Police probe Liberian diamond scheme
Transcript for the Lateline interview with Garry Holloway – Broadcast: 18/02/2003
Federal Police are investigating a locally-based diamond importation scheme that may be in breach of a UN Security Council resolution on the trade of the gems from Liberia. The so-called “blood diamond” trade was banned two years ago by the UN after being linked to the financing of wars in West Africa and to international terrorist groups such Al Qaeda. Under investigation is a Tamworth-based commodity trader which says it’s acting as an agent for a business that’s run out of the Liberian Consulate in Melbourne.
Compere: Tony Jones
Reporter: Steve Letts
TONY JONES: Federal Police are investigating a locally-based diamond importation scheme that may be in breach of a UN Security Council resolution on the trade of the gems from Liberia.
The so-called “blood diamond” trade was banned two years ago by the UN after being linked to the financing of wars in West Africa and to international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.
Under investigation is a Tamworth-based commodity trader which says it’s acting as an agent for a business that’s run out of the Liberian Consulate in Melbourne.
However, both the trading company and the consulate say they have nothing to do with breaking the strict import embargo.
Finance correspondent, Steve Letts.
STEVE LETTS: Since the end of the Cold War and superpower sponsorship, diamonds have been the best friend of the murderous players in numerous blood-soaked West African conflicts.
From Sierra Leone through to Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, billions have been raised from the so-called “blood” or “conflict diamonds”.
The UNITA rebels in Angola alone have reportedly raised almost $4 billion US in the past decade and the trade has also been tied to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.
That’s prompted the United Nations Security Council to pass a series of resolutions banning the trade in diamonds from suspect countries, including Liberia.
SENATOR CHRIS ELLISON, JUSTICE & CUSTOMS MINISTER: Customs is vigilant in relation to the trade in conflict diamonds.
It’s very important that there be an international effort in relation to this because what we’re looking at is an illegal trade in diamonds which raises money for terrorism, civil war and the overthrowing of governments, particularly in Africa.
STEVE LETTS: Despite that, a company based in Tamworth, named Global Transaction Australia, is offering the opportunity to enter the Liberian diamond trade for, as the promotion puts it, as little as US$200,000.
SENATOR CHRIS ELLISON: We’re certainly looking at a matter in Australia which I can’t go into for operational reasons, but there is a matter of interest to the authorities and we’re looking at that.
GARRY HOLLOWAY, JEWELLER: I was suspicious because I read a diamond industry article referring to the Liberian Government consul in Melbourne being associated with selling diamonds.
The problem with that is that the Liberian nation doesn’t mine very many diamonds.
They’ve been known to have been exporting far more diamonds than they actually mine.
STEVE LETTS: A Melbourne jeweller and a campaigner against conflict diamonds, Garry Holloway says it’s exceptional to find a site to brazenly marketing Liberian diamonds.
GARRY HOLLOWAY: It didn’t look like the normal sort of process that a normal business person would involve oneself in.
One has to pay a deposit before one can even talk to anybody.
STEVE LETTS: The Global Transaction website instructions tell potential buyers to deposit funds in the account of the Liberian consul in Melbourne.
Throw in another $100 for a Liberian visa and the buyer is then off to inspect the merchandise in the strife-torn Liberian capital of Monrovia – one of the most dangerous and lawless places on earth.
The director of Global Transaction Australia, Dennis Cousins, declined an interview but says he’s just an agent for a business run out of the Liberian consulate located in this modest office block in inner suburban Melbourne.
Mr Cousins also says that the trade is not in blood diamonds as any sales are approved by the Liberian Government.
This interpretation seems to be at odds with customs regulations that state: “..the direct or indirect importation of rough diamonds from Liberia is prohibited absolutely, whether or not the diamonds originate from Liberia.” – Australian customs Regulation 4P
STEVE LETTS: The Liberian consulate here in Melbourne also declined an interview.
However, a spokesman says that despite the detailed instructions on the website, it’s all a mistake.
It has nothing to do with the consul or consulate.
Since being contacted by Lateline, Global Transaction Australia has modified its website to include the warning that all purchases must remain in Liberia until the UN embargo is lifted.
Given the current state of West Africa, that’s not even a remote possibility.