Seized diamonds charges being finalised

As days run into weeks since the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) announced that it had seized some 4,000 carats of diamonds suspected to have been smuggled here, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds says that the agency was still concluding its investigation into the Belgian firm that had the gems.

The PM could not say how soon the GGMC would conclude the charges, but insisted that work has been ongoing in getting everything sorted out before charges are laid. Stabroek News was told on Monday that the GGMC was is still pushing ahead to prosecute the principals of the Belgian firm, Explorer Trade and Company Limited, although the Managing Director of the company said that the matter was in the process of being resolved.

GGMC has been maintaining that the gems were not extracted in Guyana, although Explorer Trade and Company Limited is holding fast to its position that the diamonds are from Guyana. Executive Secretary of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association, Edward Shields said that the body was not contacted by the GGMC on the matter, but as far as he was aware the diamonds were detained when the firm, which is not a member of the GGDMA, was making arrangements to export them.

Shields said he could not comment on whether the gems were smuggled into Guyana as there was no evidence available to him. He said that the issue of smuggling was a matter for Customs and based upon the reports it was not that agency that intercepted the diamonds. Asked whether as stakeholders in the industry his association was concerned about allegations of diamond smuggling here, Shields said that they had heard of cases, but no one has ever been charged and taken before the court.

Prime Minister Hinds had told this newspaper last week that just over a year ago the GGMC had detained diamonds from a local firm that were suspected to have been smuggled. He could not say whether there were any penalties. Shields said that some deal was worked out between the firm and the authorities and the matter resolved. On the issue of the 4,000 carats of diamonds Shields told Stabroek News that it was not an abnormal amount for the company to be exporting. He said that based upon information that amount has been the size the firm would export on a regular basis. Guyana is a signatory to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). The KPCS originated from a meeting of Southern Africa diamond producing states in Kimberley, Northern Cape in May 2000.

In order for a country to be a participant, it must ensure that diamonds originating from the country do not finance a rebel group or other entity seeking to overthrow a UN-recognized government. KPCS also mandates that every diamond export be accompanied by a Kimberley Process certificate proving that no diamond is imported from, or exported to, a non-member of the scheme.

A report from diamond industry watchdog, Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) last year had said that although Guyana has good internal controls through the GGMC, as much as 20 per cent of the US$43M diamond production is smuggled to the Brazilian border town of Boa Vista, where they are mixed with Venezuelan diamonds which are then ‘cleansed’ through Kimberley Certification documentation in Guyana before they are exported.

Meanwhile, a source in the mining industry does not believe that ‘conflict’ diamonds were coming here and as such the authorities should not make that their focus. The source however agreed that persons might be collaborating with their Venezuelan counterparts to smuggle diamonds here. He noted that Caracas did not sign on to the KPCS and as such exporters of diamonds in Venezuela are made to pay huge sums in export taxes. In order to get around this the source said diamond dealers in Venezuela are smuggling their gems to Guyana where there are put through the KPCS before being exported.

Shields said his association would not tolerate diamond smuggling and will always condemn such illegal acts. He however said that it did not support the abuse of powers by the authorities.

Since the seizure of the precious stones Commissioner (ag) of GGMC, William Woolford had declared that the agency had warned the company and will prosecute. Stabroek News was told that the company had submitted documents for the export of the diamonds to GGMC and on checking, the agency was not satisfied with the paperwork.

This led to the inspection of the precious stones. When the diamonds were inspected it was found that several pieces that were uncut might not have originated from Guyana. It is suspected that some of the diamonds were smuggled into the country from Africa, Venezuela or Brazil.

In 2004 diamond production reached an all-time high of 425,000 carats while diamond declaration in 2002 and the years prior was at least 50 per cent less. Production has since dropped to around 300,000 carats. Authorities do not believe that ‘blood diamonds’ are coming to Guyana.

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