Tanzanite Cleared, but Gem Community Warned


February 12, 2002

Tanzanite Cleared, but Gem Community Warned

The cloud of suspicion hanging over tanzanite since late last year has lifted. The U.S. Department of State announced Feb. 9 there is no current link between tanzanite and terrorists. Doubts lingered after reports that significant sales of tanzanite allegedly funded the al Qaeda terrorist network were published by The Wall Street Journal from November through January, and were picked up by National Public Radio, ABC News and other news organizations. The news came during summit meetings called to create and announce the Tucson Tanzanite Protocols, a series of agreements to prevent tanzanite from being abused in the future. The meetings were held during the AGTA GemFair in Tucson Feb. 8 and 9.

"I have regular meetings with members of the intelligence community, and two things I was told by them surprised me," says Michael J. O'Keefe, of the Bureau of East African Affairs, U.S. State Department. "One, I was told that there is no evidence al Qaeda is currently using tanzanite sales to finance its operations or launder money. Two, I was surprised because they told me I could say this [publicly]."

But O'Keefe warned existing weak regulations of gemstone trading in Tanzania and elsewhere make gems particularly vulnerable to abuse. "We need a way to address the problem. It is not simply a problem [that could occur] with tanzanite or with Tanzanians. Tanzania is a poor country trying to attract economic investment to better the lives of its people; and there is a link between poverty and despair and terrorism," he says. Other gemstones, like ruby and sapphire, also are vulnerable because of weak regulations, he says, but suggests that instead of banning retail tanzanite sales, the gem industry should work with the Tanzania to create secure commercial channels, with regulations governing tanzanite exports to assure it is not sold to help terrorists.

Tanzania, represented by Edgar Maokola-Majogo, the minister of energy and minerals, agrees. "We are not here to defend ourselves, but to embrace the opportunity to work together with all the industry's stakeholders to ensure this unique product travels from mine to market in a manner which will assure consumers of its integrity and symbolism as a stone of peace and tranquility," Maokola-Majoga says.

Steps to restore confidence in tanzanite were announced by Maokola-Majogo, the American Gem Trade Association's Douglas Hucker, Jeweler's Vigilance Committee's Cecilia Gardner and Jewelers of America's Matthew Runci. The protocols to restore confidence in tanzanite include:

1. An analysis of the tanzanite market chain to determine necessary improvements and prevent abuses.

2. A cooperative effort between governments and industry to strengthen and maintain a system of oversight, control and law enforcement for the movement of tanzanite from the mines to the first point of export.

3. A system of warranties, in cooperation with Tanzania, provided in writing and used by first exporters and all downstream stating the tanzanite bought, sold, cut, polished, set or traded came from legitimate sources.

4. Subsequent traders should only accept tanzanite accompanied by the written warranty.

5. Sellers of tanzanite or jewelry containing tanzanite should require the written warranty from their supplier.

The initiative also has been endorsed by the American Gem Society, the International Colored Gemstone Association, Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America, Tanzanian Mineral Dealers Association, Arusha Regional Miners Association, Tanzanian Chamber of Mines, the Indian Diamond & Colored Stone Association and the Jewelers Association of Jaipur, India.

The group also says it hopes to contact QVC, Tiffany & Co., and Zale Corp. to ask them to begin selling tanzanite again. The retailers stopped sales after the alleged links to terrorism were reported.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

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