'No evidence' to link SA with diamond exploitation

The head of the South African Diamond Board, Abbey Chikane, said he has found no evidence to back a United Nations report citing South African companies, including De Beers, as linked to the illegal exploitation of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) natural resources.

Chikane said investigations within South Africa’s jurisdiction had yielded no such evidence.

The report, titled Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC, was tabled by a UN panel of experts at the Security Council two weeks ago. It also cites Zimbabwe’s parliamentary speaker, the ruling Zanu-PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa.

De Beers has been listed in the section that comprises companies whose “exploitation activities” were “less directly linked to the conflict in the DRC and therefore involved more indirect ties to the main protagonists”.
The companies have been cited because of “apparent breaches” in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines for multinational enterprises, described as a non-compulsory code of business ethics.

Most South African companies in the report have also been cited for transgressing the OECD guidelines and have been referred to the South African government for investigation. The Department of Minerals and Energy was repeatedly unavailable for comment last week.

The South African companies named are Track Star Trading 151 (Pty) Limited, AH Pong & Sons, African Trading Corporation, Mercantile CC, Orion Mining Incorporated, Swanepoel and Saracen Uganda Limited and Chris Huber.

De Beers spokesperson Andrew Bone said that the UN panel had queried the procurement of diamonds by “two of its clients from two legitimate companies based in the DRC”. The clients were within their rights to trade with whoever they wanted and De Beers was not guilty of any transgression.

De Beers announced its intentions of returning to the DRC after the peace deal was signed in April this year, bringing an end to five years of bloody conflict. The company had pulled out in 1999 following allegations that it was exporting conflict diamonds.

Bone said: “We have not traded in the DRC since 1999 and have never traded in conflict diamonds.”

However, in March 2000, South African diamond dealers Joe de Decker and his brother Ronnie — who had been accused of flouting sanctions against Unita by trading weapons and diamonds with the Angolan rebel group — claimed they had sold the conflict diamonds to De Beers.

The late Unita leader Jonas Savimbi funded the civil war in Angola by selling diamonds. De Beers claimed that it was very likely that it had purchased diamonds from the De Deckers, as it was buying diamonds in the open market in Antwerp before sanctions were imposed. The company argued that it was impossible to establish where a “diamond came from after it has been polished”.

Last week, however, Bone denied that the company had ever bought conflict diamonds. “We have a great deal of sympathy with the situation in the DRC,” he said, adding that the company had dedicated itself to development in the DRC. Even UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had applauded De Beers for its efforts.

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