UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Wednesday an independent probe was being conducted into whether U.N. vehicles were used to smuggle diamonds from a mine in Zimbabwe.
Spokeswoman Michele Montas confirmed that Larry Johnson, the deputy legal counsel, had received a letter alleging that at least one vehicle from the U.N. Development Fund (UNDP) was involved in the smuggling.
UNDP spokeswoman Cassandra Waldon denied the charge. “No UNDP vehicle has been used in any illegal activity,” she said.
A lawyer representing Bubye Minerals wrote to the U.N. legal office, saying their rivals in ownership for River Ranch Limited had smuggled diamonds out of Zimbabwe with the assistance of UNDP, according to the Zimbabwe-based Financial Gazette newspaper.
Bubye Minerals has accused the directors of River Ranch of seizing the mine and renaming it.
Waldon said UNDP was a trustee but not on the staff of the African Management Services Company (AMSCO), a regional project supported by governments as well as the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation.
AMSCO helps African countries become globally competitive and brings in expatriate managers or experts, seven of whom are in Zimbabwe. UNDP supports the work of the experts, such as security accreditation, Waldon said.
Waldon said similar allegations about UNDP had surfaced earlier this year and were investigated by AMSCO and the UNDP office in Zimbabwe, which found “no illegalities.”
Now that the accusations have resurfaced, the AMSCO board of directors had asked outside investigators to conduct another probe, Waldon said.
But UNDP is not yet conducting a separate inquiry.
“We are following it very closely. We will await the results of the investigation and UNDP will determine whether any further action is warranted,” Waldon said.
In January, the industry’s World Diamond Council said it received reports that diamonds in Zimbabwe were being smuggled into neighboring South Africa, where they were being certified as legitimate. The charge is still being investigated.
The council said River Ranch was among the smuggling sites named in the report. River Ranch denied the accusations and a lawyer for the group said no diamonds had even been mined.
Illegal mining is rising in Zimbabwe as people grapple with an economic crisis that has seen inflation rise to over 2,000 percent, the highest in the world, and poverty levels soar.