raids will continue until we have flushed out all diamond dealers and panners,” Makomeke told journalists.
But our sources in the force said there was no will power within the top ranks of the police force to stamp out the menace because they also were benefiting.
“The police is aware of who is involved in this illegal game but they give it a blind eye because they are benefiting big time,” said another police office that has a junior rank.
This comes amid repeated but futile threats by Gono that the illegal mining and trading of diamonds could soon be stamped out.
Illegal buyers of the gems from Europe, the Middle East, Nigeria, Guinea, South Africa and Asia have descended on Mutare and Marange.
The trade in diamonds has transformed the lives of previously poor people to the status of mega rich.

Police nab diamond baron

A diamond baron suspected to have links with the wealthy Mujuru family was arrested after he was found in possession of 262 pieces of diamonds, the largest single haul since the discovery of the gems over two years ago.
The diamonds are estimated by industry experts to be valued at close to US$1, 3 million although the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe valued them at ZW$52 trillion (US$520).
Misheck Muhwehwesa, a Mutare resident was nabbed in Chiadzwa, Marange two weeks ago after police stopped him at a road block at Mutimba Bridge in Marange.
The diamonds were recovered from his vehicle’s air cleaner. The gems weighed 668 carats. A carat can fetch to as much as US$2000 depending on the clarity of the stone.
Muhwehwesa, 38 of Number 8 Pike Place in Mutare’s medium-density of Yeovil, has since appeared in court and is out on ZW$25 trillion (US$250) bail. Senior Magistrate Billiard Musakwa presided over the bail hearing.
Muhwehwesa’s lawyer, Chris Ndlovu has applied for the discharge of their client arguing the State did not have solid evidence to prove the diamonds belonged to Muhwehwesa.
Muhwehwesa, a renowned diamond dealer, is suspected to have strong links with the country’s Second Family. His connection with the Mujuru family came to light after Muhwehwesa successfully sought the prosecution of a Zanu PF politician and losing candidate for Mutasa South, Sherrington Dumbura, who had allegedly swindled him of an unknown number of diamonds valued at millions of United States Dollars.
Muhwehwesa is said to have approached retired General Solomon Mujuru to have Dumbura arrested and prosecuted. Dumbura is also involved in the illegal diamond trade.
To settle matters and avoid being jailed Dumbura, a lightweight Zanu PF politician in the eastern border city, he ceded several top of the range vehicles and an assortment of other properties. He was immediately freed.
It was not possible to get comment from Mujuru as this correspondent could have easily been identified as working for a publication blacklisted by authorities. Journalists working for online publications such as thezimbabwetimes face great risk if identified and caught.
The arrest of Muhwehwesa come amid growing concern that police operations to quell illegal diamond mining and trading was targeting small players only. Over 2000 have been arrested during the past two months and sentenced to jail terms of up wards of two years each. But it has proved difficult for the police to arrest big players in the mega rich trade.
However, court officials said they were eager to see how Muhwehwesa’s case would be handled given his vast wealth which he allegedly accumulated through the illegal trade in diamonds.
If convicted he faces up to five years in jail.
“This will be very interesting because we have never seen any of the big guys being send to jail,” said one court official. “It will be a precedent if this guy is convicted.”
Top diamond dealers have formed powerful cartels which have become immune to both arrest and prosecution despite repeated threats by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, Gideon Gono that the long arm of the law was closing in on the illegal dealers and miners.