Global Policy Forum

UN Exposes Angola Diamond Trade


By Carola Hoyos

December 22, 2000

A United Nations report has exposed a vast and complex international network of illegal diamond sales and arms trafficking behind the violation of sanctions on the rebel Unita movement in Angola.

The UN says that at the centre of this gems-for-guns trade is a man named Victor Bout, who is believed to be of Tajik origin but carries several passports. Mr Bout is alleged to be running shipments of arms to Angola and other African war zones from his base in the Arabian Gulf. He is also implicated in another UN report issued this week which detailed Liberia's alleged role in diamond smuggling and armed conflicts in west Africa.

The UN says although Unita has suffered military losses over the past year, the rebels continued to make money from illegal diamond exports.

Naming and shaming

Back in March the United Nations released a controversial report in which it accused the presidents of Burkina Faso and Togo of supplying Unita with arms and fuel in exchange for diamonds. This follow-up study is likely to arouse less controversy, partly because it does not mention any African presidents by name.

Unita has dismissed the report as "twisted", saying it was based on testimony by prisoners of war and Unita defectors.

The report details for the first time the critical role played by air transport companies in busting sanctions, allegedly bringing the rebels weapons via third countries. It also goes out of its way to name a cast of shady characters from around the world who are making money by stoking the flames of war in Africa, following the lead of a report on Sierra Leone published by the UN earlier this week.

No one at home

Victor Bout who is heavily implicated in the UN report, is believed to have at least five passports and allegedly spends his time organising clandestine air shipments of arms to Angola and other African war zones. The Tajik, known in law enforcement circles as Victor B has a company registered in Equatorial Guinea and operates mainly out of the United Arab Emirates. The report even goes so far as to publish his address and telephone number in the state of Sharjah. When asked about this the chairman of the panel of experts, Chile's UN ambassador, Juan Larrain, said he had tried the number but had failed to get through.

De Beers'

The UN report further says that De Beers, the world's biggest diamonds firm had to accept some responsibility for the trade in illicit diamonds. The South African company which says it buys only legal diamonds, says it will help the authorities ensure that diamonds from African war zone do not find their way into shop windows in cities like Paris, London or New York.

Another proposal on tackling illicit diamonds and weapons was offered by Canada which is calling for a team of experts to permanently monitor the sanctions regime. Paul Heinbecker, Canada's ambassador to the UN said it would make a lot of sense if the UN made a general approach in tracking down the movement of precious goods "rather than crisis by crisis." "The same people are operating in Sierra Leone and in Angola and you can be sure that they are also operating in the Congo (DRC)," said Mr Heinbecker.

More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on Angola
More Information on Sanctions


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