Canada Fears Possible Mafia Infiltration of Diamond Mines

June 16, 2000

Canada Fears Possible Mafia Infiltration of Diamond Mines

In just three years, Canada's Northwest Territories are expected to account for at least 15% of the world's diamond production by value, and that figure has members of organized crime groups taking notice.

Thanks to the exceptionally high quality of the diamonds produced in this subarctic region of Canada, the area is becoming home to one of the world's most important diamond mining industries. The mines are located hundreds of miles from the capital Yellowknife and can be reached only by plane, but that isn't stopping suspected mobsters from moving into the area, reports Reuters. "There has certainly been interest from Russian organized crime, Asian organized crime, outlawed motorcycle gang groups and others," Superintendent Terry Elliott of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Yellowknife told Reuters.

"Because of their remoteness, the Northwest Territories provide criminal organizations with an excellent opportunity," Superintendent Ben Soave of the Special Enforcement Unit said. "East European criminals have had the time to develop expertise, especially in jewelry and diamonds. They pose a serious threat. If we're not prepared, then we will have serious problems."

The local police, however, are not equipped to deal with organized crime. According to Reuters, Yellowknife's special unit for dealing with the diamond industry consists of three people, and the entire force has only 162 officers responsible for an area larger than Western Europe. "Other countries with diamond industries have diamond squads employing hundreds of investigators," Elliott told Reuters. "We're not asking for anything like that, but we certainly need some resources to develop an intelligence base and try to prevent what we know is going to happen."

Canadian officials have been aware of the potential problem for more than a year. In December 1998, nearly 40 Russian nationals were arrested in Canada for bringing fake diamonds from the U.S. and other offenses, Reuters reported. In addition, documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun newspaper show Canadian immigration officials in Moscow warned Ottawa they didn't have the resources to stop suspected mobsters from moving to Canada.

Unlike the local law enforcement, the mining firms are confident they can protect themselves from unwanted criminal attention. They point out their diamonds are buried deep in kimberlite deposits and have to be dug out of the ground and separated mechanically. These are not as easy to steal as alluvial deposits, which are much closer to the surface and can be recovered by hand.

- by Julia M. Duncan