SA Diamond Valuator Fired For Probing De Beers

Johannesburg: A senior South African government diamond valuator in Johannesburg was allegedly blocked and consequently fired for investigating diamond giant De Beers.

Independent Online reports Conrad Benn, the country’s first black diamond valuator, approached the high court to challenge the South African Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator’s decision to suspend him in April last year and fire him last month.

Under section 74 of the country’s Diamond Act, De Beers was exempted from getting permission to sell its diamonds abroad – if it can show that for any of its sales exceeding R5 billion, at least 40 percent of it benefited local companies.

However, Benn claimed that instead of 11 local companies benefiting, a single off-shore company received the lion’s share.

In his submissions, he attached an affidavit from one of De Beers’ sight-holders, Israeli businessman Erez Daleyot, which alleged that De Beers and the Swiss-based, Israeli-owned Steinmetz Group “are working in collusion with (Levy) Rapoo (the chief executive of the diamond regulator) and stealing from the nation of South Africa”.

“Of the 40 percent of the gross value of the production cycle to beneficiaries in South Africa, 35 percent was sold to one customer, being Ascot Diamonds (Pty) Ltd. Ascot Diamonds is part of a group of companies owned by a major worldwide diamond entrepreneur, Beny Steinmetz,” Benn was quoted as saying.

“I analysed the 35 percent sold to Ascot Diamonds and noted that it consisted of purchases of ordinary usual diamonds as well as a substantial portion of what is known as ‘exceptional stones’.

“These can be described as large diamonds of good colour and clarity and are the best of any production cycle. They are the cream of the crop.”

Benn alleged that he was suspended and eventually fired at the instigation of De Beers, which wrote a letter to Rapoo accusing him of leaking confidential corporate information to a third party.

He further alleged that no disciplanry hearing was convened before he was fired and thus believed the motive of the regulator was to “get rid of him” instead of probing allegations of wrongdoing by De Beers.