January 16, 2002
Nothing Proven in Tanzanite Allegations
Attempts to substantiate allegations of a commercial connection between tanzanite and terrorist groups are so far unsuccessful.
Cecilia Gardner of the Jeweler's Vigilance Committee, Matt Runci of Jewelers of America and Douglas Hucker of the American Gem Trade Association met with the head of the National Security Councils Terrorism task force in Washington, DC, last week. The task force leader confirmed no information had been developed to substantiate a link between tanzanite and al Qaeda terrorist groups. The terrorist cells had operated in Kenya and Tanzania in the late 1990s. Their actions were known to have culminated in U.S. embassy bombings in both countries in 1998.
The industry representatives also met with Tanzania's ambassador to express their concern over the allegations and offer support in developing a mechanism to make jewelers and consumers feel more comfortable in purchasing tanzanite.
Tanzanias Minister of Energy and Mines, Edgar Maokola-Majogo sent a letter to U.S. trade representatives seeking help in alleviating the crisis. Trade representatives say the cooperation of Tanzania's government is crucial in solving the problem. "We are paddling as fast as we can trying to get Tanzanian government officials to the Tucson AGTA GemFair in February so they have a better understanding of the market here," says Hucker. "We are solidly investigating the allegations any way we can; we are looking for a process that tracks rough into the market from its source and will make retailers a lot more comfortable."
"Our interest is in fostering a program of certification/legalization so that customers feel the product is free of taint," says Runci.
The industry representatives also met with the authors of a U.S. Agency of International Development report, published in 2001, which detailed aspects of the Tanzanian mining industries, including tanzanite. The discussed finding a better way to control the tanzanite trade, a subject covered in the USAID report.
Gardner urged caution in dealing with the tanzanite situation. "These developments are still in their infancy," she says. "What is required is that tanzanite stakeholders, anyone dealing in tanzanite, be willing to provide assurance. I suspect it will be an easier process than the problem of conflict diamonds, because we are talking about a gem that has only one source." She cautions that while no one has been able to substantiate the claims so far, investigations continue.
by Robert Weldon, G.G.