Daring gunmen loot Chiadzwa diamonds

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Tinashe Kairiza/Leroy Mphambela

SUBSTANTIAL quantities of diamond ore were stolen from the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) in Chiadzwa by men in military gear last month after they overpowered the company’s security staff and held them hostage movie-style before making good their escape with valuable gemstones, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.

The marauding gang, according to sources, took advantage of the mayhem and civil unrest which rocked the country on January 15. They raided a ZCDC mining area in collusion with the company’s staff and some illegal miners.

The state-owned company has since fired 80 of its employees, many of them suspected of involvement in the daring heist.

Although Mines minister Winston Chitando confirmed that there was a breach of security on January 19, he said the workers were fired over “disciplinary cases”, without elaborating.

Chitando claims the “unidentified people”, who invaded Portal A mining area, only took “some tailings from dumps” which he said were not valuable.

The minister issued a hastily prepared press statement last night after the Independent asked him to comment on the brazen theft of diamonds.

“On January 19, there was an intrusion of unidentified people who entered into Portal A mining area of Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company. They took with them some tailings from the dumps. For the record, tailings are the residue of ore which would have been processed to extract diamonds and for which there is no value attached,” he said.

“This was an isolated incident which is being investigated by the police and which should not be viewed as a threat to diamond operations in Chiadzwa.
Until investigations by the police are concluded, there is no basis to speculate on the identity of the intruders and any speculation on such identity is premature.”

Chitando also said there was high-level security in the Chiadzwa diamond fields which prevented the “intruders” from laying their hands on the more valuable diamond ore.

“The security of our diamond fields is of the highest standards, which fully meet Kimberly Process Certification Systems requirements and which we continue to review regularly to prevent any breaches. It is precisely because of this that the intruders could not get to the area which contains valuable ores and processed material. The surveillance measures alerted the presence of intruders which enabled security to react accordingly. On a separate note completely unrelated to this incident, there are about 80 people who have been dismissed from Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company over various disciplinary cases,” Chitando said.

However, despite Chitando’s claims, sources at the state-owned miner told the Independent this week that the diamond heist was orchestrated by men wearing military gear, allegedly in collusion with some ZCDC employees.

Sources also disputed Chitando’s claims that the stolen diamond ore is worthless.

Information at hand also indicates that diamonds were stolen on January 15, which was at the height of the protests, rather than January 19. “Eighty employees were affected. They were accused of stealing diamonds. Those who were relieved of their duties are from the geology and security departments.
Hearings are still ongoing and more are facing the chop,” a source said.

The company is also understood to be currently interrogating pickers and sorters of gemstones, which is a further indication that valuable material was stolen.

This information appears to dovetail with a statement by local non-governmental organisation, the Centre for Research and Development, which said 15 men in military gear and armed with AK47 rifles and accompanied by 30 illegal diamond miners made a dramatic escape with valuable gemstones after holding ZCDC security staff hostage movie-style.

The NGO says this happened at the ZCDC’s Portal B at Mbada Hills and in an area nicknamed Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe because of its rich diamond deposits.

This is in contrast with Chitando’s statement which said the theft occurred in Portal A. The NGO says the looting of the stockpiled diamond ore occurred at about midnight on January 15.

Security guards were held at gunpoint while their dogs were tied together. The looters then filled sacks with diamond ore.

“The reaction security team called upon to contain the situation stood aloof until the looting exercise was over. The same group made an attempt on the diamond vault at the main plant the following night of 16 January 2019 around 1am. Eyewitness accounts reported that only eight men were in military uniform and the rest were in civilian clothes but armed with AK rifles. After failing to break into the sorting room, the syndicate numbering up to 50 went for the stockpiled diamond ore. These rogue elements were caught on CCTV (closed-circuit television) camera, according to security sources at ZCDC,” the NGO said in the report.

Contacted for comment, ZCDC chief executive officer Morris Mpofu would neither deny nor confirm the robbery.

“I will not be able to respond to that issue this week. I am busy attending a strategic planning meeting in Nyanga. Maybe next week (I will be able to respond),” Mpofu said over the phone.

National police spokesperson Charity Charamba demanded written questions, but said she could not respond immediately.

Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Overson Mugwisi had not responded to questions sent to him at the time of going to print on whether members of the military were involved in the heist. Despite boasting one of the world’s biggest diamond finds in a century, the country has struggled to realise meaningful gain from the mineral.

Rampant looting and smuggling of gems, particularly by organised syndicates, and the state have characterised operations at Chiadzwa since a rich diamond find was announced in the eastern parts of the country in 2008.

Companies with intricate links to the security services were among the players licensed by government when Zimbabwe began mining diamonds in Chiadzwa. However, the companies were booted out of the Chiadzwa on allegations of understating earnings, tax evasion and smuggling.

This subsequently led to the formation of the ZCDC in 2017, the only firm now extracting diamonds in Chiadzwa. There were reports recently that the Chinese-controlled Anjin Investments would be allowed back.

Zimbabwe’s former long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2013 accused the companies of failing to account for diamond proceeds worth US$15 billion.

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