Former Mines Minister Obert Mpofu met South African diamond executive Ernest Blom on 9 April 2009, less than two months after his appointment, to discuss a mining deal for Marange diamonds that was being proposed by Blom and his partner C. Gregory Turner, a Chicago man who was convicted this month of illegally lobbying for the lifting of United States sanctions on President Robert Mugabe.
At the time Mpofu literally ran the operations of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, which owned the mining rights to the diamonds, single-handedly according to evidence given in court recently.
Lawyers for Lovemore Kurotwi, who is currently facing fraud charges for allegedly misleading the government that he had found investors for another diamond venture in Marange, said in July that Mpofu single-handedly ran the affairs of the ZMDC from 20 February to 13 June, 2009.
The meeting between Mpofu and Blom was arranged by Turner who was lobbying Chicago legislators to come to Zimbabwe to meet Mugabe to lobby for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Turner, who is still to be sentenced, seemed, however, to be more interested in cashing in on the Marange diamonds and roped in Blom, a top diamond executive from South Africa. They wanted to form a company called Edenic Diamond Resources.
Mining operations at Marange were stopped by the government after it kicked out African Consolidated Resources in 2006. The government drove out illegal panners, popularly known as makorokoza, first under Operation Chikorokoza Chapera (Panning is over) in 2006 and Operation Hakudzokwi (No return) in 2008.
According to an email from Blom to Turner dated 15 April 2009, but addressed to Mpofu, Blom thanked Mpofu for the “productive meeting” of 9 April. He said that he wanted to be involved in two phases:
- A valuation and marketing of the current stockpile of diamonds; and
- The formation of a new company between him and the government “to mine, market, and sell diamonds”.
The contents of the emails were disclosed in an affidavit by Federal Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Steven Noldin and formed the basis for the case against Turner and his partner Prince Asiel Ben Israel. Ben Israel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven months jail in August this year.
Blom stated that the stakeholders in the joint venture would include the Ministry of Mines, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe.
The South African diamond magnate must have been so impressed by the 9 April discussions that he gave Mpofu until 24 April to accept the offer after which the parties were to sign a memorandum of understanding on 4 May 2009.
Turner wrote Ben Israel on 21 April that he was pushing to close the deal and would finalise the “MOU..this weekend”, but the deal fell through. He was singing a different tune in his 5 May email. A new partner had surfaced.
Tomorrow: Blom-Turner bring in Robert Mhlanga, now chairman of Mbada, but deal still flops.