A diamond buyer inspects uncut diamonds. Picture: Olivia Harris

Cape Town - A R100 million diamond robbery at a Bellville home has lifted the lid on the central role the gems have in the illicit markets of the criminal underworld.

Several well-placed sources explained to Weekend Argus how crime kingpins in the Western Cape are exchanging diamonds, luxury vehicles and drugs so that there is no paper trail for their transactions.

Knysna was identified by a source as a hub where a prominent family, originally from Italy and now partially Cape Town-based with ties to the diamond trade, was suspected of being linked to drug deals.

Just days after these sources provided details about international smugglers who have settled in Cape Town, Metro Police arrested three suspects from Germany and one from Italy, all believed to have links to a European drug-smuggling syndicate and who were apparently on their way to Knysna.

Meanwhile, Chad Thomas of IRS Forensic Investigations shed light on what led up to a seemingly straightforward diamond heist in Cape Town’s northern suburbs last year.

Four armed men broke into a home in an upmarket part of Bellville, overriding tight security measures, and forced the owner to hand over diamonds that were hidden in a walk-in safe.

Police spokesman Andre Traut told Weekend Argus no one was arrested for the May 15 crime and the case was still under investigation.

Thomas revealed that the name of a notorious underworld businessman had cropped up in the robbery probe and that it was thought that soured business relations had motivated the crime.

The name of the businessman is known to Weekend Argus. He has previously appeared in court on unrelated charges.

According to Thomas, the home owner who was involved in the diamond trade had had dealings with the businessman, who was in fact his neighbour.

But the duo apparently fell out and the robbery took place about a week after the businessman had visited the owner and seen the diamonds – two sets, one more valuable and better concealed than the other.

Thomas said another factor was that the owner and businessman’s homes, along with a third house, had shared a security hut and the robbers had known the code needed to get through this.

He said it had been raining and traces of mud on a security panel showed the robbers had punched in the correct code.

“They also knew the balcony’s outside door was unlocked,” Thomas said, referring to the owner’s house.

The owner was there at the time and Thomas said the robbers knew the owner by name.

He said one set of diamonds had been in a suitcase and another in a camera bag in the walk-in safe. The diamonds in the suitcase were below a carat, while the ones in the camera bag were above a carat.

“The guys knew where the room was… They wanted the diamonds. (The owner) gave them the suitcase. They asked for the camera bag,” Thomas said.

The robbers managed to get away with more than R100m of diamonds and Krugerrands.

Thomas said after the incident the businessman had been in the security hut and had apparently accidentally deleted CCTV footage of the crime.

It is understood the owner moved out of the house after the incident for safety reasons.

He declined to comment to Weekend Argus.

Another diamond incident played out in Sea Point in 2012 and was linked to another underworld businessman, who had ties with the businessman fingered in the Bellville case.

Police confirmed that in the Sea Point incident the theft of a diamond was probed, but the case was eventually withdrawn.

Both underworld businessmen had ties to another figure linked to another diamond case that involved a 50-carat pink diamond that allegedly disappeared from a Geneva company in 2013.

But this diamond was apparently relinquished to a South African creditor to whom the original diamond-owner was apparently indebted.

What sources say:

* Underworld kingpins use foot soldiers to commit diamond robberies, sometimes intended as a form of intimidation.

* They offer security to the diamond-holder, or the diamond-holder approaches them for security if they want to keep the diamonds off the radar.

“These guys (doing the security) then get 'knocked' on the way (while transporting the diamonds)…

“And (the kingpin) then exchanges the diamonds for drugs or luxury cars,”.

* The diamond business is close-knit, so gems obtained illegally are often exchanged for other illicit goods from foreigners.

* Foreign businessmen with ties to Europe have set up shop in Cape Town and were importing stolen goods from overseas then selling them locally and are making inroads in the local drug trade.

Weekend Argus