Beware of De Beers’ spy unit

SHARE   |   Thursday, 26 July 2018   |   By Phillimon Mmeso
Beware of De Beers’ spy unit

Its spy agents trained by DISS

‘We often conduct joint operations’ – DIS agent

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De Beers accused of tapping employees’ phones 

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De Beers Botswana has been accused of running an intelligence unit which is being used for dubious purpose and violating the country’s Security Act as it is not instituted by the Act of Parliament.

The Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Nonofo Molefhi in an interview recently confirmed that De Beers has an intelligence unit and was quick to add that they use it to understand the trends in the diamond industry. “It is mainly business intelligence network which they use to monitor the sales of diamonds around the world even illicit diamonds,” he said.

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Asked if the privately owned spy agency owns sophisticated weaponry, eavesdropping gadgets and other intelligence surveillance equipment, Molefhi answered in the negative saying that would be against the laws of the country.

In a brief response to questions over why the company operates an intelligence unit, De Beers External Communications Manager Kesego Okie simply explained that they operate within the confines of the country’s laws.

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“De Beers Group operates within a joint venture partnership with the Government of Botswana. Any questions on Government employees can be directed to Government. The De Beers Group is committed to applying high standards of business conduct across all of our business activities and as such operates in accordance with the laws of the countries where we operate,” she said.

Some Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) agents have raised concerns that De Beers Botswana is operating a fully-fledged Intelligence Unit and that the agents for the company are trained by state intelligence personnel. “Sometimes we do operations with them and we wonder whether this is right,” said a highly placed source.

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Former Commander of Ground Forces of Botswana Defence Force, Retired Major General Pius Mokgware, who is the current Member of Parliament for Gabane-Mmankgodi constituency, has also expressed serious reservations about De Beers’ intelligence unit.

He said the spy unit was not established by any Act of Parliament as should be the procedure. In an interview with this publication Mokgware said there is no law that allows the diamond mining company to operate an intelligence unit. “Yes, we know that they are trained by DISS and we wonder what is their role and what they use the equipment they have for,” said the visibly worried former commander of the Ground Forces.

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Mokgware said they are very much aware that their surveillance equipment may be used for controversial purposes, especially to spy on politicians and their organisations to fight political battles. “Some of the De Beers employees have complained to us that the unit is used to spy on them, especially tapping their phones and this is totally uncalled for,” he said promising to raise the issue in Parliament.

De Beers Intelligence Unit, according to sources within the intelligence community, sometimes carries operations on behalf of DISS.

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The Precious and Semi-Precious stones Act does not mention anywhere that companies dealing with precious stones can operate an intelligence unit. Section 8 of the Act gives power to the police to enter upon and examine and search any place or premises, and may at any time stop and search and examine any vehicle (or any part thereof) conveying or suspected to be conveying rough or uncut precious stones.

And “(ii) take an account of all rough or uncut precious stones found in such place, premises or vehicle, and, if he thinks fit, take such precious stones into custody,” reads the Act.

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The law also stipulates that any person who by chance finds or picks up any rough or uncut precious stone at any place (not being a mining area), or on any land (not being land on which he or his employer is lawfully prospecting or mining for precious stones), shall forthwith take and deliver such precious stone to the person in charge of the nearest station of the Botswana Police Force.



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