By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
18 March 2014
Belgium has again faced criticism from concerned Zimbabweans after an official from the Antwerp diamond centre admitted they lobbied on ZANU PF’s behalf for the removal of targeted sanctions.
This was done to facilitate the sale of Chiadzwa diamonds, a trade that until last year was restricted because of the targeted measures in place against the Robert Mugabe regime.
Antwerp World Diamond Council (AWDC) chief executive Ari Epstein told a recent Parliamentary meeting in Harare that he “made a commitment” to former Zim Mines Minister Obert Mpofu to lobby for the removal of the European restrictions, in exchange for the sale of Chiadzwa diamonds in Belgium.
“I made a commitment to the minister to help lift sanctions on Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and I worked extremely hard to keep these promises,” said Epstein in an address to the two-day parliamentary seminar in Harare.
Last year, just weeks after the hotly disputed elections in Zimbabwe, the European Union (EU) lifted its restrictions from the ZMDC, paving the way for the international sale of the country’s gems. An almost total lifting of the measures then followed last month, amid criticism that the EU was giving credence to a flawed electoral process in Zimbabwe.
James Mupfumi, the Acting Director of the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), said that Belgium was thinking “only of its business interests” in its campaign for the removal of the targeted sanctions. He told SW Radio Africa that the measures were used as a “tool” for years by officials in the Zim diamond sector, who were busy “siphoning this resource.”
“The sanctions were used as a tool by interested people in the sector who were benefiting from the resource for years, because those diamonds were being sold illicitly. So the sanctions mantra was being used to cover-up the siphoning of that resource. For Belgium, this campaign to remove the measures was a way to be allowed to trade formally (with Zimbabwe), even though diamonds were traded secretly for years,” Mupfumi said.
Belgium meanwhile has expressed concern that despite its best efforts to lobby on ZANU PF’s behalf, the party-led government is now looking elsewhere to sell diamonds.
The government has said it wants to sell its gems at the Dubai and Shanghai diamond centres to accurately gauge their worth, but the AWDC has said this would ‘betray’ its commitment.
“The export of Marange diamonds were resumed, unfortunately not to Antwerp but to the rest of the world,” said Epstein in Harare. “Why, when the sanctions are lifted are you imposing sanctions on yourselves?”
Robert Mhlanga, chairman of Mbada diamonds last week told Parliament that he was opposed to EU diamond sales, describing the auctions as “appeasing Zimbabwe’s EU foes.”
The CRD’s Mupfumi meanwhile has joined calls for all mining activities at Chiadzwa to be stopped, until a full audit of the operations there are completed. He said a transparent process that will ultimately result in the adoption of best practice policies was the only way forward.
“We are grudgingly welcoming the moves by the Mines Minister Walter Chidhakwa to root out corruption. But we need more than grandstanding. An audit for example was done on Marange Resources, but the results of that are still being kept by the President’s Office,” Mupfumi explained.
He added: “We need a transparent audit and we simply want the best policies followed, so this resource can benefit Zimbabweans. Until then, all mining must be stopped.”