U.N.: Diamond Companies Among Congo "Plunderers"

October 23, 2002

U.N.: Diamond Companies Among Congo "Plunderers"

A United Nations panel issued a report on Oct. 21 naming several Belgian-based diamond companies it says are associated with Lebanese criminal organizations participating in diamond smuggling in the Democractic Republic of Congo. The U.N. report, which details various illegal exploitations of Congo's natural resources, recommended imposing financial restrictions on the diamond companies, among other companies it says exploit resources such as coltan, cobalt and copper.

The Antwerp companies named were Asa Diam, Sierra Gem Diamonds, Triple A Diamonds and Echogem. The Lebanese criminal organizations, named after their family clans, are Ahmad, Nassour and Khanafer, according to the U.N. report. The Lebanese organizations, says the U.N., may also have ties to terrorist groups such as Amal and Hezbollah, and are involved in money laundering and counterfeiting, according to intelligence services and police organizations. Earlier this year, the Bush administration said it was concerned Hezbollah and the al Qaeda network were increasing their cooperation, according to a separate report in the Wall Street Journal.

The U.N. panel also recommended placing financial restrictions on Oryx Natural Resources, based in DRC, saying it is also involved in diamond resource exploitation. A year ago, the British Broadcasting Corp. was forced to apologize to Oryx for accusations it published linking Oryx to conflict diamond financing of terrorists.

Aziz Nassour, a Lebanese diamond merchant who was accused lst year of buying diamonds from al Qaeda middlemen, was also named in the U.N. report as working for Rwanda to exploit diamonds. Nassour was back in the news this week for his alleged terrorist connections when a report from the London Observer said he hired couriers to exchange $300,000 in cash for diamonds every week between December 2000, and September 2001, according to European government officials cited by the Observer.

The U.N. report also implicated highly placed Congolese government officials, saying they colluded with mineral exploiters to provide mining licenses and export permits.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 22, the World Diamond Council met with U.S. officials to coordinate plans for U.S. compliance with the soon-to-be enacted Kimberley Process certification program. The U.S., which has fully endorsed Kimberley, plans to put the system in action in January 2003, after approval at a meeting of Kimberley government and private participants planned for Nov. 5 in Switzerland.

Some observers of the Kimberley system express concerns about what the news from Congo might mean for the new certification system, which is intended to choke the flow of diamonds used to support conflict and terrorism. The government of Congo is one of the participants in the Kimberley Process.

In addition, the International Monetary Fund recently announced that nearly $1 billion has mysteriously disappeared from Angolan government finances, prompting new worries that official corruption in countries like Angola and Congo could affect the Kimberley system's effectiveness.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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