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Chinese airline firm denies smuggling Zim diamonds

CHINA Sonangal has refuted a report by 100Reporters, a website run by journalists, implicating the company in the smuggling of diamonds from Marange through the use of its VP-BEX plane.

BY OUR STAFF

The report alleged that the plane makes frequent trips to Singapore, Hong Kong, Tanzania and Angola, among other destinations.

The report alleged that the airbus was believed to have carried out millions of dollars’ worth of undeclared diamonds from Marange.

But the company distanced itself from any diamond transactions in Zimbabwe, which have been the bone of contention between Finance minister Tendai Biti and Mines and Mining Development minister, Obert Mpofu.

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.

The report alleged that the airbus appears to enjoy a remarkable lack of scrutiny and flight in a perpetual no-oversight zone.

Jee Kin said, “It is not uncommon for private jets to vary from its scheduled flight plan. This flexibility is indeed one of the main attractions of private jets and nothing sinister should be inferred from that.”

He said that corporate jets were used by high net-worth individuals and corporations for a number of reasons, such as dealing with high-value and time-sensitive matters, privacy and the flexibility to change schedules and are often used in the oil and gas industry, which happens to be part of the company’s business.

Planair and Hong Kong Jet are rivals in the same aviation space and do not have common owners. Both of the companies have nothing to do with China Sonangol, but were successive operators when the company’s aircraft operations were transferred from one operator (Planair) to the other (Hong Kong Jet).

The decision, said Jee Kin, to transfer the aircraft was purely due to cost and commercial considerations.

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