Tuesday, March 5, 2013

► ZIMBABWE: China Sonangol denies its A320 being used for diamond smuggling.

SonangolChina Sonangol, the joint venture between the Hong Kong based China International Fund (or the 88 Queensway group) and Angola's state-owned oil company Sonangol, has denied a report by whistle-blower site, 100Reporters, alleging that its Airbus A319 (MSN 2706 | VP-BEX) was being used to "smuggle" diamonds from Zimbabwe's controversial Marange diamond fields.

China Sonangol A319 VP-BEX in Lanseria
China Sonangol A319 VP-BEX in Lanseria (EI-AMD)
In its initial reports, 100Reporters stated that the aircraft was being used for VIP transport, in addition to diamond haulage, citing slack customs procedures in both Harare and South Africa:
"From time to time, a VIP-configured Airbus jetted into Lanseria International Airport, a small and privately-owned base facility near Johannesburg, South Africa. The plane, an Airbus 319CJ, also stopped at Zimbabwe’s Harare airport. It carried important people and was widely believed to ferry some precious—and illicit–cargo: Zimbabwe’s conflict diamonds.

The diamonds came from one of the largest diamond troves in history: Marange. Spanning 173,000 acres and priced at $800 billion in rough diamonds, Marange’s concentration of treasure is eight times higher than average, at more than 1,000 carats per hundred tons. 

The plane, first identified in report by the British nonprofit organization Global Witness, has been used to move diamonds out of Zimbabwe.
Source [100Reporters]

Group Head of Legal services, Wee Jee Kin said China Sonangal has not purchased a single carat of diamond from Zimbabwe.
For the record, it is indeed true that China Sonangol is involved in the diamond business. All of our diamonds however, come from our jointly-held Catoca mines in Angola and none are from Zimbabwe,” said Jee Kin, adding that China International Fund did not hold any shares nor in any way control Planair. Planair is an external service provider.
Source [The Standard]

Interestingly enough, one of Air Zimbabwe's A320s, (MSN 630 | Z-WPM) is an ex-Air Tanzania (TC) aircraft that was leased to Air Tanzania by the China International Fund/Sonangol prior to the collapse of their deal with the Tanzanian government over a possible buy out of one of Tanzania’s biggest diamond mines - Williamson Diamond Mine.