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.