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Is Botswana target for illicit diamond syndicates? 

SHARE   |   Sunday, 07 September 2014   |   By Phillimon Mmeso
A polished diamond A polished diamond

The recent arrest of nearly 35 people involved in the illicit diamond dealing racket in South Africa by the  Hawks has raised questions about the security of diamonds in the region especially Botswana, the world’s leading diamond producer.

South Africa’s Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko said that they believe that the suspects are part of a bigger syndicate dealing in an illicit diamond international network.


This was one of the biggest illicit diamond busts in the history of South Africa.

This has raised fears that with Debswana’s weak securities at their mines, some of the confiscated precious could be from Botswana.


In South Africa and Namibia where illicit diamonds are feared to originate from, they have introduced a Scannex machine to try to contain the smuggling of diamonds at their mines. The Scannex is hailed as more effective than the strip and search which is currently used by Debswana mines.

According to Debeers Group of Companies, Orapa, Lethakane, Damntshaa and Jwaneng mines are the least secure within their company scoring 44% which is the lowest. De Beers have mines in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.


The 2013 Debswana security report has indicated that the strip and search method used at their blue and red area zones (where diamonds are processed) proved to have lot of loopholes regarding the safety of diamonds.

“It is inefficient, especially if the diamond is hidden within the human body and is prone to collusion,” reads part of the report presented by Debswana mines’ head of security, Augustine Nyatanga.


He stated that diamonds are prone to theft as they are small in size, high value, easy to hide and difficult to detect. Our current methods are not effective in addressing the illicit trafficking of diamonds, he said.

Diamond theft at Debswana mines 


Last year Debswana security officers were tipped that a South African male citizen is headed for Orapa via Gaborone to collect some diamonds from an unnamed source staying in Orapa Botswana. However, no diamonds were not found nor any evidence established that he came to Botswana on an illicit diamond deal.

In the second quarter of 2013 diamonds were found in the ladies room and no one was arrested.


In May this year a suspect was arrested by Francistown Police in possession of six diamonds which he confessed he stole from Debswana mines. He was an employee of Heartfelt Company which is contracted by Debswana to clean spillages in the Blue area.

The matter is still under investigations by the Diamond, Minerals and Precious Stones Unit of the Botswana Police Service.


According to Nyatanga, Jwaneng mine is the most targeted because it is world’s largest mine in terms of value.

Nyatanga revealed that the most worrying thing is that Debswana employees are involved in the dealings and offer syndicates inside information.


Last year, criminals cut the red high risk fence and broke into Pneumo Dryer Building (high risk) and gained access to diamond concentrate.

Well-informed sources on this trafficking racket explained that Botswana’s diamonds due to their high value are an easy target for traffickers who collude with some of the Debswana employees.


Security at Debswana mines was also questioned by the South Sudan president, General Salva Kiir Mayardit who wondered if the strip and search is effective when he visited the mine last year.

“They normally use border posts where security checks are very minimal and only restrict at Tlokweng border but during certain times,” revealed the source.


He revealed that most of the diamond syndicates are not necessarily based in Botswana but come to the country to collect the precious stones from Botswana and Zimbabwe and cross to South Africa.

To clear the diamonds from Zimbabwe, they mix them with those from Botswana and use faked Debswana labels.


In their security report, Debswana has reported that, “A certain male was arrested for illegal dealing in diamonds. An operation was conducted by the Debswana Jwaneng and Orapa security and DMPU Orapa, Letlhakane and Jwaneng. Upon search, he was found in possession of two sealed bottle containers bearing old Debswana logo which contained 64 fake diamonds - Case not registered by the Police.”

The Botswana police service recorded a total of 98 cases involving illicit dealing in diamonds from 2005 to end of Quarter of 1 2012. (98 cases do not translate into 98 diamonds; 1 case could translate to more than 1 diamond).


How illicit diamonds enter the mainstream market 

According to inside source in illicit diamond trading, getting certificate from companies like Debswana  for the rough diamonds is as easy as faking a birth certificate as they use some of their employees.


The certificate is needed by Kimberley Process, the international diamond certification scheme to combat conflict diamonds.

The Kimberley Process only covers the trade in rough diamonds (diamonds before they are cut or polished).


In South Africa they are many diamond traders with licenses in diamond polishing, and according to the source, once diamond have been cleared by the KP process, they no longer fall under their oversight.

Kimberly Process which was established in 2003 in Kimberly, South Africa has been widely criticized for its loopholes. One of the organisations which were instrumental in its formation pulled out in 2011 reasoning that it is no longer effective in fighting illicit diamond trading.


The diamond value chain 

The value of diamonds increases significantly as they travel through the pipeline from the mine to the final market, nearly quintupling over the course of the journey. 


According to the 2013 global diamonds report rough-diamond production generated revenues of $14.8 billion. The revenues grew to $47.2 billion when the diamonds are manufactured into jewelry and grow again to $72.1 billion when the jewelry is sold at retail.

 From 2004 to 2006, illegal trade in rough diamonds worth US $10.2 million (P91071720.00) took place between Kimberley Process participant and non- participant countries.


In late 2012, US$2.3 million (P20535780.00) of polished diamonds were recovered at Oliver Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, destined for Dubai.

In 2013, the EU customs authorities detained 4 new shipments that amounted to approximately 5646 carats and $ 280585 in value.


Efforts to get information from the Diamond, Minerals and Precious Stones Unit of the Botswana Police Service were futile as the officer Patriot on Sunday spoke promised to call but in vain.

This publication wanted to know the biggest bust on illicit diamonds they have done in the country and how many people have been arrested and convicted.

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