By TINASHE MAKICHI
MORE than US$20 million was illegally moved out of the country’s borders in murky deals involving blacklisted diamond dealer Jamal Ahmed in an opaque sale of one million carats of diamonds from the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) recently.
The matter is now subject to an active investigation by authorities following a damning report by whistle-blowers on the illicit financial flows rocking the diamond sector.
The externalisation scandal is being laid bare only a few weeks after the Zimbabwe Independent first reported that Ahmed dribbled past authorities to buy the gems using a relative as he is blacklisted.
Ahmed was once locked in a fierce court battle with former first lady Grace Mugabe over a US$1,5 million diamond ring.
But fresh details gathered by the Independent in recent weeks make startling revelations as some of the money from the diamond auction was never sent to Harare.
However, investigators are perusing documents, which show that some papers were stamped confirming that the money was brought to Zimbabwe although more details suggest it did not.
High level government investigators said funds were secured locally from known externalisers, who would then get their money in offshore accounts with Ahmed allegedly getting a 3-5% commission.
Banking documents and deposit slips in our possession show that some of the funds were jointly deposited into the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) bank accounts allegedly by Diamore DMCC and NRTS on March 23, 2022. At the Agribank branch, about US$3,5 million was paid in batches of US$2,3 million (US$100 notes); US$1,3 million (US$50 notes); US$990 000 (US$20 notes); US$1,5 million (US$10 notes); US$5 000 (US$5 notes); while US$1 000 was paid in US$1 notes.
Another deposit of about US$8 million was made at CBZ Bank on March 11, 2022, with almost identical notes and by the same depositor.
The quantum of the smaller notes deposited by the two companies allegedly linked to Ahmed raised eyebrows in government corridors, prompting an investigation into the matter.
“Some of the funds were deposited as US$10 notes and looking at the quantum of the funds, a serious suspicion emerged as to how the monies were transported from outside the country. There are strong indications that the funds were secured locally by people who wanted to externalise their funds to offshore accounts,” the source said.
“There is also suspicion that they were to get their cut deposited by the people behind these diamond buying companies who were eventually going to get 3% commission.
“That meant the country was selling diamonds at the same time losing about US$23 million through externalisation.
“The case is now subject to an investigation and one of the buyers NRTS is now afraid to set foot in the country and is claiming ignorance of what could have transpired,” the source added.
There are indications that the cash entry documents were stamped by customs officials after a suspected US$5 000 bribe. These stamps have been issued to the same customs official (name withheld), who is also under probe.
Indications are also that the last diamond buying firms allegedly linked to Ahmed had no documents from the country of origin to support that there was movement of money to Zimbabwe. This sparked suspicion that no money was brought into the country.
“There are reasonable grounds for an investigation and rather the dismissal of the MMCZ board and management for failure to do proper due diligence on the people buying diamonds,” another source said.
The last diamond sale was mired in controversy as the MMCZ board is failing to handle alleged malpractices around diamond sales.
Recently, 40 companies submitted bids and 15 were shortlisted but all the four parcels were won by two companies, Diamore DMCC (three parcels) and NRTS Diamonds Limited (one parcel). Each parcel was worth around US$14 million.
Sources say officials at the MMCZ then discovered that Diamore DMCC, which had won the three parcels allegedly had strong links to Ahmed.
There were reports that a relative to Ahmed was fronting one of the diamond buyers, triggering the intervention of authorities.
The Independent is further informed that the authorities then decided that the two companies should get one parcel each following the exposé on Ahmed while the other remaining two parcels will be re-tendered at the next sale.
There are allegations that against the norm, MMCZ also allowed the two buyers to pay in three instalments for each parcel.
“This is unheard of and the shocking thing is how they valued those diamonds, which were paid in instalments considering that a parcel will be intact. It is shocking how those valuations were made and it points to a need for an investigation,” a source close to the developments said.
There are further allegations that Diamore DMCC paid for all its diamonds in three instalments but NRTS only paid two instalments and the third is now subject to contestation after the NRTS client refused the third assortment citing quality issues.
That, according to sources, then opened a can of worms with further allegations that the client in question might have been Ahmed.
The scandal then reportedly triggered suspicion that NTRS might have selected gems from the parcel and paid for them leaving diamonds of poor quality, which according to sources, has sparked a rift between MMCZ and ZCDC.
Questions sent to Ahmed in writing had not been responded to. He did not respond to WhatsApp messages either.
Financial Intelligence Unit boss Oliver Chiperesa had not responded to questions sent to him by the time of going to print.
Ahmed was blacklisted this year from participating in the diamond auction as part of efforts to bust a diamond buying syndicate that had sucked in MMCZ.
Looking at the latest events, there are indications that there are officials within MMCZ who have strong relations with the diamond dealer who was recently threatened with deportation and imprisonment over his diamond dealings.
Sources further noted that there was a possibility of collusion at the auction of the diamonds which significantly enabled one buyer to exploit the market unfairly, resulting in the dealer enjoying an untenable monopoly over the country’s diamonds.
Ahmed has over the years alleged enjoyed the assistance of MMCZ top officials to the extent of buying all of the country’s diamond parcels. Ahmed has always denied the allegations citing that he was a clean buyer who just offered competitive bids.
The diamond trading industry in Zimbabwe has always been targeted by unscrupulous individuals with some accused of smuggling the precious mineral through Mozambique.
Three years ago, a Lebanese diamond dealer Hussein Robai was deported from Zimbabwe over allegations of illegal diamond dealings working in cahoots with former ZCDC executives.
The deportation of Robai came after there were consented efforts by officials at Foreign Affairs and ZCDC to protect the Lebanese. He was, however, deported only after the intervention of the Central Intelligence Organisation.
The Department of Immigration deported Robai over illegal diamond dealing convictions in India. He also faced allegations of diamond smuggling in the country.