FRIENDS: Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, right, chats to Mines and Minerals Minister Obert Mpofu after the granting of a Kimberley Process certificate to Zimbabwe in Harare, in 2010. Picture: AP

By Peta Thornycroft

Independent Foreign Service

Zimbabwe’s struggling economy has lost at least R16 billion because President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF cronies have plundered the country’s recent diamond discovery.

This is the conservative estimate of a long and detailed report into Zimbabwe’s controversial Marange diamond fields to be published today.

It was written by Partnership Africa Canada, PAC, the NGO which has spearheaded the campaigns against blood diamonds.

The massive cash profits from the Marange diamond fields in pitifully poor eastern Zimbabwe are not being used to rebuild the national economy which is in decline once again, PAC says.

The fabulous riches are mostly going to foreigners, especially in South Africa, China, Dubai, India and Israel, and to a group of Zimbabwe generals and other cronies of Robert Mugabe.

His mines minister, Obert Moses Mpofu, is perhaps the greatest beneficiary of Marange gems, PAC reveals.

The stones, which were discovered in 2006, have proved to be a game changer in the government of national unity.

They have swung the balance of power massively to Zanu-PF and helped it recover from the major setbacks of losing both the presidential and parliamentary election in 2008.

Political analysts say that Zanu-PF’s theft of Zimbabwe’s new diamond wealth has undermined the recovery of the country’s economy. It has also impeded political reforms aimed at enabling freer and fairer elections next year.

“While Minister Mpofu is not the only Zanu official benefiting from Marange’s riches, his role as the chief guardian of Marange raises the most concern,” PAC says in the report.

Much of his wealth has been impossible to track because he buys – extravagantly – with cash and usually leaves no paper trail by which to calculate most of his new assets.

Nor are there tax receipts, or even vehicle registration books to explain how he has funded his fleets of top-of-the-range commercial and heavy-duty vehicles.

PAC traced about R160 million of Mpofu’s new assets bought in the past couple of years. But the lack of company and property transfer records, especially in small towns like Victoria Falls where Mpofu bought considerable property, hindered PAC’s search.

“His unexplained wealth is emblematic of wider problems of revenue transparency associated with this promising national resource,” PAC said. “Minister Mpofu’s confirmed land holdings also place him in the top five landowners in the country, and second in his home province of Matabeleland only to the Oppenheimer family.

“His possession of land belonging to government agencies is likely in contravention with Zimbabwean law. The terms of the Land Acquisition Act – the legislation responsible for the dispossession of most white-owned land – explicitly limits expropriations to private and commercially held farmland, not state assets.”

A diamond trading company, Three Waters Investments, operates from one of Mpofu’s Bulawayo residences.

“This raises a perception that a company, and possibly individuals, associated with him, is obtaining a pecuniary benefit from an industry over which Mpofu has fiduciary responsibility.”

Another Zanu-PF crony who has benefited enormously from the diamonds is former army general Tshinga Dube, now boss of Marange Resources. Dube used to head Zimbabwe Defence Industries, the parastatal which supplied weapons to mercenary Simon Mann in 2004 for an aborted coup in Equatorial Guinea.

Yet another Zimbabwean who has made lots of money from the diamonds is Robert Mhlanga, a former helicopter pilot, who has bought a R200m property at Ballito.