How Marange was looted

Zimbabwe's controversial diamond mining at the Marange fields in the eastern highlands is proving to be a sordid case of sleaze, bribery and fraud.

Fresh revelations this week claim that SA’s Core Mining and Mineral Resources (Pty) Ltd, which was last week booted out of the Marange diamonds fields by President Robert Mugabe’s government, had obtained the concessions through corruption, lies and deceit.

The intriguing story of Core Mining and its digging activities, as well as minting money, in Marange is said to feature an interesting cast of mercenaries, fugitives and drug dealers.

Among the characters in this tale are six Zimbabwean mining executives who were arrested last week for corruption and fraud. These are the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) Dominic Mubaiwa, former board chairman Gloria Mawarire, chairman of the finance and investment committee Ashton Ndlovu, board member Mark Tsomondo and suspended company secretary Tichaona Muhonde.

Core Mining chairman Lovemore Kurotwi was also arrested for allegedly obtaining the diamond concessions fraudulently through misrepresentation and lying.

All the others were released on bail on Wednesday except Mubaiwa, whom the magistrate said was the principal offender.

Kurotwi and 11 other Core Mining shareholders and directors, who include Robert van der Merwe, Yehuda Licht, Arnold Neil Lange, Subithry Naidoo, Kuberin Packrisamy, Marco Chiotti, Minesh Bungwadeen, Viken Arslanian, Komalin Packirisamy, Vejayanakumar Pickirisamy, Adrian Taylor and Allan John Sawyer were blacklisted by ZMDC after the company was kicked off Marange.

Government officials in Harare said this week that one of the directors was a former employee of a private military company in Sierra Leone, which was mainly staffed with mercenaries, and another was an Israeli diamond dealer who once served a prison sentence in Angola.

A third was accused of stealing platinum worth R200-million from a platinum mine in SA, and a fourth has been accused of smuggling diamonds from Marange to foreign markets and dealers through Mozambique.

Diamonds worth more than $100-million were allegedly smuggled out of Zimbabwe and sold on the black market by Core Mining directors. Licht and Naidoo were described this week in court as fugitives wanted for the Marange diamonds fraud.

Efforts to get comment from Core Mining were unsuccessful as the company has closed its offices in Zimbabwe. It was also not possible to establish whether its offices in South Africa were still open.

However, ZMDC chairman Godwills Masimirembwa confirmed that Core Mining shareholders and directors had been blacklisted. He accused the directors of shady diamond activities. Masimirembwa said ZMDC was on a campaign to clean up the diamond sector, which had been invaded by crooks and criminals.

Court documents obtained this week show how the dramatic story started. The papers say Kurotwi approached Mines Minister Obert Mpofu on March 27 last year, saying he was a representative of Benny Steinmeitz Group Resources (BSGR), a global mining and resources company, which wanted Marange diamond concessions.

Kurotwi then allegedly wrote a letter to Mpofu on March 30 in which he "misrepresented issues" and claimed he had worked with BSGR for three years and that the company wanted to invest $2-billion in Chiadzwa. Mpofu then directed Kurotwi to Mubaiwa for negotiations leading to the formation of Canadile.

Mpofu was later accused in front of Mugabe of soliciting bribes by Kurotwi. Instead of confronting Mpofu over the allegations, Mugabe is said to have turned on Kurotwi and quizzed him over his background and company. Kurotwi was eventually arrested for accusing Mpofu of asking for bribes and other issues.

After a lot of communication between Kurotwi and Mubaiwa, as well as Mpofu, BSGR was recommended to be a ZMDC partner in Marange diamonds. Mpofu, based on Mubaiwa’s recommendations, authorised a joint venture with Core Mining, believing the company was a subsidiary and special purpose vehicle of BSGR.

On July 24 Muhonde, as company secretary, drafted a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between ZMDC’s Marange Resources and Core Mining. The papers say this was meant to "hoodwink" Mpofu to get the diamond concessions fraudulently.

"Muhonde and Mubaiwa later abandoned the first MoU and connived with accused persons Yeuda Licht and Subithry Naidoo (who are still at large) to draft another MoU and connived with Licht and Naidoo as guarantors of Core Mining," court papers say.

The papers say Muhonde knew Licht and Naidoo, who are wanted in Zimbabwe, were not shareholders but proceeded with the "fraudulent" arrangement as part of the deceit. -Sunday Times