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Court Orders Return of Diamonds Seized By Zimbabwe Mining Minister

The murky saga of diamonds mined in eastern Zimbabwe has once more been aired in the courts, with the ZANU-PF mining minister Obert Mpofu ordered to return 29 kilograms of rough stones he took from the central bank where they had been deposited for safekeeping. The future of Zimbabwe's diamonds is being fought out both in the courts and within President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

The Supreme Court has issued another order ruling that ZANU-PF mines minister Mpofu return diamonds to the central bank.

The court had, in an interim ruling earlier this month, said all diamonds from the Marange area in eastern Zimbabwe should be held in the central bank until ownership of two of the diamond sites had been resolved by chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku.

The stones are roughly valued at about $18 million, according to diamond buyers in London.

Minister Mpofu, according to papers before the court, went to the central bank with a document purporting to be from the Supreme Court overruling that judgment, assisted by a senior policemen, and removed the stones from the bank as they were being catalogued ahead of being put into safe deposit.

Now Mpofu has been ordered again by Judge Chidyausiku to return the stones to the central bank.

The Supreme Court case is an appeal by the government of Zimbabwe to over rule a High Court order last September which said that British company, African Consolidated Resources PLC was the legitimate owner of two diamond sites in the Marange district in eastern Zimbabwe.

The military and a ZANU-PF-controlled Zimbabwe government mining company had been digging on ACR's sites. Stones were allegedly smuggled out from Zimbabwe via Mozambique, according to insiders who had been digging in the area and were interviewed by several international human rights groups, such as Global Witness.

The High Court order also said even if its ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, as it was, the eviction order against the military and others digging on ACR's sites, remained in force.

Two newly formed local companies, one backed by South African partner, New Reclamation Pvt Ltd., went onto the sites in October and have begun mining.

The other company is owned by senior ZANU-PF members with foreign backers.

The Supreme Court has now also ruled in another interim order, that those two companies should cease mining immediately pending the outcome of the appeal of the High Court in favor of ACR.

Zimbabwe's parliament has had noisy sessions about the diamonds, with some ZANU-PF members criticizing their party colleagues involved in the disputed sites. Debate went on for several hours, with most of the anger coming from legislators from ZANU-PF.

A respected international industry publication, Diamond Intelligence Briefs published a stinging criticism in its latest issue criticizing the compromises at the Kimberley Certification Process plenary meeting in Nambia last November.

It says that the compromise reached, to send a monitor to oversee certification of rough diamonds from eastern Zimbabwe, was worthless. It said the monitor did not have powers to stop human rights abuses at the diamond sites, nor to stop stones being smuggled out of Zimbabwe.

The editorial said Abbey Chikane, a South African diamond expert, has been appointed, and the Zimbabwe government had agreed to him as a monitor after rejecting an experienced British diamantaire who was the first choice by a working group from the European Union.

One of the architects of the Kimberley Process, Canadian Ian Smillie says the compromise from the Namibia plenary, forced onto the certification process over Zimbabwe, made a mockery of the intentions of the establishment of the Kimberley Process which was to wipe out sales of rough stones which fueled conflicts.

He left the Kimberley Process in protest last year, because of what he called ineptitude and hypocrisy among some member states, and he named South Africa, Russia, China and India as countries which undermined the certification process.

Zimbabwe's mines ministry says it has cancelled ACR's leases on two sites in the Marange district which the company secured in 2006.

Zimbabwe's ministries were divided up between ZANU-PF and election winners the Movement for Democratic Change ahead of an inclusive government sworn into power a year ago.

Andrew Cranswick, chief of ACR says his company wants to mine the Marange area in partnership with the Zimbabwe government and produce rough stones, which were certificated fully by the Kimberley Process.