Diamond saga: ‘sleaze, corruption and perversion of course of justice’

FOLLOWING President Robert Mugabe’s claims last week that De Beers looted diamonds from the controversial Chiadzwa fields for 15 years and that African Consolidated Resources plc (ACR) was their agent that replaced them, the Zimbabwe Independent’s Chris Muronzi this week caught up with ACR chief executive officer Andrew Cranswick to hear his side of the story. Below are the excerpts.

Muronzi: What is your reaction to President Mugabe’s claims last Thursday that De Beers looted Chiadzwa diamonds for 15 years?

Cranswick:  Well, if we look at these statements, they simply reflect comments made earlier in Bulawayo to the press club by Minister of Mines Obert Mpofu. Clearly, the president has been misinformed and that is worrisome.

Muronzi: So let’s deal with the minister’s comments.  Where has he erred?

Cranswick:  The minister alleges links between ACR and De Beers.  This is an invention.  Our share register is public record and any links can easily be proved or disproved.  Not only has De Beers never had shares in ACR, we do not and have never shared a single common shareholder. It is also ironic, because the ministry attempted to use an expired De Beers EPO (exclusive prospecting order) over the area where we discovered diamonds to invalidate our mining claims.

Muronzi:  Is that the cancellation of your rights which was overturned by the High Court last year?

Cranswick: Yes. The High Court ruled the cancellation was unlawful and that our rights are valid and have been since early 2006.

Muronzi:  While on the subject of shareholding, who is your largest shareholder and what equity of the company do they control?

Cranswick: The largest single shareholder we have is at 6%. It is Blakeny Asset Management who have several investment funds under their control, made up of private and institutional money. It would take the top 13 shareholders to cover 50% and thereby voting control. This makes for a very healthy spread and avoids any single shareholder having too much power.

Muronzi:  Reverting to the minister’s utterances, what are the contradictions of the facts as you see them?

Cranswick:  He implies that De Beers had been at Chiadzwa for 15 years mining diamonds. That’s impossible as the maximum tenure for an EPO is five years, and actually De Beers allowed their EPO to expire in March 2006 after only four years exploration.

Muronzi:  Did De Beers mine in those four years?

Cranswick:  When we acquired the rights over a much smaller area, there were no signs of any mining having taken place. Furthermore, an EPO is only an exploration right, not a mining right and I doubt they would have broken the law.  Finding diamond deposits can take many years of expensive, repetitive sampling and testing of soils and other survey methods. It seems unlikely that they could have discovered the diamonds and illegally mined them in such a short space of time without attracting attention.

Muronzi:  The minister states that you acquired the rights from De Beers under irregular circumstances using a junior officer, and did not follow a tender process. What are your comments?

Cranswick: Any allegation of irregularity serves the purpose of the illegal incumbents. That short sentence contains no less than four untruths. We did not acquire our rights under or from De Beers. Our rights are not even the same as De Beers. They are exploration and mining rights through mining claims. They are not EPOs. No collusion existed at any time with De Beers. How could it? We are competitors. One, the circumstances were not irregular. Stating that they were irregular contradicts the findings of the High Court. The minister has already been warned about contempt charges by the Chief Justice (Godfrey Chidyausiku). Two, mining claims are pegged in accordance with very strict provisions under the Mines and Minerals Act. We follow these to the letter in all of our pegging. While “junior officers” are obviously involved in such a process, the claims are ultimately awarded by the mining commissioner who is a very senior officer. Not only did the mining commissioner stamp the final claims (which were registered over three months, April, May and June 2006), his superior later confirmed their validity when improper attempts were made to cancel the claims after we discovered diamonds.

Muronzi:  What about allegations that ACR mined diamonds without declaring them — sometimes alleged to have been going on for many years?

Cranswick: Again, lies assist the incumbents. How could we have mined for many years? Our acquisition of the area was completed in June 2006. We discovered diamonds and declared the discovery in September 2006 — an extraordinarily short time. We were illegally evicted in October 2006. So we had six weeks occupation post-discovery and only four months of total occupation. We have been refused access ever since in spite of several court rulings.

Muronzi: Diamonds seem to have a close association with war in Africa —  does that worry you?

Cranswick: Every single rich alluvial diamond deposit ever found in Africa has ended in war. The Anglo-Boer war in South Africa 100 years ago, the defence of Namibia by the apartheid regime, Angola, DRC, Sierra Leone, Liberia — it is a frightening prospect.

Muronzi:  Botswana avoided war, is that the only exception?

Cranswick: There have been no exceptions. Botswana does not have alluvial diamonds. Their diamonds are kimberlitic in nature, making it far harder to loot on a manual scale and easier to secure and police.

Muronzi: How long will the diamond deposit in Marange last?

Cranswick: Unlike kimberlite-based deposits, alluvial diamond ore bodies are very finite.  Our estimation is that the core of the diamonds deposit, sitting mostly but not entirely on ACR-held ground, will be mined out in 10 to 20 years.  This again stresses the need for management of the diamonds for the good of Zimbabwe.

Muronzi:  You have been accused of pushing for Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Kimberley Process. Is that true?

Cranswick: Another convenient lie. The record shows exactly the opposite. I have personally not only lobbied against such a suspension, I have actually criticised all sanctions at a recent London investment conference. I promote ACR and Zimbabwe extensively around the world.

Muronzi: Mines permanent secretary Thankful Musukutwa wanted to cancel your claims again by giving the company notice under Section 50 of the Act.  What is your response?

Cranswick: In law, due to the Supreme Court appeal launched by the ministry, the notice of cancellation is incompetent and has no force and effect. We have applied for the High Court to set it aside. They have attempted this on four previous occasions, each time unlawfully.  In the interim they have entered into strange and lopsided agreements with non-transparent operators of no technical standing.  It reeks of sleaze, corruption and perversion of the course of justice.  The people of Zimbabwe deserve better.

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