Mugabe suspends top officials over ‘diamond graft’

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe speaks at his ZANU-PF party's annual national conference in Gweru, December 8, 2012.  By Jekesai Njikizana (AFP/File)

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe speaks at his ZANU-PF party’s annual national conference in Gweru, December 8, 2012. By Jekesai Njikizana (AFP/File)

HARARE (AFP) – The party of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has suspended five senior officials on suspicion of fraud involving $700,000 (521,678 euros) of diamond proceeds, an official said Tuesday.

In a rare disciplinary move, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party suspended a regional chairman and four others over allegations they had extorted money from foreign mining companies.

“All we are going by is what has been alleged, that there are cases of fraud, dishonesty and embezzlement,” party spokesman Rugare Gumbo told AFP, refusing to give further details.

But sources in the party claimed the five had extorted the money, saying that the funds were for use by the party.

The money was then reportedly siphoned off for personal use.

The fraud is thought to have centred on the eastern Manicaland province, home to the controversial Marange diamond fields.

Zimbabwe’s diamond trade has become synonymous with graft, torture and murder that rights watchers have linked to some of the highest powers in the land.

According to the Ottawa-based diamond trade watchdog Partnership Africa Canada, around $2 billion worth of diamonds have been pilfered out of Zimbabwe since 2008 by a network of officials aligned with Mugabe.

But those officials have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

A police spokesperson said that the latest accusations were an internal party matter and that no ZANU-PF members had been charged.

Regional ZANU-PF chairman Mike Madiro could not be reached for comment, but he told local media the suspension was linked to factionalism in the party.

“These are political games. No money was ever released by diamond mining companies,” he told the privately-owned NewsDay.

Factionalism within the ZANU-PF cost the party dearly at the 2008 election when it lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980.

It is now rushing to spruce up its image ahead of elections this year to end a power-sharing deal that turned sour between Mugabe, who has ruled since 1980, and his arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai.

Zimbabwe sold almost $685 million worth of diamonds last year.