Diamond executives deny fraud

HARARE – Lawyers representing six diamond mining executives held in Zimbabwe asked a Harare court on Tuesday for their release, saying there were no criminal grounds for their detention.

The six executives, from two diamond-mining firms, were detained on suspicion of fraudulently obtaining a licence to mine gems in the controversial Marange fields.

"What we have is a very simple contractual matter," lawyer Lewis Uriri told the court in a bail application.

"The fraud charges would not stick," he said.

Among the executives are Dominic Mubaiwa, chief executive of government mining firm Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, and Lovemore Kurotwi, the local head of Canadile Miners, a joint Zimbabwe-South African venture.

The executives are accused of duping the government into believing that a non-existent South African firm was ready to invest two billion dollars in Zimbabwe in order to obtain a licence for Canadile Miners.

The court is due to give its ruling on the bail request on Wednesday.

Zimbabwe has contracted three firms — South Africa’s New Reclamation Group, China’s Anjin and Canadile Miners — to mine in the Marange fields, believed to be the cash-strapped country’s largest diamond find in a decade.

Last week the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) met in Israel and failed to agree whether to allow Zimbabwe to sell gems from Marange.

Zimbabwe has said it will sell the diamonds with or without the Kimberley seal of approval.

Six top officials of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corp. and a joint venture partner firm spent another night in jail Tuesday after a hearing in which the state produced a key witness who laid out the case against them.

ZMDC Acting Chairman Godwills Masimirembwa, assigned by Mines Minister Obert Mpofu to investigate the operations of Canadile Miners, a joint venture partner with the government in developing the Marange diamond field, said Canadile’s parent company,  Core Mining and Minerals Resources, entered an agreement with a South African mining company, Benny Steinmetz Group Resources, for BSGR to provide US$2 billion financing for Marange mining operations.

But Masimirembwa told the court Tuesday that the supposed agreement was never signed.

He said Core Mining later signed a different agreement with a ZMDC subsidiary, Marange Resources, to create the new company, Canadile Miners, which was given a license to extract diamonds in the controversial Marange field.

State prosecutors say the information provided to the government at the formation of the company was false or that the six misrepresented the facts to Mpofu, who wrote to President Robert Mugabe informing him incorrectly that BSGR was going to bankroll the Marange operation. Masimirembwa said that in his investigations he came across a South African company by the name of BSGR, but which said it had no dealings with Core Mining.

Earlier the lawyers representing the six accused filed applications for their bail which the state opposed. But Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said he would rule on the bail request on Wednesday, when the hearing is to continue.

Meanwhile the High Court was to hear an urgent application on Wednesday filed by one of the six detained officials seeking the enforcement of an order issued Saturday by the same court ordering the state to release him.

In another development, former Mines Minister Edward Chindori-Chininga has labelled Zimbabwe’s Mining Chief Execuitive Officers (CEOs) "stooges being remote-controlled by their colonial masters".

Chindori Chininga was a guest at the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe’s (CMZ) Joint Suppliers and Purchasers Workshop held in Harare.

The former minister, who is also a miner, said he was very disappointed that virtually all the CEO’s in Zimbabwe’s mining industry were stooges and took their queues from their bosses abroad.

"The CEOs all take instructions from their bosses either in London, Australia, the United States of America (US) or South Africa," he said.

"When I was the Minister of Mines in Zimbabwe, I was disappointed to hear them failing to give projects to fellow Zimbabweans, insisting that all projects would be given to their buddies abraod."

Chindori-Chininga said it was very disappointing that the same bosses sat on various boards and allowed the heavyweights in their colonial homes to dictate the pace.

He said it would take the mining industry a very long time to get back on track as long as projects were given to people based abroad.

"I wish the mining industry bosses do not just sit and wait for government to tell them what to do as far as indigenisation is concerned," Chindori Chininga said, amid applause from more than 400 people gathered at the five star Monomotapa Crowne Plaza Hotel.

"The CEOs should give some of their projects to fellow indigenous Zimbabweans and not wait for the government to make decisions for them all the time."

Six CEOs made presentations at the one-day workshop which was organised by the CMZ for suppliers and purchasers in Zimbabwe.

The CEOs came from Mimosa Mine Company Limited, Freda Rebecca Mine, Zimasco, Zimplats, Rio Zimbabwe Limited (RioZim), and Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL).

From these only Hwange Colliery Company is controlled by the Zimbabwe government but it is seriously cash-strapped right now.

Some of the CEOs meanwhile revealed that their hands were "seriously tied" and they could not make decisions on their own some of the times and "not always" as alleged by the minister.