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Zimbabwe Mines Minister Appears Before Parliamentary Panel Probing Diamonds

Mpofu had for weeks refused to appear before the committee, but finally relented after the Office of the Attorney General confirmed that continued refusal to testify to Parliament could result in legal charges

Zimbabwean Mines Minister Obert Mpofu met in closed session Wednesday with Parliament's Committee on Mines after telling state media that controversial joint ventures between the government and private firms to develop the Marange diamond field had received the unanimous blessing of the Cabinet.

Mpofu had for weeks refused to appear before the committee, insisting the issues they wanted to take up were the subject of litigation. But he finally relented after the Attorney General’s office confirmed that a refusal to testify to Parliament could result in legal charges.

Economic Planning Minister Elton Mangoma confirmed the cabinet approved the controversial Marange deals though he said certain issues need a closer look.

Committee sources said Mpofu was quizzed over issues including an aborted January auction of 300,000 carats of diamonds, which was halted after the office of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai got wind of it. The sale had not been approved by Harare or by the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, which was scrutinizing diamonds from Marange due to alleged human rights abuses.

The minister was also questioned about issues including seeming conflicts of interest around the role of former air marshal Robert Mhlanga, chairman of Mbada and also a buyer of diamonds through another South African firm. The committee also probed the construction by Mbada Holdings, without government knowledge, of an airstrip in the Marange diamond field.

The committee has also expressed concern about some discrepancies as to the quantity of rough diamonds the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and the private mining firms say they have produced over the past few years in the Manicaland province field.

The state entity has said that since it began to exploit the Marange field in 2006 it has produced only 3,000 carats worth US$12 million. But the committee has determined that Mbada and Canadile have extracted 7.1 million carats of diamonds. The panel says evidence indicates Zimbabwe has lost millions to top officials.

Quizzed as to why the ZMDC never paid a dividend to the government until recently after Parliament turned up the heat, upon which US$200,000 was paid, Mpofu said he had just opened an investigation into the matter.

Analyst Joy Mabenge of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe says he is surprised the Cabinet approved the Marange deals when it was clear no tenders were put out to select the best partners.

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