March 17 (Bloomberg) -- The Antwerp World Diamond Centre wants to sell 12 million carats of diamonds from Zimbabwe this year, which would make the southern African country one of the six biggest suppliers to the Belgian-based trading group.
Zimbabwe conducted two auctions at Antwerp, in December and in February, realizing $10.5 million from sales of 279,723 carats and $70 million from 959,931 carats, according to the country’s Ministry of Mines. The center has also proposed a memorandum of understanding with the government to clean and sort the precious stones, leading to the creation of a diamond hub in the country, Chief Executive Officer Ari Epstein said in a March 13 interview in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital.
Diamonds are becoming an increasingly important source of revenue for the government after the European Union lifted sanctions on the Marange field in the east of the country on Sept. 24 last year. Zimbabwe probably mined 16.9 million carats last year, according to the Ministry of Mines, versus 8 million carats in 2011. Figures for 2012 weren’t available.
Before sanctions were lifted against the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corp., Zimbabwe sold its diamonds at an average of $47 per carat while other centers were selling at $76 a carat, Epstein said.
“We were instrumental in the lifting of sanctions against ZMDC,” Epstein said. The company has joint ventures with five companies, including Anjin Investments of China and Mbada Diamonds.
Advocacy groups, including Ontario-based Partnership Africa Canada accuse the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front of plundering about $2 billion from the fields, a charge authorities deny.
Mark van Bockstael, the center’s business intelligence officer and an assessor for the Kimberly Process, said Zimbabwe has changed. “The situation is much more mature now,” he said. “As far as the Kimberley Process is concerned Zimbabwe has returned to normalcy.”
The Kimberley Process is a government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds, or gems used by rebel movements to finance wars.
Besides Antwerp, Zimbabwe will conduct its first sale of diamonds at the Dubai Diamond Exchange from March 23 to 30. It is also looking to hold another sale on the Shanghai Diamond Exchange, according to Mines Minister Walter Chidakwa.
Rio Tinto Plc also operates the Murowa diamond mine in Zimbabwe. Its operation is not on the Marange field.
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