ZIMBABWEAN security operatives have been co-opted into daylight plunder of diamonds in Chiadzwa by Asian cartels lavishing cash and expensive gifts for protection, an investigation by NewZimbabwe.com has revealed.
The pillage is fuelling Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs), the smuggling of money and assets which are illegal in source, transfer or use.
A 2020 UNCTAD’s Economic Development in Africa Report says annually, an estimated $88.6 billion, equivalent to 3.7% of Africa’s GDP, leaves the continent through IFFs.
Similarly, a 2020 African Development Bank report estimated that Zimbabwe has lost a cumulative $12 billion in the last three decades through IFFs.
While there is no known study so far into how lower-ranking security has contributed to IFFs, the scale of diamond plunder by licenced foreign miners was once pegged at US$13 billion in half a decade by former President Mugabe 2016.
Some serving police officers interviewed in Mutare recently admitted in confidence that their colleagues deployed to secure Chiadzwa often act as couriers of the loot or are involved in extortion, bribery, and robbery.
Chiadzwa, just under 60km southwest of Mutare, is a wicked ecosystem of panners, armed para-military police, detectives, soldiers, military intelligence, runners of merchants identified by local dealers as people from countries such as Pakistan, Lebanon, China, and India, among others.
Mutare dealer *Edward Mukoyi, says he once bribed a group of soldiers with a 750ml bottle of whisky worth just US$15 at a checkpoint. He was driving a group of panners in his car.
According to a police report, in Marange, 15 ZNA soldiers armed with AK 47 rifles and accompanied by some 30 illegal diamond miners besieged Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) portal B at Mbada Hills midnight on 15 January 2019 and looted some stockpiled diamond ore.
Syndicates based in Mutare also dispatch runners to Hotsprings, a small business centre near Chiadzwa, given some life by some daring locals hardly in their 40s who bring crispy US dollar bills to harvest the gem from panners, according to a one of the buyers interviewed in confidence.
Foreign cartel financiers camp in Mutare’s upmarket bases.
Runners interviewed in Mutare said they also use the cash to both bribe security and receive tips on impending police raids.
Farai Maguwu, director with Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), an NGO working on promoting accountability and transparency in Chiadzwa diamonds, says police know the dealers and frequently raid “not to arrest the criminals but to extort money from them”.
A police source said on an ordinary day, a runner is dispatched with US$100 000 to buy diamonds with prices ranging from US$50 to US$80 per carat.
To lessen the risk of arrest, cartels use some police detectives from the Minerals, Flora and Fauna department as couriers of the loot. An officer with the unit who refused to be identified insisted on this publication getting comment from authorised police spokespersons.
A detective with the unit, Joseph Mlambo in Mutare, and Mines and Minerals Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) employee Stanley Mafukidze face trial after allegedly being found with 11 pieces of diamonds weighing 35.24 carats worth US$2 925,85. The matter is still pending.
Their bosses, Assistant Inspector Joseph Mlambo and Inspector Felix Machaka, who heads the unit, are also accused of smuggling 12 diamond pieces from Chiadzwa on May 29 on a Mazda BT50 double. Their case is still pending in the courts.
Cartels smuggle the gem through the formal route with the loot neatly packed in car boots or simply use channels well-traversed by clothing bale couriers in Penhalonga farms, according to those involved in the illicit activity.
A lot of the stones land into Mozambique’s Chimoio, some 87km from Mutare.
The area is dominated by Asian nationals operating trinket and grocery shops, some believed to be masking illicit diamond trade activities.
Zimbabwe registered vehicles are a common site in the area.
Mozambique is the preferred gateway for smuggled diamonds, later spirited away to destinations like Dubai, India, and China.
However, some of the diamond is transported by road to Harare where it is smuggled through the main airport whose laxity was recently exposed by one Tashinga Masinire, who smuggled US$780 000 gold. His case is still pending within South African courts.
Josphat Makaza, an environmental community monitor operating in Chiadzwa, says syndicates, “support artisanal miners with food and hammers. They pay mine and government security.”
The involvement of security details in the plunder of diamonds has been confirmed by central intelligence after its own probe in September last year.
Police officer Commanding Manicaland, Wiklef Makamache says teams have been formed to target the vice.
“Senior officers are deployed to Chiadzwa to ensure maximum supervision of deployed police personnel. Commanders frequently carry out impromptu visits to check on adherence to strategies that are meant to curb illegal dealings in diamonds,” he said.
*Edward Mukoyi (not his real name)
Nkosana Dlamini is also a former police officer.
This story was produced by NewZimbabwe.com. It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher. newzimbabwe