Zimbabwe’s Political Elite Profited From Gems, WikiLeaks Says

Members of Zimbabwe’s political elite ranging from President Robert Mugabe’s wife to military leaders allegedly profited from illegal trading of diamonds, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks.

The November 2008 cable is one of 250,000 State Department documents obtained and posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that publishes confidential documents on its website. The cable provides details of information gleaned by U.S. diplomats from industry and government officials who say that Mugabe’s allies profit from gem smuggling from the Chiadzwa diamond field. Zimbabwean officials denied the allegations.

“High-ranking Zimbabwean government officials and well-connected elites are generating millions of dollars in personal income by hiring teams of diggers,” an industry official reported to the U.S. Embassy in Harare, the capital, according to the cable from Ambassador James D. McGee. “They are selling the undocumented diamonds to a mix of foreign buyers” who then smuggle the gems out of the country.

The field, in Zimbabwe’s Marange district, was seized by the government in 2006 from Maidstone, U.K.-based African Consolidated Resources Plc. In August, Zimbabwe’s Mines Minister, Obert Mpofu, described the field as a richest diamond find in a century and said it could provide half of Zimbabwe’s budget.

The Kimberley Process, the Jerusalem-based global body that monitors sales of so-called conflict diamonds, has yet to decide whether exports of gems from Zimbabwe’s Marange field will be permitted. Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Kimberley Process.

President’s Wife

Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife, and the central bank governor, Gideon Gono, are among those who have benefited from the trade, the industry official said, according to the cable. Others identified as profiting include military officials.

“There is absolutely no truth in that,” Gono said yesterday in a telephone interview from Harare. “I do not know where such fabrications came from, if indeed the cable is genuine.”

George Charamba, Mugabe’s spokesman, didn’t answer calls made to his mobile phone.

“These are lies to discredit the party and the government,” Rugare Gumbo, a spokesman for Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party, said in a telephone interview from Harare yesterday. “No officials or party members would stoop to looting.”

Sharon Hudson Dean, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Harare, declined to comment.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Nov. 29 that disclosure of the cables is illegal.

‘Illegal Disclosure’

“The United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information,” she said in a statement on the department’s website. “It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.”

The State Department’s policy is not to comment on the content of specific cables, Michael Tran, a spokesman for the department, said in an interview from Washington.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in the U.K. on Dec. 8 on a Swedish warrant concerning rape allegations and remains in custody pending an extradition hearing.

Each of the Zimbabwean beneficiaries makes several hundred thousand dollars a month, the official said, according to the cable. Many of the diamonds are smuggled to Dubai, according to the cable.

Foreign and domestic human-rights organizations have criticized Zimbabwe for violence against civilians in diamond fields in the east of the country.

‘Diamond Frenzy’

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, alleged in June 2009 that Zimbabwe’s military may have killed as many as 200 people who were working on the site illegally, digging for diamonds to sell for their own gain. The group had called for a ban on Marange diamonds unless Zimbabwe adheres to Kimberley Process standards, where the origin of diamonds is certified before they are exported.

“The diamond frenzy in Chiadzwa has led to hundreds and possibly thousands of homicides,” McGee said in the cable.

The fields may contain 1,000 carats of gems per hundred tons of ore, the official said, according to McGee, citing a geologist’s report prepared for Johannesburg-based De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond company. That compares with 120 carats per hundred tons at London-based Rio Tinto Plc’s Murowa mine in Zimbabwe, the official says.

Tom Tweedy, a spokesman for De Beers, declined to comment when called on his mobile phone.

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