Professional Jeweler Archive: Tanzanite Linked to al Qaeda

January 2002

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Tanzanite Linked to al Qaeda

In the wake of published reports, dealers deny the involvement while U.S. associations scramble to help members sort it all out

The al Qaeda terrorist network was accused of dealing in tanzanite on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 16. The article alleges terrorist operatives smuggled the gems out of Tanzania to free-trade zones such as Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In Dubai, WSJ reported, the gems were dealt to raise cash or as a way to move or launder money. Dubai, not a traditional gem-trading center, is known as a hotbed of money laundering.

Dealers in Tanzania quickly denied that terrorists had infiltrated their trading ranks. The Tanzanian Mineral Dealers Association pointed out many errors in the WSJ account and reported at least one source, a government official, denied saying there was a link between the tanzanite trade and al Qaeda or other terrorists.

Troubling Links

The high degree of smuggling that exists in Tanzania makes allegations of tanzanite/terrorist links hard to discount completely. Also, like most gemstones, tanzanite is traded through many hands before arriving in the U.S. This lack of transparency in trading makes gems more vulnerable to manipulation by covert groups.

The debate is complicated further by recent history. Terrorists on trial in 2001 for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in East Africa referred to their dealings in tanzanite during the mid-1990s. The testimony described a Kenyan al Qaeda-run company called Tanzanite King, which tanzanite dealers have tried repeatedly to locate, with no success.

Sales in Question

Large retailers took different routes in dealing with the crisis.

QVC, the TV and Web retailer, suspended sales of the gem Nov. 28, but Zale Corp. continues to sell tanzanite at press time. Zale says its vendors certified their merchandise comes from legitimate sources.

In late November, five U.S. associations created a vendor form and advised their members to ask tanzanite suppliers to sign it. The form pledges that the suppliers would not knowingly buy or sell tanzanite with known links to illegal activity. Members of Jewelers of America, the American Gem Trade Association, the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, the American Gem Society and Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America can contact the associations for the form.

The five associations also say they have been in touch with appropriate federal agencies in Washington, DC, as well as Tanzanian government representatives. The groups pledged their full cooperation with investigations of these charges and to put an end to any link that may actually exist. They also urged the Bush administration to act vigorously on the new report to determine its validity and pursue appropriate remedies.

– by Peggy Jo Donahue and Robert Weldon, G.G.

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications