Diamond safe box disappears

A LOCKBOX containing gem-quality diamonds disappeared from a Mbada Diamonds sort house on the day government announced the closure of Chiadzwa mining activities to pave way for the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) in February last year, the Zimbabwe Independent has established.

By Elias Mambo/Obey Manayiti

This comes amid reports that since the end of Mbada operations, illegal panners have breached security to loot more than 150 000 tonnes of diamond ore stockpiles that were ready for processing.

Investigations have revealed that when the ZCDC executive moved in, a lockbox containing pure diamonds, measuring about 30cm x 30cm, was stolen from the X-Ray Transmission (XRT) 2 sort house between February 24 and 27 201

This is one of the four lockboxes which are part of the automated XRT 2 machine. The stolen box is on average equivalent to a week’s production worth millions. Mbada’s production target per month was 500 000 carats.

On February 22 2016, government moved in to stop the operations of all the seven companies that had formed joint ventures with Marange Resources, a subsidiary of the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), after establishing the ZCDC which is currently running the mines.

“The police officers who were securing the mine after the closure reported the theft of the box to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Mutare on February 27 2016,” an informed source said. “The case was subsequently registered at ZRP Marange under crime register number CR42/2/16.”

The box, which automatically locks after being removed from the XRT machine, can only be opened by another machine located at the sorting room at Harare International Airport.

Sources said by the time Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa announced the closure of the mines, police officers who had been deployed the previous day immediately moved in and forced the Mbada personnel and security out of the concession.

“At Mbada Diamonds the police force and officials from the ministry of Mines and Mining Development, assisted by managers from Marange Resources, swiftly moved into the mine and rounded up all managerial employees and support staff,” the source said. “Police seized their cellphones to prevent them from communicating with the outside world.”

Sources say the lockbox contained gem diamonds because the area Mbada was mining in February last year was producing high-quality stones.

However, the quantity of the diamonds in the box as well as their value had not yet been ascertained because “that is only done in Harare at the sorting room”. Although national police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba was not answering her phone, Manicaland police spokesperson Inspector Tavhiringwa Kakohwa said he is unaware of the case. This is despite the availability of a crime register (CR) number.

“I am hearing this from you for the first time. From the CR you are referring to, the case happened a long time ago, if indeed it happened,” he said.

The reports on the missing diamond box also come at a time when Mbada recently launched an urgent chamber application to stop the ZCDC from looting its diamond ores in Marange.

In the application, which was granted, David Kassel, chairperson of Grandwell Holdings (Pvt) Ltd, a company which owned a 50% stake in Mbada, said the ZCDC executive was looting its ores as well as the diamonds which were in the vaults.

In his affidavit, Kassel said: “The first respondent (ZCDC) through its officers led by one Ridge Nyashanu and accompanied by officers of the Zimbabwe Republic Police have and continue to collect from the third respondent’s (Mbada Diamonds) concession area, diamond ore mined by the third respondent which they take to the first respondent’s concession area.

“The first respondent entered Marange concession area during the night on the 20th of January 2017 and evening on the 21st January 2017 and unlawfully removed stockpiles of diamonds ore from the third respondent’s red zone, a zone that should not be entered without the approval of the third respondent’s security personnel. No approval was obtained.”

Kassel also said ZCDC tampered with “the sort hours lockboxes and the main vault together with safes”. The vault, lockboxes and safes contain diamonds.

“The first respondent entered the vault and safe area in the third respondent’s concession area in the company of Erwin Smith, a specialist who used to assist the third respondent with servicing and calibrating security machines and safes.”

Kassel’s affidavit also states that the CCTV infrastructure was disabled and vandalised following the abrupt forced closure of Mbada’s mining activities.

High Court judge Justice Amy Tsanga interdicted the ZCDC from collecting Mbada’s ore as well as from interfering in any manner with security arrangements in the concession area.

This is not the first time that diamonds have gone missing and unaccounted for in Zimbabwe. In 2010, a 30kg consignment of diamonds disappeared after being removed from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. The diamonds, owned by African Consolidated Resources, were stolen when the company was fighting a legal dispute with the then mines minister, Obert Mpofu.

During the same time, almost two million carats of diamonds worth over US$80 million mined by Canadile Miners in Chiadzwa during the joint venture between ZMDC) and Core Mining and Mineral Resources disappeared as well.

The diamonds were allegedly moved from Canadile Miners’ sorting house in Mutare to an unknown destination by ZMDC and Marange Resources employees.

This news article is part of an ongoing ground-breaking investigation into the Marange alluvial diamonds discovery and subsequent plundering at various stages by state and non-state actors. The special series is supported by the Investigative Journalism Fund.

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