Does Britain produce diamonds?

Author:Misser, Francois

On 16 August, the Liberian mines and energy minister, Jenkins Dunbar, testified before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations' hearing on conflict diamonds, and challenged Britain to a duel of transparency. "The Belgium Diamond Report of 2000," Dunbar told the Americans, "shows that Great Britain, a non-diamond producing country, exported to Belgium more than 40,000,000 carats of diamonds valued at more than US$2.8 billion in 1999 alone. The 1998 export figures are of similar magnitude. From where does the UK get all these diamonds?" We asked our Brussels correspondent Francois Misser to find out, and this is his report.

The UK and America are leading the campaign against Liberia, accusing it of supplying the Sierra Leonean RUF rebels with arms in return for diamonds. On 13 June, the UK's minister for Europe, Keith Vaz, took the offensive to Brussels where he managed to persuade his EU colleagues to block a [pound]35m EU aid package to Liberia on account of the diamond allegations.

As a way of substantiating their claims, Keith Vaz and other UK diplomats circulated among their European colleagues a report showing that Liberia exported on average six million carats of diamonds over the 1994-1996 period, whereas its domestic annual capacity is only 100,000 to 150,000 carats.

But that wasn't exactly a scoop. The figures came from a late 1999 report by the Canadian NGO, Partnership Africa. In fact, in the diamond industry, nobody denies that such smuggling take (or have taken) place. Everyone, however, agrees that the figures are grossly exaggerated, and do not even make sense.

Indeed, the six million carats is four times higher than the combined mining capacity of both Liberia and Sierra Leone as estimated by the authoritative De Beers' Central Selling Organisation.

Moreover, on several occasions, insiders have told the Paris-based newsletter, Africa Energy and Mining, that during the mid-1990s, it was common practice for traders who imported rough or semi-rough gems from Siberia, (repeat, Siberia) beyond the quotas agreed by De Beers and Russia, to declare the gems as Liberian stones" to Belgian customs as a way of avoiding the 0.3% tax on non-African imports -- a fact reported by New African in our September2000 issue (p10-11).

This said, there are suspicions about Sierra Leonean gems being smuggled through Liberia to Switzerland. This is, at least, the view of the Swiss Secretary of State for the Economy whose department recorded a...

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