Alert customs authorities at Ben Gurion Airport have foiled an attempt to smuggle $140,000 worth of non-certified diamonds from the rich Marange field in Zimbabwe.
One of the suspected smugglers, David Vardi, is a trader on the Israeli Diamond Exchange, whose president Avi Paz said that he will be expelled if the charges are proven. Police said Vardi has confessed to having obtained the diamonds from intermediaries in Lebanon.
The second suspect was identified as Gilad HaLachmi, who told officials he works as a water consultant in Zimbabwe and was asked by Vardi to carry the diamonds. They were arrested after a customs official stopped HaLachmi, who was attempting to pass through the “nothing to declare” lane at the airport. The rough diamonds were found in his clothing pockets.
The valuable stones do not have the official Kimberly Process certification and are therefore banned by international treaties. The Kimberley Process is the governing body that certifies diamond exporters, in order to keep the industry clear of illegal practices,
The rich Marange diamond field has been the center of controversy and crime, and virtually none of its diamonds are certified. The recent WikiLeaks cables divulge part of the complex operations between the government in Zimbabwe and the mine.
The Zimbabwe army has been accused of forced labor and widespread smuggling at Marange. The government forced out a British company that had claimed the field and began large-scale mining operations. After nationalization, a gang of independent prospectors moved in, resulting in the army’s gunning down illegal miners from helicopters. Thousands of homicides have been reported there.
The Kimberley Process has charged the Zimbabwe government with abusing human rights, and stopped certifying the Marange diamonds. Despite this, the government has continued to process and sell them to buyers in China and India, who sell them, usually to Lebanese but also to Russians, law-breaking Israelis and Belgians, according to Foreign Policy.com.