Security lax at diamond tender facility

A LOCAL diamond expert once said the risk of diamonds being stolen is lowest when they are still in the ground at secure mines.

By Taurai Mangudhla

The MMCZ building in Msasa, Harare.
The MMCZ building in Msasa, Harare.

In his words: “People waste a lot of time worrying about diamonds that are still underground. The panners can breach security walls and find a single carat worth at most US$80 in a day unless they get access to stockpiles that are yet to be concentrated, but still they may get four, five carats which is really US$200 or less given that the diamonds in Marange are mostly industrial. The moment the diamonds are now collected and moved to vaults and marketing, that’s when security is critical because a small container can be worth tens of millions.”

The Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) does not seem to have taken heed of this advice, with controls at its Zimbabwe Diamond Tender Facility — being run by First Element Diamond Services — remaining far below the security standards at the Marange diamond fields.

This speaks to the security concerns around Zimbabwe’s diamonds amid fears of serious leakages that could have cost the country US$15 billion, according to President Robert Mugabe even though analysts doubt this figure.

For one to gain access to the Marange mining fields, they apply for clearance to the police prior to the visit. A background check on the individual is done by the police while vehicles are also cleared and subject to search on arrival.

At the mining fields, rigorous body search is carried out at every entry point into a different location or zone.

This is in addition to the heavily armed private security offered by each company mining at the fields who physically man the area 24 hours a day with trained guard dogs. Metal detectors are also used.

So tight are the security procedures at Marange, in line with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme standards, that Mugabe’s entourage was frustrated with during his fact-finding mission at Chiadzwa in 2011. The president’s security details attempted to enter into restricted and secure areas with their vehicles, but they were denied access.

Diplomats who were part of a European Union delegation that visited Chiadzwa in 2012 protested against physical body searches, which they found humiliating, among other security protocols. But the guards would not budge.

On top of the tight security fences and perimeter wall around buildings and offices, cameras and guards were present in every room and at every stage. Wire brushes are used at every entry point to remove dust and stone particles from the soles of shoes for every visitor on exit and employees at the end of their shifts.

This is not the case for the diamond tender facility where there is greater risk of theft.

Located at the MMCZ building in Harare’s Msasa industrial area, the Zimbabwe Diamond Tender Facility is easily accessible for a place that has tendered 4,3 million carats of diamonds since 2014, according to First Element executive director and country manager for Zimbabwe Tim Wilkes.

Last week the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company put to tender 120 000 carats of diamonds in the 18th tender since the facility was set up.

A lot of cars get in and out of the premises for as long as the visitor produces a national identity card. The MMCZ building is home to a number of officials belonging to ZMDC-run mines.

Although it is manned around the clock by armed guards, two armed police officers are seen, one on each of the two entry points. At the reception, one produces their identity particulars which are recorded by security staff.

They are then allowed to proceed to the diamond tender facility where they are welcomed by a notice that is to the effect that random searches are carried out by security personnel on entry and exit. The entry point is manned by one guard who buzzes visitors in and out of the building.

Upon entry, you see two more armed police officers pacing up and down the corridor lined with chairs. The area has a number of video cameras that feed into the closed circuit television (CCTV) security system which is monitored from different points in the building. The CCTV footages are also stored in a secure place upon production.

The tender facility, one of the biggest in the world, boasts of 12 viewing rooms that have a capacity to accommodate 50 potential buyers at one go. Each one of the 12 rooms is under camera surveillance from all angles throughout transactions. Security officers in the control room, where all parcels of diamonds are tagged and distributed for viewing, are able to zoom in for a closer look at any movement to ensure buyers do not steal the precious stones.

Officials from the police Criminal Investigations Department’s minerals unit are present in each of the 12 viewing and control rooms during a tender.

Groups of buyers, who are mostly from India, engage in conversations while they view diamonds and make bids that are later reviewed electronically with offers made to the highest bidder. An 18-carat stone that could easily fetch US$90 000 is passed around as buyers debate on the price.

There are no seaches when leaving, the guard simply buzzes you out and you walk straight to your vehicle.