Smuggled diamond revenue used to fund Mugabe election campaign

The revenue from smuggled stones mined in Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields is going to fund President Robert Mugabe's election campaign, a number of human rights NGOs have reported.

The UK director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told Bloomberg that diamond money is "serving to prop up Mugabe and his cronies" and that there was real reason to be concerned that money from illicit trade in the country’s diamonds – currently under international embargo – would go to fund political violence against Mugabe’s opponents.

To back up its position, HRW cited interviews conducted with diamond miners, soldiers, and community activists.

Another group, Partnership Africa Canada, has also interviewed parliament members, diplomats, and diamond miners and reported in June of this year that revenue generated by Marange diamonds does not benefit the country.

Rugare Gumbo, spokesman for Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) responded to the NGOs’ allegations by dismissing them as "inventions of the western imperialists."

Gumbo categorically denied that there was any corruption at the Marange fields or that Zanu-PF was benefiting from illegal diamond money.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Diamond Exchange says it has expelled a longtime member for attempting to smuggle illegal Zimbabwe blood diamonds into the country.

Spokesman Assaf Levin said Tuesday that the bourse expelled David Vardi after he was arrested at Israel’s international airport last week with about $200,000 worth of illegal Zimbabwe stones.

He said his organisation "will not tolerate dealing in blood diamonds."

Zimbabwe is banned from exporting diamonds from Marange under the Kimberley Process, the 75-nation regulatory group that seeks to end the trade of so-called blood diamonds. Israel currently chairs the Kimberley Process.

The Israeli Tax Authority said customs officials randomly stopped a man named as Gilad Halachmi for inspection at the airport and found his pockets full of diamonds.

Halachmi is neither a member of the Israeli Diamond Exchange (IDE) nor is he involved in the diamond trade.