25 March 2012

Zimbabwe: Corrupt Mineral Dealings Attract International Mafia

Photo: Denford Magora
Small fish are out at the Marange Diamond Fields in Zimbabwe.

opinion

Zimbabwe's precious minerals have become a free-for-all.

A Ghanaian national Kingsley Attah Ghansiah is caught with 7kg of gold worthy US$325 000. A policeman's wife causes mayhem and a death in Shamva over an illegal gold deal that has gone sour.

An Israeli man Shmuel Kainan Klein flies into Harare in the morning and a few hours later is caught at the Harare International Airport carrying a US$2 million diamond loot.

Just a few weeks earlier a crack police unit arrests Israeli and Russian nationals at a house in Follyjon Crescent in Glen Lorne, Harare, linked to dealings in diamond and other precious minerals. Two high-ranking cabinet ministers are implicated in the deals.

These are just but four recent examples of how everything isn't as it should be in the precious minerals sector. They are just a tip of the iceberg.

Last year Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono told parliament that the country was losing up to US$400 million yearly through the smuggling of precious minerals, mainly gold.

That figure could be grossly understated. It takes only three Ghanaians like Kingsley Attah Ghansiah to smuggle out US$1 million worth of gold.

An investigative report by our sister paper Zimbabwe Independent last year showed that the country was "bled of nearly US$500 million by mining syndicates involved in under-invoicing, smuggling and general lack of quality policing by state agents in the gold and mineral sections of the police."

The report said the mines register was in a shambles as many small and medium-sized miners remained unregistered and therefore operated outside the law. Their production figures were not captured in the national statistics and more often than not they traded their minerals clandestinely.

According to the report, then Mines and Mining Development ministry permanent secretary Thankful Musukutwa told parliament that most Chinese small-scale miners extracting chrome in the Great Dyke were not registered with the ministry due to loopholes in the country's laws. This made it easy for them to smuggle the mineral out.

Centre for Research and Development director Farai Maguwu was quoted in the report saying: "The practice of smuggling and under-invoicing was rampant in the country. These companies have the blessings of senior politicians. They pay rent to senior politicians and nothing to the fiscus."

Gono also alleged the involvement of political elites in the smuggling of precious minerals. He told parliament the RBZ had hired a reputed international consultant that had unearthed "rampant smuggling of minerals by organised syndicates in the country." But government was reluctant to implement its recommendations.

"There seems to be no political will within the government to pursue the findings," Gono said.

The recent arrests seem to confirm findings that the international syndicates involve Chinese, Pakistanis, Israelis, Indians and Russians. These are not nice people. We have heard of the Russian Mafia, the Chinese Triad and other underground organisations operating in places such as Hong Kong, Mumbai and Pakistan. They are ruthless criminals who won't stop at anything to have a share of our precious wealth.

Many people have begun to link the death of General Solomon Mujuru to diamond dealings that went wrong. The method of his death is still a puzzle to anyone interested in spite of a court ruling that concluded that he died of smoke inhalation. If it was an assassination, then it showed the professionalism and ruthlessness of the assassin.

The Russian Mafia is linked to the oligarchs who control the Russian underworld. The arrest of Russians in Glen Lorne points to a sophisticated racket that has roped in senior government officials through well-known methods such as blackmail or promises of incredible wealth.

According to US State Department "the Russian Mafia is the mafia of all mafias. World-known mafia brands such as Cosa Nostra and Yakuza pale in comparison with the great and terrible Russian gangsters".

"Triad is a term used to describe many branches of Chinese criminal organisations based in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Macau, Taiwan, China, and also in countries with significant Chinese populations, such as Malaysia, Singapore, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The Chinese triads are one of the world's largest criminal organisations, encompassing other criminal organisations with a steady membership of around 1,5 million in mainland China alone and 2,5 million members worldwide." (Wikipedia)

It would be unimaginable how such groups could be kept out of a country that has 25% of the world's diamonds! The Chiadzwa diamonds have been touted as the biggest diamonds' discovery for a long time.

These gangsters' job has been made easier by the corruption that has permeated all the important arms of the Zimbabwean government.

Having lived aristocratic lives in the past three decades and fearing the end-game of their political careers many see the accelerated accumulation of wealth as the only way to safeguard their future when they get into political oblivion. The endemic corruption has seeped down to the lowest levels of the public service.

This is exemplified by the Shamva policeman whose wife sparked the revenge murder and assault of residents of Canterbury mine. Recent reports show that wherever new precious minerals are discovered policemen and soldiers are the first to arrive and engage in illegal activities.

It happened at Sherwood Block in Kwekwe and in the recent Chinhoyi gold rush. Now if policemen and soldiers are involved in such legal activities who is left to enforce the law? What are the chances of one police officer arresting another for illegal dealing in precious minerals?

There is no doubt the recent arrest at the airport will reveal a long chain of accomplices that will include senior politicians, senior police officers and senior management at the diamond mines.

Facile attempts by management at these mines to hoodwink the public into believing that the mining, transportation and auctioning of our diamonds are done above board become insulting in the face of the recent debacle.

But what is to be done?

As long as there is no willingness on the part of the presidency to weed out corruption, the situation will get worse. It is highly unlikely that President Robert Mugabe is unaware of what's going on; it is incumbent upon his intelligence services to inform him of what's happening.

It is likely that the same people on whose shoulders his political survival is borne are the same people who are involved in these illegal activities.

His legacy now hinges on cleaning up his party's politics and the corruption it has entrenched otherwise the country will be sucked into the underworld of organised internationalised crime.

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