/ 14 July 2000

De Beers asked to explain ties with US diamond


David le Page and Mungo Soggot Some of the more controversial dealings of De Beers, the Oppenheimers and the United States government have been cast in a new light by a South African government request that the diamond conglomerate explain its ties with Maurice Tempelsman. Tempelsman, most renowned as a former consort to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, has worked with De Beers since the 1960s, and is believed to have helped the diamond giant tie up exclusivity deals with African countries such as the former Zaire. The New York press reported at one stage Tempelsman was romantically linked to USSecretary of State Madeleine Albright. The chair of the South African Diamond Board, Gibson Thula, this week confirmed he was in possession of a briefing document detailing the links between Tempelsman and De Beers. Thula said he has asked De Beers to formally comment on the document. Asked when he expected a reply he said, “you can ask them that”. Thula declined to specify which South African government body had forwarded him the document. The document is based largely on declassified US files, especially from the Department of Justice. It paints a portrait of De Beers and the Oppenheimers using Tempelsman as an intermediary and “fixer”, attempting to manipulate for profit the Cold War as it was fought in Africa. It states: “[Tempelsman] was needed as an intermediary by De Beers because the US government could not [and cannot] directly do business with a cartel illegal in the USA as a price- fixing conspiracy.” The document says Tempelsman worked closely with the CIA, and suggests that he or his employees had a hand in shaping various African governments to make them more amenable to De Beers.

Officially, Tempelsman is one of De Beers’s 125 “sightholders” – diamond dealers invited 10 times a year to view and purchase De Beers’s diamonds. Diamond industry sources said it was baffling that the South African government has become interested in the Tempelsman connection now, De Beers’s relations with the US businessman having long been common cause in the diamond industry. The timing is intriguing considering the diamond giant’s recent resolve to put an end to African “conflict diamonds” – diamonds mined in countries wracked by civil war. De Beers now guarantees that it sells diamonds from respectable sources only – its own mines, and those of partners in Southern Africa. De Beers has in particular sought to distance itself from any suggestion that it previously had links with the Angolan rebel movement Unita. The briefing document however says Tempelsman sought to “recruit to his staff the CIA chief responsible for arming Unita, John Stockwell. Stockwell’s actions had helped prevent the MPLA developing major diamond mines that would have brought prosperity to Angola.” Stockwell has publicly described providing support for the South African army during its war in Angola. His actions, according to the document, actions “helped prevent the MPLA developing major diamond mines that would have brought prosperity to Angola”. The document says Tempelsman employed as his representative in Zaire one Larry Devlin, previously the CIA head of section for Africa, a man who has admitted planning the murder of Patrice Lumumba and helping put Mobutu Sese Seko in power. Tempelsman was apparently worried Zairean diamonds would be marketed through Russia and not De Beers’s Central Selling Organisation (CSO). So he brokered De Beers’s deal with Zaire – what the US State Department called the Tempelsman plan – in terms of which the CSO took a fee equivalent to more than 50% of all the profits from the Zairean mines via a company managed by Tempelsman. The document suggests Tempelsman might have been aware of plots against Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah, however, did not trust Tempelsman, and monitored calls from Tempelsman’s office in Ghana to the US. Such was Tempelsman’s influence that he was even involved in helping broker the transfer of enriched uranium from the US to South Africa in 1965.

De Beers had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.