The fledgling Botswana diamond manufacturing industry was in a state of grief following the death of DDA of Botswana co-owner, Shlomo Zilberberg, who was among the five diamond dealers who died in a deadly plane crash last week in the outskirts of Namibia’s capital city Windhoek.
The Israeli multi-millionaire owned Alone Diamonds in Israel and the United States and jointly owned DDA Botswana and Life Diamonds in South Africa together with Erez Daleyot, who owns DDM of Belgium.
DDA of Botswana is one of the 16 sightholders that were approved by government in 2006 and has been in operation in the country for the past year.
According to the plan, the 16 sightholders accredited to DTC Botswana are expected to cut and polish diamonds to the value of US $ 370 million this year and the figure is expected to move up to US $ 550 million by next year.
The plane crash, which occurred late Friday afternoon, is suspected to have been caused by engine problems experienced shortly after take-off from Eros Airport in the capital Windhoek.
A team of forensics experts from Israel was expected to arrive in Windhoek on Friday to help Namibian officials investigate the plane crash. And according to Namibian press reports US investigators landed in Windhoek on Thursday.
Lawyer Chris MerkelÔÇöwho represents Lazare Kaplan, the New York partners of local diamond cutter Nam-Gem, a wholly owned subsidiary of government/De Beers diamond mining joint venture NamdebÔÇötold Israeli media that the men were employed by Lazare Kaplan International.
Sources in Gaborone said Friday that DDA of Botswana is doing training for Lazare Kaplan in Namibia and Botswana.
“They were going to a camp in Namibia. And after that that he was supposed to come to Botswana this week,” a source said.
DDA of Botswana employs 100 Batswana and 40 of them are hearing impaired – as part of its corporate social responsibility.
The aircraft burst into flames on impact and was almost entirely engulfed by the flames, making identification of the victims very difficult. Although the Namibia police are keeping a tight lid on their identities, diamond industry sources in Namibia named the victims as Shlomo Zilberberg, 54, Shmuel Zigdon, 53, Amit Cohen, 26, Ilan Hadadi, 44, and Avichai Abarov.
The plane, a Cessna registered to local aviation company Atlantic Aviation, crashed after it attempted to perform an emergency landing. It was headed for Etosha Pan National Park in northern Namibia.
Diamond industry officials said the men were working in Namibia where they were overseeing the construction of three new diamond-cutting facilities, a project initiated by Zilberberg, owner of a diamond company based in Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv.
“It was a horrific accident. People lost their lives in a very cruel way,” Israeli Ambassador Ilan Baruch, who is in Windhoek and has visited the scene of the crash, told the media Sunday. Since there is no Israeli embassy in the country, South African officials were assisting authorities in Namibia and Israel.
“I don’t remember such a tragedy befalling the Israeli diamond family,” Avi Paz, President of the Israel Diamond Exchange, said Monday.