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Marange gems set to Antwerp auction

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DIAMONDS from the Marange fields will be sold in Antwerp after the European Union lifted sanctions even as rights groups allege abuses at the mines and say revenue has financed President Robert Mugabe’s’s ruling party.
While a date has yet to be confirmed, the sale may take place before Dec. 20 or alternatively in January, according to the Antwerp World Diamond Centre. It will be for at least 500,000 carats, said a spokeswoman for the AWDC who asked not to be identified in line with the group’s policy.
The Daily News reported the sale will start today and will raise $37 million, citing Mines Secretary Francis Gudyanga. The AWDC said it won’t start this week.
In September, the EU ended sanctions against the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, which has five mining joint ventures in the Marange district.
Advocacy groups including Ontario-based Partnership Africa Canada, have accused Mugabe’s party of taking about $2 billion from the fields, which may have enough diamonds to supply a quarter of the world’s demand.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said in 2009 that more than 200 illegal workers were killed in Marange as they were being driven off the site by the military. Some were shot from a helicopter, the group said, citing an unidentified eyewitness. The government denied the allegations.
It’s “irresponsible for European companies to be buying these diamonds,” said Emily Armistead, a diamonds campaigner at U.K.-based corruption watchdog Global Witness.
“We would recommend that companies sourcing diamonds from Zimbabwe are undertaking their own supply-chain checks.”
Selling the diamonds in the Belgian city will help increase transparency, allowing Zimbabwe to achieve better prices to benefit the country’s people, the AWDC spokeswoman said. Should the tender go well, Antwerp plans to sell more Zimbabwe diamonds.
“We are working on the float for the first sale of diamonds in Antwerp right now,” Jerry Ndlovu, the general manager of the ZMDC, said in an interview in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital.
“The Antwerp people are here, they have been here with us for the last few days sorting out the float which we will sell.”
Lifting sanctions is expected to boost Zimbabwe’s tax revenue by $400 million a year, according to the EU.
“Antwerp’s strength as a diamond centre depends, to a large extent, on securing direct supply into that market,” said Anish Aggarwal, a partner at Antwerp-based industry consulting firm Gemdax.Advertisement

“Any new supply adds volume and strength to Antwerp. I’m sure that Antwerp will take steps to ensure full compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements,” Aggarwal said.
The country may mine 16.9 million carats at Marange this year, according to Mines Ministry estimates. Last year, the country produced 8 million carats, generating $685 million of revenue, according to the government.
A parliamentary committee said in June that tens of millions of dollars of diamond revenue from Marange, which it estimated could supply a quarter of world demand, paid to the government never found its way to the Treasury.
Three of the four companies it interviewed refused to disclose the payments they made. Edward Chindori-Chininga, chairman of the committee, died in a car crash a week after the report was released.
Mugabe was re-elected, extending his 33 years in power, in July.