Diamonds are a Dictator’s Best Friend

An illegal diamond dealer from Zimbabwe displays diamonds for sale in Manica / REUTERS

Global Witness’s announcement this week that it was withdrawing from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which is designed to prevent “blood diamonds” from entering the market, may be a noble statement, and yet one with little impact in the diamond fields of Zimbabwe.

Global Witness, a nonprofit that monitors human rights abuses, took that stand because of the refusal of the Kimberly Process to ban the export of diamonds from Zimbabwe’s Marange fields.  Yet, this week, for the first time ever, Zimbabwe diamonds mined by a joint Chinese-Zimbabwe  government joint venture called Anjin began to hit the auction market.

China has pumped in nearly $300 million to mine diamonds in the Marange fields, where the miserable working conditions and other human rights violations have drawn the ire of human rights activists.  Even more, there is concern that Anjin proceeds will  flow directly into the pocket of President Robert Mugabe and his henchman in order to facilitate their reign of terror and maintain their grip on the country in the face of upcoming elections.

Sales of two million carats of diamonds are underway at an auction at the Harare airport that is expected to raise $300 million before it ends later this week. Zimbabwe opposition leaders say Anjin has been operating for nearly 18 months now in partnership with Zimbabwe’s police and army and not a single penny has gone into the country’s depleted national treasury.

Zimbabwe’s minister of mines, Obert Mpofu, whose own lifestyle is far too lavish for his modest government salary, pooh-poohed the Global Witness action saying that the nonprofit was only spreading falsehoods about Marange.

Hardly. The Anjin sales this week could help fuel the diamond-funded violence that keeps people like Mpofu and Mugabe in power.

 Sweep to  Zimbabwe diamond auction to go ahead despite human rights fears

German Chancellor Merkel and Afghan President Karzai at the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn / REUTERS
At the end of a one-day global conference in Bonn on the future of Afghanistan, the country said it would step up its fight against corruption.  Afghanistan currently receives billions of dollars in foreign aid each year and is seeking to get even more international financial support once foreign forces withdraw in 2014.

A final conference communiqué said that the international community would stand by Afghanistan in exchange for good governance in the country’s affairs.  There are two main fears behind this communiqué – that without NATO troops, Afghanistan would collapse into a Taliban-ruled state and international support might get siphoned off by corruption preventing it from getting to the projects where it is needed to help keep the Taliban and other national security threats at bay.

In other words, if Afghanistan wants the money, it has to clean up its act. “The protection of civilians, strengthening the rule of law and the fight against corruption in all its forms remain key priorities,” said the communiqué.

Given that Transparency International last week named Afghanistan the second-most corrupt country on earth, that could be a tall order.

Sweep to Afghanistan anti-corruption pledge at Bonn summit

Ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich / REUTERS
It’s not a question of whether former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich goes to prison, it’s really about how much time he’ll spend there.

Blagojevich was found guilty earlier this year on a variety of corruption charges, including attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.  Many of those charges carry prison sentences of up to twenty years.

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence between 15 to 20 years.  His fate will be decided by U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel and in the same courthouse where the 54-year old Blagojevich was found guilty.

Wherever he goes and for however much time he gets, Blagojevich will be following an ignoble Illinois tradition: Four of the most recent nine governors of that state have been convicted of corruption, including his immediate predecessor former Governor George Ryan.

Sweep to Ex-Illinois Governor Blagojevich Faces Sentencing for Corruption

Leslie Wayne

Leslie Wayne

Leslie Wayne, former senior editor at 100Reporters, is an award-winning business reporter, formerly at The New York Times. Ms. Wayne joined The Times in 1981 and has covered Wall Street, banking industry regulatory reform, municipal finance scandals and, most recently, the aerospace and military industries. Ms. Wayne has an M.B.A. in finance from Columbia Business School and was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economic Journalism.