- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 14, 2012

VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe — At least $2 billion worth of diamonds have been stolen from Zimbabwe’s eastern diamond fields and have enriched President Robert Mugabe’s ruling circle, international gem dealers and criminals, according to an organization leading the campaign against conflict diamonds.

Zimbabwe’s Marange fields have seen “the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes,” the colonial magnate who exploited South Africa’s Kimberley diamonds a century ago, charged Partnership Africa Canada, a member of the Kimberley Process, the world regulatory body on the diamond trade.

Zimbabwe’s eastern Marange field – one of the world’s biggest diamond deposits – has been mined since 2006. Its vast earnings could have turned around Zimbabwe’s economy, battered by years of meltdown and political turmoil, the group said.

However, funds from the diamond sales have not showed up in the state treasury. Instead there is evidence that millions have gone to Mr. Mugabe’s cronies.

The report, released Monday to coincide with the Zimbabwe government’s conference on the diamond trade here in Victoria Falls, casts a shadow over the Mugabe regime’s effort to win international respectability for its gem trade.

Government officials at the conference denied the report’s allegations as “totally false.”

Violence and corruption

The report condemns the Mugabe government’s control of the Marange diamond fields, which have made Zimbabwe a major player in the international diamond trade.

“Marange’s potential has been overshadowed by violence, smuggling, corruption and most of all, lost opportunity,” the report says.

“The scale of illegality is mind-blowing,” and has spread to “compromise most of the diamond markets of the world,” said the report.

The report describes the $2 billion lost to the Zimbabwe treasury as a “conservative estimate.”

Finance Minister Tendai Biti said in his 2012 budget he had been promised $600 million in diamond revenue for the national treasury to help refinance crumbling health, education and other public services.

Mr. Biti said that only one-fourth of that pledge has been received.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, a Mugabe loyalist, insists that Western economic sanctions have prevented the government from getting good prices for the diamonds on the international market.

Mr. Mpofu has repeatedly refused to give exact figures on diamond revenues, says the report.

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