In apparent defiance of a Supreme Court order, Zimbabwean Minister of Mines Obert Mpofu, backed by police, late Thursday took custody of millions of dollars worth of diamonds from the controversial Marange field which the court had ruled should be held by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
The minister’s surprise move followed the armed robbery this week of the Harare offices of London-based African Consolidated Resources, which says it retains the contractual right to work the Marange field.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku ruled that the diamonds should be held by the Reserve Bank until the mining rights case between ACR and the Harare government has been resolved.
But the Supreme Court's registrar said Friday that Chidyausiku's ruling did not mean that all diamonds mined from Marange on disputed claims should necessarily be surrendered to the central bank for safekeeping, the state-controlled Herald newspaper later reported.
The Herald reported that the registrar of the Supreme Court sent a letter to attorneys in the case clarifying the meaning of Chidyausiku's order, saying it did not concern all of the diamonds mined on contested claims.
An earlier judgment by High Court Justice Charles Hungwe found that ACR retained the Marange mining rights, ordering the Mining Minerals Corporation to return diamonds confiscated from the firm by the army in 2006.
Advocate Farai Mutamangira, representing the Ministry of Mines, the Mineral Marketing Corporation and the Office of the Attorney General, said that the Supreme Court order in effect suspended the lower court order, so "the entire process of removal of diamonds from MMCZ cannot be effected."
Studio Seven reached Mpofu but he declined to comment. Mpofu told the Herald newspaper that government will not allow "people representing hostile foreign interests" to exploit Zimbabwe's resources without a legal fight.
"I want to assure the country that the government is going to fight any such attempt using legal channels to ensure our resources go to the intended beneficiaries who are in this case people in Zimbabwe," Mpofu said.
Attorney Jonathan Samkange, representing ACR, said the environment has become threatening to his clients. He added that Mpofu's removal of the diamonds was a clear case of interference with the judiciary.
Asked about the reported letter from the Supreme Court registrar, Samkange responded that, "I have never heard about this in my lifetime."
He said issuance of such a letter would be illegal, because an order "has already been made by the highest court of the land," he told VOA.