Belgian diamond chief alleges US$8m fraud

18 May, 2014 - 00:05 0 Views
Belgian diamond chief alleges US$8m fraud

The Sunday Mail

Mr Epstein

Mr Epstein

Zimbabwe could have been prejudiced of about US$8 million in revenue as diamonds which were sold at the Antwerp market in February fetched a higher price than what was officially presented, it has been alleged.
In a report issued after the Antwerp auction in February, it was stated that the gems were sold at US$72 per carat. However, there are reports circulating in the international diamond industry that the precious stones were sold for close to US$80 per carat.

About one million carats were traded at the auction.
If the allegations are true this would effectively mean that about US$8 million remains unaccounted for after the second Antwerp auction, which took place between February 12 and 21.

The potentially explosive allegations were made by Antwerp World Diamond Centre chief executive officer Mr Ari Epstein.

Mr Epstein made the comments in an interview with the ‘‘Rough and Polished’’ website.
“During the second tender, Zimbabwe offered 959,403.59 carats in Antwerp. A total of 840,576.97 carats were sold at a price of $79.94 per carat, for a total of $67,191,778.04.

“You should also take into consideration that in the second tender, not all the goods were optimally cleaned and sorted, and one company tendered goods that were of very poor quality and not representative of the company’s production footprint, a big difference with what we are hearing from the goods that were tendered in Dubai, which is said to comprise of goods that were all optimally cleaned, and in line with all the companies’ production footprint.”

The Sunday Mail spoke to Mines Minister Walter Chidhakwa who dismissed the allegations as sour grapes and challenged the Belgian diamond chief to present evidence to support the allegations. Contacted for comment last night, Chidhakwa said, “I really do not know what he is talking about. We still stand by the report that we issued after the auction that the diamonds were sold at US$72 per carat.

“What we know is that they (Antwerp) want to prove that they are better than Dubai. They should do so in a better way.

“As we prepare for the auctions that we intend to conduct locally, we will continue to learn from other markets, including Dubai and Antwerp.”

Analysts who spoke to The Sunday Mail expressed scepticism at the claims, speculating that the remarks by the Belgian diamond chief were likely malicious and meant to paint Antwerp in better light than Dubai as the two centres continue to jostle for the Marange diamonds.

Mr Epstein said it was questionable that international markets are now offering higher prices for diamonds from Marange as the gems were being sold at lower prices in the past few years.

He said this factor showed that there was mispricing.
“In 2012, Zimbabwe alone sold approximately 12 million carats at an average price of US$53 per carat, mainly to eastern markets such as Dubai, India and China.

“We find it remarkable that over the past two years when Antwerp couldn’t import Marange goods due to the EU sanctions, none of the other markets like Dubai took the initiative to organise tenders up until now.”

A non-governmental organisation, The Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), which monitors the diamond sector, concurred with Mr Epstein.

CNRG said the diamond companies or the Government were also engaged in trade mispricing whereby ministry officials or diamond company officials work hand-in-hand with buyers to sell the diamonds at unreasonably low prices so they could receive huge financial kick-backs.

“The sudden increase in the value of Zimbabwean diamonds in Dubai appears to be in response to the highly successful second Antwerp tender which raised the value of Zimbabwe’s diamonds by 50 percent.

“Information obtained by CNRG reveals that some Marange companies were unco-operative during both the first and second Antwerp tenders by way of submitting broken and poor quality stones but offered high quality goods for the Dubai tender.”

The latest revelations come after another recent scandal which saw the diamond producers fail to receive their money on time, following the auctioning of the precious stones to Dubai.

About 400 000 carats were sold, but the mining companies only received the proceeds after about 40 days.
Diamonds are projected to rake in about US$1 billion this year.

However, proceeds from the precious stones have been paltry as to date, total exports have raked in just over US$100 million from about two million carats that have been sold since the beginning of the year.

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