Former apartheid spies are colluding with Botswana’s security forces and senior public officers to smuggle diamonds, a research by the United Kingdom based intelligence and security firm IHS Jane reveals. The report released recently states that Botswana and Namibia are hotspots for diamond theft. IHS research shows that South African crime syndicates are often implicated in smuggling networks that operate in Namibia and Botswana.
“Some of these networks have their origins in the government-mandated smuggling operations set up and operated by South African intelligence officials during the Apartheid regime. Porous regional borders further exacerbate smuggling. In Namibia, a syndicate known as the Red Eye Gang is often implicated in diamond smuggling operations,” says the report.
According to IHS Jane, buyers of stolen diamonds from Botswana and Namibia often hail from South Africa, the Middle East, Angola, and Europe, while crime syndicates often include foreign nationals from South Africa, Nigeria, Israel, and Tanzania. Researchers at IHS Jane say that in September 2012, several senior security officials and local business figures in Botswana were accused of involvement in a diamond smuggling operation by local media, though there were no legal repercussions and implicated individuals have denied these allegations. According to these reports, the gems concerned originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), yet the network was using Botswana government’s brokerage licence to effectively launder the gems.
IHS research in both countries shows that employee involvement, as well as the complicity of security forces, is increasing. Some of the most common methods of theft include smuggling stolen gems hidden on or in employees’ bodies or those of animals, or shooting crossbow bolts over fences. Other methods include, the report says, attempts by workers to conceal stolen gems in machinery that is leaving the site, for example stuffed into vehicle tyres or fuel tanks. “Chinese crime syndicates are also active in the region and have been implicated in poaching activities in Namibia in particular. Again, the presence of transnational crime syndicates who are active in one area of organised crime (in this case poaching) is an indicator of either current or potential expansion into mining theft.
The report says there are often links between mining theft, poaching, armed robberies, carjacking, drug and arms trafficking, and fraud, money laundering and corruption involving government institutions. “Cash-in-transit robbery and black market foreign exchange dealing are also closely linked activities. Transhipment of illegal gems, arms, individuals and narcotics via countries like Namibia and Botswana to other larger regional centres is a key concern.
Neither Namibia nor Botswana are well-established narcotics-producing regions. Cross-border criminal co-operation has also been raised as a concern by Namibian security officials, with syndicates often providing assistance and advice to one another on successful tactics,” says the report. It also states that “Diamond theft and smuggling is complicated by collusion between employees, government and security officials, as well as its orchestration by international criminal syndicates and its interconnection with other forms of criminal activities.”
In its forecast analysis, IHS Jane states that “Extensive research by IHS conducted in Namibia and Botswana has revealed that diamond theft is increasingly affecting diamond mining and services companies, although instances of theft are still rarely publicised or confirmed.”
The report states that the collusion between criminal syndicates and company employees, as well as security forces and public officials, indicate the emergence of a wider regional problem that will increasingly affect mining company operations and impact operating costs, as well as raise reputational risks in the three-year outlook. “As ties between criminal syndicates, such as poaching groups or arms smugglers (and possibly terrorist groups) and mining company employees are disclosed, companies will face greater risk of reputational harm. Such disclosures will also be more likely to trigger repercussions from monitoring groups, such as the Kimberley Process, possibly leading to sanctions or suspensions of countries or companies from the Kimberley Process,” states the report.
However, IHS research in both countries shows that employee involvement, as well as the complicity of security forces, is increasing. Some of the most common methods of theft include smuggling stolen gems hidden on or in employees’ bodies or those of animals, or shooting crossbow bolts over fences. Other methods include attempts by workers to conceal stolen gems in machinery that is leaving the site, for example stuffed into vehicle tyres or fuel tanks. “Due to health and safety concerns, mining firms such as Namdeb that use x-ray scanners to screen all employees were in the past compelled to randomise such checks. According to IHS sources, despite the machine making the necessary sounds, employees were aware that there is a fairly good chance that it is a ‘dummy’ scan.
In June 2014, Debswana announced that it was following Namdeb’s lead in installing Scannex machines at four of its mining operations at a cost of USD4.37 million. Scannex machines are proven to be safer and therefore allow more frequent scans. In Namibia, miners often earn approximately 60% of the smuggled rough diamond’s value, which is often enough incentive to assume the risks of being caught,” says the report.