MAC: Mines and Communities

Conflict diamonds set to enrich Zimbabwe's old guard

Published by MAC on 2010-11-01
Source: Harvard International Review, Voice of America

But Indian industrialists want first pick

As prospects for diamond mining, processing and sales in India get talked up by the industry, those standing to profit have invited young Zimbabweans to join them.

In return, the Indians want access to Zimbabwe's biggest diamond field, at Marange, although this is considered by many to be a "conflict zone" where human rights abuses are continuing. See: World diamond groups threatens to ban trade in Zimbabwean "blood diamonds"

Meanwhile, according to a correspondent for the Harvard International Review, profits from sales of the Marange diamonds are likely to get siphoned offshore to the tax haven of Mauritius - thus providing Zimbabwe's "old guard" with income at the expense of the country's desperate poor.

For previous MAC article on Mauritius as a tax "cheat" haven for extractive companies, see: Treasure islands: Mapping the geography of corruption

Piercing the Corporate Veil

By Khadija Sharife

Harvard International Review

12 October 2010

Somewhere in my closet, taped across a small cardboard and sealed in a transparent casing, is a $50 billion Zimbabwean note.

Purchased two years ago at a local bookstore for R21 ($3), this 'made in zimbabwe' wonder at the time had the purchasing power of two eggs, or a loaf of bread, in a country where inflation hit the 231 million % mark. An unemployed lawyer working a street hawker in SA expressed outrage that I would spend $3 to acquire it.

'That money is life or death back home,' he said. But there's bigger money in the making - and for the taking. Mugabe Inc. has once again, in anticipation of forthcoming elections, vigorously begun to engage in exploitation through 'primitive accumulation' of resources via war vets, corrupt corporate execs and political cronies.

Prior to the discovery of diamonds, specifically Marange -- estimated to be one of the world's largest diamonds capable of yielding as much as $1.7 billion in revenues annually, the big kahuna was land.

The bulk of large-scale commercial farms seized by Mugabe's war vets, using the rhetoric of social justice, were not redistributed to those previously dispossessed by the colonial government.

Instead, a new politics of dispossession took form through the politicisation of rural poverty, equating the 'public interest' with the nationalist vocabulary serving elite political interests. This time around, legal concessions to Marange have been voided, with two South African companies granted right of access via fraudulent licenses.

One company in particular, New Reclamation, has engaged with the Zimbabwean government through a joint venture called Mbada. The company's operating arm, Grandwell Holdings Ltd, has been created a Global Business Category II (GBCII) entity, essentially a paper company, using Mauritius as the 'tax haven' of choice.

As the Zimbabwe Mining and Development Corporation (ZMDC) admitted, due diligence into internal financing mechanisms, beneficiaries and other critical details, could not be conducted as it was 'a paper company registered in Mauritius.'

Such shell corporations act as passthrough conduits allowing for economic activities, including profits and transactions, to be disguised and transferred through to 'ultimate beneficiaries'. GBCII companies are tax free enabling entities allegedly accruing tax to escape taxation, while facilitating the flow of profits to ultimate beneficiaries.

But Mauritius should better be classified a secrecy jurisdiction thanks to legal and financial ring-fenced services such as the provision of nominee shareholders.

Basically, all private companies must have at least one shareholder, and one share. Unless these are bearer shares (according ownership to those physically possessing shares), such shares can be 'represented' by intermediaries nominated by ultimate owners or beneficiaries profiting from economic activities. The same applies to nominee directors.

Mauritius kindly provides these mechanisms to foreign clients and entities deliberately cloaking specific activities.

As OCRA, an international corporation peddling secrecy vehicles itself reveals on its website, "Beneficial ownership is not disclosed to the authorities."

For $1000, the company can access banking secrecy preventing the Zimbabwean government from ever accessing the true value and volume of diamond exploitation. Many companies like OCRA provide bank account signatories, professional directors and other false fronts assembled to create the illusion of an active business.

Mauritius claims to be within the bounds of the law having complied with the voluntary 'on request' only Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIAE). While these are usually useless unless one already possesses the information required by external government authorities to investigate corporate and state corruption, in this instance the South African government, if it decided to do so, could easily [lift] the corporate veil given that Grandwell's details are already known.

During an interview with Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai for the BBC, I learned that he 'was hearing about it for the first time.'

The threat that corporate secrecy presents to Zimbabwe's economy cannot be understated especially in anticipation of the desperate need for sustainable revenue for basic services and the impact of 'primitive accumulation' as a means of controlling the outcome of forthcoming elections.

This time around, Zimbabwe stands a great chance for actual democracy and economic and political recovery: The power sharing agreement between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) coupled with the appointment of Judge Simpson Mutambanengwe at the helm of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), cultivates a growing environment of accountability and justice.

But Mutambanengwe has declared outright that the ZEC requires financial resources to ensure that the processes and outcome is not disputed.

Siphoned diamond revenues - to a 'secrecy' corporation where any number of war vets may be the ultimate beneficiaries - provides the old guard with unlimited millions - even billions, in financial resources that should be invested in justice not war, nor even - and this is what the Mugabe Inc hopes for, a forced peace.

India Offers Training, Revenue Guarantees in Bid to Capture Zimbabwe Diamonds

By Sandra Nyaira

Voice of America (Zambia)

15 October 2010

Defending its position as top global diamond polisher against an emerging challenge by China, India has offered to train young Zimbabweans in diamond cutting and polishing in return for a guaranteed flow of Marange diamonds

Zimbabwe's Marange diamond field in the east of the country has generated much controversy in the West based on allegations of human rights abuses and illicit dealings in rough diamonds, but China and India are in hot competition for preferential rights to cut and polish the precious stones coming out of the Southern African country.

Defending its position as top global diamond polisher against an emerging challenge by China, India has offered to train young Zimbabweans in diamond cutting and polishing in return for a guaranteed flow of Marange diamonds.

A diamond conference this past week in Mumbai, India, revealed strong interest in Zimbabwe diamonds by banks and industry players in the Far East, sources who attended the conference said. The Indian diamond industry was said to have guaranteed Zimbabwe US$100 million a month in revenues for its rough stones.

Two European banks, ABN Amro and Antwerp Diamond Bank, said they would not fund Marange mining operations due to Western concerns over the zone. Mines Minister Obert Mpofu responded by threatening to impose reverse sanctions on the banks' clients, excluding them from access to the flow of Marange alluvial diamonds.

A report on said Indian firms worry that the Chinese will overtake them if their government does not rise to the occasion and compete shoulder to shoulder with China in Africa.

The Chinese have set their sights on the global diamond market and hope to cut into India's 80 percent share of the world's diamond cutting and polishing business, the mining website says. The Chinese have officially denied any such intentions, Indian cutters, most of whom are based in Gujarat state, direct attention to the Chinese efforts to secure a steady supply of the uncut gems from the African continent, eliminating middlemen in Antwerp and Israel.

Indians say China is courting African nations by supporting health care systems and building infrastructure.

Affirmative Action Group President Supa Mandiwanzira, one of the Zimbabweans attending the conference, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira he was overwhelmed by the interest in Zimbabwe's diamond riches.

Economist Prosper Chitambara says competition between China and India for Zimbabwean diamonds has the potential to energize the diamond industry in the Southern African country.

Diamonds are Mumbai's best friend

By Prerna Suri

Al Jazeera

21 October 2010

India has opened what has been called the world's largest diamond trading centre this week in Mumbai.

Eighty-five per cent of all the rough diamonds in the world pass through India for cutting and polishing and Indian gems and jewellery exports have grown 18 per cent to $29bn in 2010.

Now the country hopes the centre with state-of-the-art infrastructure will help to further compete with other exchange hubs like Antwerp and Tel Aviv.

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