Zimbabwe: A Diamond Heist of Epic Proportions
By Paula Froelich
After years of trying to understand how Zimbabwe works, we finally have the answer: it’s a diamond heist.
And just like any good heist movie, there is a lot of misdirection. Just yesterday the government announced it was down to its last $217 — or the price of a .25 carat diamond from one of their many mines.
As the country’s finance minister Tendai Biti was begging for foreign aid to help bail him out, there was something far more important happening across town. The ironically named Goodwill Masimirembwa, chairman of the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, was unveiling a plan straight out of Dr. Evil’s playbook: He wants to double — double! — diamond exports.
How does a country capable of exporting a billion dollars worth of state-owned diamonds end up with $214 in the bank? They blame Uncle Sam for sanctions stopping the sale of the gems in much of the world, but everyone else should blame them.
Our resilient gang may not be as fashionable as Hollywood’s “Ocean’s 11″ (Sinatra’s especially), but Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe’s crew of generals and ministers managed to sell eight million carats worth of diamonds last year, netting $684.5 million, while sending only $40 million of it to state coffers.
The mining chief named Goodwill and the finance minister, indeed, don’t even seem to be on speaking terms. Faced yesterday with questions like the one we posed above, he lied through his teeth. “I don’t know what the finance minister will be saying but what I know is that diamond mining companies have always been paying 15 percent of the royalties to government,” Masimirembwa told AFP.
And now, even in the face of international ridicule, travel bans and a populace that is fed up with 94 percent unemployment, they’re doubling down. After all, why stop now? The heist has been going on for over four years already to the tune of $2 billion. They’ve got another $10 billion to plunder and really, besides some silly threats who will stop them?
Eventually, Mugabe will need a getaway plan. But he’s years away from tyrant retirement — if he’s able to escape unscathed, that is. From a lovely chateau-style compound in Dubai or Beijing, he would continue to access his plunder while staying just out of reach of the international courts. His children, also safe from prosecution, will recall the good old days with their friends, the Imins, the Assads and the Pinochets, while riding around Paris in Ferraris and around the Mediterranean in their yachts.
And here’s the worst part: China, who wants access to the country’s vast mineral mines, is making this all possible with their foreign aid payments. None of it, unfortunately, will help the government workers who need to get paid nor the untold millions of those already suffering in poverty.