Kimberley Group Says Israel Confiscated Diamonds (Updated)

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(Rapaport, May 17, 2004) Customs authorities in Israel have in recent months confiscated shipments of diamonds that lacked Kimberley Process certification, showing the potential of the process for stopping trade in conflict diamonds, participants in a Kimberley Process delegation to Israel said.

The shipments reached Israel from Belgium and Thailand, said Udi Sheintal, the diamond controller within Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.

Sheintal spoke at a news conference hosted by the Kimberley Process representatives and Eli Izhakoff chairman and CEO of the World Diamond Council. Israel’s government invited the Kimberley Process delegation to review the country’s compliance with the process’s standards.

The confiscations show that the Kimberley Process is “a great deterrent” to trade in conflict diamonds, Izhakoff said. Conflict diamonds are stones that insurgents have stolen and used to fuel bloody years-long wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and Congo. Analysts also fear that illicit diamond sales may have funded terrorist groups.

The group, in Israel through May 19, includes Jacob A.R. Thamage, director of mineral affairs in Botswana; Don Law-West, senior mineral economist-diamonds with Canada’s Department of Indian and Northern Affairs; and Ian Smillie of Partnership Africa Canada, representing the nongovernmental organizations that advocate action against conflict diamonds.

The delegation will be visiting a number of diamond-industry offices and factories to review how Israel’s diamantaires obtain, process and export diamonds. Today, they visited the Delta diamond factory; the delegation declined to comment on specific findings until it prepares a report on Israel’s industrywide practices.

For a country to qualify as compliant with the Kimberley Process, it must meet a set of standards, including enabling legislation with internal and external controls on diamonds plus penalties for individual violators.

Though diamonds are a small percentage of Canada’s economy, “we went ahead and wrote a whole new set of laws” to “show the level of effort required to implement it properly,” Law-West said.

Lebanon, on the other hand, was denied membership in the Kimberley Process because the country’s president declined to sign the enabling legislation, Izhakoff said.

A review visit, such as the one Israel requested, looks at how well the country is meeting Kimberley Process standards. In some countries, the Kimberley Process also sponsors missions to investigate possible “significant divergences” from Kimberley Process standards and to suggest solutions, Thamage said. A mission to the Republic of Congo is set for the end of May.

Countries generally have cooperated with the Kimberley Process, which is a voluntary commitment, the participants said. No nation has outwardly resisted the concept, but it’s been met with “silence from some quarters,” Smillie said.

“Implementation is the difficult part” of the Kimberley Process, Smillie said. “Diamonds are a high-value commodity that lends itself to smuggling and money laundering.”

No one suggests that it’s possible to eliminate the trade in conflict diamonds, anymore than it’s possible to stop car theft, Smillie said. But “if you keep putting blocks in front of” conflict diamonds, “it’s harder and harder to get them into” the legitimate trade, Smillie said.

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