but insisted during a parliamentary probe into irregularities in the mining sector that it was virtually impossible to get clean people in the industry.
Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee investigating operations in Marange, Mpofu said he was aware that some of the directors of South African firms Canadile and Mbada Mining were involved in shady business deals but challenged the committee to identify any investors in the diamond industry who were clean.
“He said he had done his research and found that people in the diamond business globally are drug traffickers, smugglers or plain crooks. He said this was the trend worldwide and the committee was fooling itself by thinking that they could get a clean diamond investor,” said a source who attended the briefing by the minister.
The hearing was held behind closed doors.
The government-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) last year partnered little known Grandwell of South Africa to form Mbada Investments which is mining diamonds at the Marange field that is also known as Chiadzwa.
The ZMDC also partnered another little known South African firm Core Mining and Minerals in a joint-venture operation trading as Canadile Miners to exploit the Marange deposits.
But parliamentarians have accused some members of the boards of two firms — whose names they have note disclosed — of being former illegal drug and diamond dealers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sierra Leone.
Under the law, Mpofu can appoint the chairperson and deputy of the ZMDC board but has no authority to name people to sit on boards of joint venture companies formed by the state mining corporation and other entities.
One of the appointments is former Airforce of Zimbabwe helicopter pilot Robert Mhlanga — who has interests in Grandwell but was named by Mpofu to represent the ZMDC on the Mbada board as chairman.
According to diamond.net, Mhlanga was Zimbabwes first black helicopter pilot and worked as a courier for Mugabes late first wife, Sally.
Mhlanga is said to have made a fortune through various projects in Africa and was active in the DRC’s diamond trade when Zimbabwean troops fought there.
The Mbada chairman is known to have close ties with Zimbabwes military establishment that is accused of stealing millions of dollars worth of diamonds from Marange and offloading them onto the foreign black market for precious stones.
The committee accused Mpofu of failure to diligently vet people before forming partnerships with them to mine the Marange diamonds.
Mpofu admitted that he did not follow laid-down procedures when he licenced Canadile and Mbada to mine diamonds at Chiadzwa.
Sources said the under-fire minister vainly sought to explain away his actions by arguing that the country badly needed money that following procedures would have affected government efforts to get immediate cash.
“He confirmed that proper procedures were not followed. He however defended his action, saying this was necessitated by the fact that Zimbabwe is under sanctions and needed money fast, said a source who attended the committee briefing by Mpofu.
Our sources said Mpofu sought to shift blame to the ZMDC after parliamentarians alleged that he had personally handpicked the same people he now described as crooks.
“He said while he could have recommended the two firms to partner ZMDC, the parastatal had the responsibility to draw up agreements that benefited the government, the source said.
He said he was investigating the ZMDC because the parastatal had structured agreements that are favour the private partners instead of the government.
But sources who attended the meeting said Mpofu, while admitting to the irregularities, insisted that Mbada and Canadile would continue with operations because Cabinet on Tuesday endorsed their operations.
He also defended himself by stating that his ministry lacked expertise and financial resources to fully utilise Marange diamonds hence the rush to appoint people who he said knew the business, according to the source.
The joint ventures with Mbada and Canadile were formed as part of measures to bring mining of diamonds at Marange in line with standards stipulated by world diamond industry watchdog, the Kimberley Process (KP).
Marange is one of the worlds most controversial diamond fields with reports that soldiers sent to guard the claims after the government took over the field in October 2006 from a British firm that owned the deposits committed gross human rights abuses against illegal miners who had descended on the field.
Human rights groups have been pushing for a ban on Zimbabwean diamonds but last November, the country escaped a KP ban with the global body giving Harare a June 2010 deadline to make reforms to comply with its regulations.Post published in: News