Professional Jeweler Archive: Can the Kimberley System Thwart Terrorists?

February 2003


Can the Kimberley System Thwart Terrorists?

Last month in this column, I commented that the biggest headache governments participating in the new Kimberley diamond certification system could have is corruption in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Can Kimberley members be sure diamonds certified by this troubled country aren’t tainted by conflict? No sooner did the January issue go to press, however, than a greater threat surfaced.

A Dec. 29 Washington Post article reported on a newly completed European investigation showing the strongest evidence to date that al Qaeda terrorists converted about $20 million into diamond stockpiles in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The whereabouts of the diamonds, how many have been sold and to whom are unknown (see’s Jan. 6 Daily News for more details).

Can the safeguards of the Kimberley Process help prevent al Qaeda from finding a market for these diamonds? It’s hard to say. Even if the Kimberley system had been in place when the terrorists bought their gems in 2001, it might have had little effect. Al Qaeda and its operatives bribed corrupt leaders in Liberia and Burkina Faso and exploited a Sierra Leone government in disarray to buy the gems and then smuggle them out, according to the European investigation.

What would stop al Qaeda from going to corrupt countries still experiencing anarchy (the Democratic Republic of Congo comes to mind) and trading its diamonds covertly even today? Countries participating in the Kimberley system will have to be extremely careful in monitoring members like the DRC to ensure they have safeguards in place to prevent al Qaeda diamonds from reaching the market.
Though it may seem unfair, the fact that potentially $20 million worth of terrorist diamonds is floating around should make rough-diamond buyers extremely leery about doing business in countries where corruption and anarchy are still the order of the day. Many people in the diamond industry who are interested in the success of Africa want to help struggling countries such as Angola, Sierra Leone and the DRC properly benefit from their mineral resources, but they must be careful.

The International Monetary Fund, for example, recently announced nearly $1 billion has disappeared mysteriously from Angolan government finances, prompting new worries about official corruption, despite a settlement of the country’s long civil war. Can diamond buyers trust a country like Angola to guarantee its diamonds aren’t tainted?

These are troubling questions that only time and proper monitoring can address. The diamond and jewelry industry must give Kimberley time to become fully operational. Unfortunately, patience is hard to come by when terrorists may have diamonds ready to sell.

Perhaps that’s the reason the U.S. government went from fighting the Kimberley system to being its greatest advocate. The U.S. government’s clear statement that it would no longer admit rough diamonds uncertified by Kimberley after Jan. 1 caused many rough-diamond trading countries to hurry on board.

The U.S. government has been stymied for months now trying to track down terrorist funds and block terrorists from using their money to cause more mayhem. Let’s hope the Kimberley system will truly be a help and that its members won’t be lulled into believing its safeguards are airtight.

– Peggy Jo Donahue

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