Since the beginning of the year, 14 tons of smuggled gold, rubies, and other stones have been unlawfully shipped from Mozambique, according to a senior official in the Ministry of Mineral Resources.
Some of the world’s greatest gemstone reserves are found in Mozambique, which are often mined by artisanal miners who have no access to official markets.
Smuggling networks have been exporting gold, rubies, garnets, and tantalite (used to make surgical steel) since January, according to Fernando Maquene, a senior officer in the Ministry of Mineral Resources.
“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.