ZIMBABWE’S diamonds continue to be flown out of the country under a veil of secrecy through the use of a privately-owned VP-BEX plane, a report by 100Reporters, a website run by journalists, has alleged.
100REPORTERS AND BY OUR STAFF
The airplane allegedly makes frequent trips to Singapore, Hong Kong, Tanzania and Angola, among other destinations and appears to enjoy a remarkable lack of scrutiny and flying in a perpetual no-oversight zone, it says.
Once a month or sometimes more often, the VIP-configured airbus jets into Lanseria International Airport, a small and privately-owned base facility near Johannesburg, South Africa.
Partnership Africa Canada, a watchdog group, estimates that US$2 billion in undeclared precious stones have left Zimbabwe, making it “perhaps the biggest single plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes”.
The airbus is believed to have carried out millions of dollars in undeclared diamonds from Marange.
The Marange diamond fields spanning 173 000 acres and priced at US$800 billion in rough diamonds, have a concentration of the precious stone eight times higher than average, at more than 1 000 carats per hundred tonnes.
Finance minister, Tendai Biti has also alleged that millions of dollars in diamond revenues are being siphoned through opaque routes rather than being deposited into treasury.
According to watchdog groups, the most frequent passenger on the Airbus, identified by its tail code VP-BEX, has been Xu Jinghua, a Chinese businessman also known as Sam Pa, who visits Zimbabwe once a month and believed to be carrying diamonds out of the country.
Pa is believed to be Zanu PF’s private arms dealer and has been accused of providing arms and a fleet of Nissan pickup trucks to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), according to Global Witness.
Global Witness has described him as a monthly visitor on board VP-BEX to Harare.
“The Airbus, a corporate ultra-long jetliner, is smaller and lighter than its commercial counterpart. The private version of the 319CJ hosts an average of 18 or more seats, with luxury compartments,” the report reads.
The plane was reportedly purchased new in mid-June 2006 by Angola’s Sonangol State Corporation, “a secretive entity with a history of off-books sales of petroleum, according to the International Monetary Fund and other sources.”
The plane’s pilot is allegedly a celebrated former South African Airways (SAA) pilot from Springbok Safari.
The pilot did not respond to interview requests from 100Reporters.
Until September 2012, the plane was registered in Bermuda to Planair, a company identified as one aviation arm of the China International Fund, a Hong Kong-based private company.
In September last year, Planair re-registered the plane under a different corporate subsidiary: Hong Kong Jet (Bermuda), belonging to a Chinese Fortune 500 company, the HNA Group.