Fourteen tons of smuggled gold, rubies and other gems have been illegally exported from Mozambique since the beginning of the year, a senior official in the Ministry of Mineral Resources said Monday.
Mozambique is home to some of the world’s largest gemstone deposits, often mined by artisanal miners with no access to official markets.
Gold, rubies, garnets and tantalite – used to create surgical steel – have been exported by smuggling networks since January, Fernando Maquene, a senior official in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, told a local radio station.
“We are looking for ways to fight the expansion of criminal networks that plunder our territory and our strategic resources, so that these resources can generate income to develop local communities,” he told Radio Mozambique.
The illegal gem trade is largely concentrated in northern Mozambique, where an Islamist insurgency has forced some 800,000 people to flee their homes.
Mining gems and selling them on illicit markets, sometimes through corrupt local officials, has become a means of survival for many displaced people, according to a report released in early November by the Swiss think tank Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC).
The province of Cabo Delgado, the most affected by the insurgency, is home to the Montepuez ruby mine, which currently supplies more than half of the world market for new rubies.
The mine has extracted $600 million (about 527 million euros) worth of rubies since official operations began in 2011.
Mozambique’s Supreme Court judge, Rafael Sebastiao, meanwhile, assured that the judiciary is working to prosecute those responsible in smuggling cases.
But “there is sometimes a lack of transparent mechanisms and evidence to hold those involved in smuggling accountable,” he acknowledged on the radio.