Well over a year ago the government of Venezuela suspended itself from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and declared that it suspended all official exports of rough diamonds, even though the country is a producer of diamonds. Now the president of the Panama Diamond Exchange (PDE) has blown the whistle on one dealer who seems to be actively engaged in trading with Venezuela.
In a letter to diamond bourses around the world, PDE President Erez Akerman writes, "there is an individual in Panama by the name of Kobi Kamhaji, who is claiming to represent the PDE. This person has sent letters to the Panamanian government in our name and said that he is a member of the Israel Diamond Exchange and the WFDB. He has even submitted a request, in our name, for the government to declare his business premises as a ‘Free Zone'".
President Akerman than discloses that his bourse has "investigated Mr. Kamhaji's activities in Panama and found out that he has been dealing in large amounts of rough diamond originated in Venezuela, and distributing them worldwide. He has been doing this for the past 10 years and recently relocated to Panama (1 year ago) and is currently running his operation from here. The Government of Panama has received our report on his activities and is preparing a case on him. It is their intension to have him deported from the country." [Why deporting? There are no jails in Panama for smugglers?] It would have been quite convenient to have a Free Trade zone if one deals, as suggested by Akerman, in rough that could not have been officially imported.
However, the plight of one "individual" (Mr. Kamhaji) is not so important. It is imperative to find out with whom he partners in Venezuela. Has someone close to the Venezuelan government found it advantageous to "close down" the Kimberley Process operations to facilitate the bypassing of the process through smuggling? Can someone deal with Venezuelan rough for a period of well over 10 years without certain Venezuelan government officials being aware of it? How can someone be a "distributor of rough" from Panama, serving the world, as Akerman says, without triggering all kinds of alerts? Akerman's letter raises a plethora of questions.
Panama is in the process of becoming a member of the Kimberley Process. In the absence of official Kimberley Certification, Venezuelan rough diamonds sold by Kamhaji are illegal - as no buyer anywhere in the world could have officially imported the goods into a country that adheres to the Kimberley Process principles.
It is clear from Akerman's letter that the PDE's main concern was the fact that this Kamahji was pretending to act on behalf of the bourse. It would have been far more encouraging if Akerman would have alerted his worldwide colleagues much earlier about the Venezuelan rough diamond trade taking place in Panama. That is of far greater concern to the international trading community, the governments and the NGOs. But it is better late than never. Let's wait how this story will evolve further.