Business

TO CATCH A DIAMOND THIEF

JENNIFER HUNTER December 29 1997
Business

TO CATCH A DIAMOND THIEF

JENNIFER HUNTER December 29 1997

TO CATCH A DIAMOND THIEF

When Sir Alan Grose, the Johannesburg-based head of security for De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd., visited Yellowknife last year, he had a few words of caution for the Canadian diamond industry. “Nobody,” he exclaimed, “is more ingenious than a diamond thief."

It is a message the RCMP in Yellowknife are paying great heed to. Two plainclothes officers, Ray Halwas and Susan Munn, are being trained to work full time on preventing crime that could arise from diamond mining in the Northwest Territories. It is the first time the force has ever taken such precautions—uranium mining, for example, never rated full RCMP attention, despite concerns about smuggling.

In other diamond-producing countries, such as Angola and Zaïre, smuggling and crime are rife. Even in South Africa, where security measures are stringent, there is constant theft. De Beers reported last month that theft and diamond trafficking in South Africa costs the country $300 million a year. In 1996, police investigated 576 cases of diamond trafficking and recovered 6,863 carats’ worth of diamonds.

In one of the cases, De Beers says, a smuggler was caught with uncut diamonds packed carefully into condoms concealed in his rectum.

Anywhere there are diamonds, there are criminals, the RCMP officers say. “Organized crime is very attracted to this industry,” says Halwas. “It has somehow been able to infiltrate the system even when there is tight security in place. Diamonds are very easy to conceal.” By some estimates, as much as 40 per cent of the rough diamonds currently for sale around the world come from the black market.

So Munn and Halwas have visited London, South Africa, Belgium and Australia to

gather information about security procedures at diamond mining sites. Halwas has enrolled in a correspondence course on diamonds so he can learn about the stones themselves. And Munn is exploring how diamond mines recruit personnel— whether, for example, new employees should undergo psychological tests to measure their integrity. The officers won’t be responsible for security at the mines— that task will fall to the mining companies —but they will drop by from time to time to check on the security. As Munn notes: “There is a dark side of this industry.”

JENNIFER HUNTER in Yellowknife