Harare — AT least five small and medium mining firms are said to have smuggled minerals worth more than US$100 million since the beginning of this year.
This emerged following investigations into operations in the sector by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development.
"The scandal has been unearthed by our team which we dispatched to scrutinise operations of various mines and as of now, five mines have been identified.
"Preliminary investigations have revealed minerals worth over US$100 million have been illegally exported since the beginning of this year," a senior ministry official said.
Deputy Minister of Mines and Mining Development Mr Tinos Rusere confirmed the developments but declined to give further details.
Herald Business understands that two gold mines in the Midlands Province and three producers of ferrechrome, magnetise and diamond production have so far been caught in the net. The official said they had also established that some big companies could also be involved in similar shady practices and "investigations are underway at some mines".
The official added that the minerals had been smuggled to South Africa from where they would be shipped to various international markets.
"It is strange that some companies have been importing magnetise although we have vast deposits of the mineral currently under exploitation in the country."
The Government instituted investigations into the mining sector when deliveries through formal channels did not show any signs of improvement despite measures to ensure accountability.
The latest development could be part of joint efforts by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Govern-ment to flush out unethical practices in all sectors of the economy which have prejudiced the country of billions of dollars in potential revenue.
Zimbabwe's mining sector has largely emerged unscathed from the various economic challenges that have plagued other sectors of the economy.
According to mining experts, mining had the potential to contribute much more to economic growth were it is not for smuggling and other illicit deals by some operators.
A number of new and expansion projects are earmarked for the sector next year, with foreign investors -- particularly from China and India -- showing interest in the lucrative sector.
The country has large deposits of gold, platinum, nickel, chrome and diamonds but mining's contribution to Gross Domestic product continues to fall short of expectations.
Zimbabwe is reputed to have the largest underdeveloped near surface platinum reserves in the world (around 165 million ounces) along the Great Dyke.