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Tighter controls fail to reveal extent of diamond trafficking

New measures have failed to reveal any instances of diamond trafficking from countries such as Sierra Leone Keystone Archive

Three months after Switzerland introduced strict new measures to prevent the trafficking in so-called "conflict diamonds", the authorities say they have not turned up a single case in which illegal gems were transiting Swiss ports.

This content was published on June 19, 2001 - 13:58

"We haven't found anything out of the ordinary," said Markus Leitner of the foreign ministry. However, he acknowledged that "it is difficult to say whether the flow of diamonds through Switzerland is constant or subject to fluctuations".

The new measures, which include a tightening of the customs regime, were introduced three months ago after a United Nations report criticised Switzerland for being a transit country for the trafficking in "conflict" gems.

Customs officials are now checking the origin, quantity and destination of diamonds, which enter Switzerland's duty free zones before being sent on.

"We now have a better idea of what is entering or leaving our bonded warehouses", said Roland Vock of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco). "Previously, we had no real statistics."

The new controls mean that custom officials can now check that the number of diamonds entering the warehouses corresponds to those leaving. However, the data fail to show whether the new measures have actually stopped diamond trafficking.

According to Leitner, two or three months are still needed before any conclusions can be drawn.

The UN accused Switzerland last year of being a conduit for diamonds which African rebel movements were selling to finance their civil wars.

The Swiss authorities imposed a ban on uncut gems from Sierra Leone, but others supplied by Angola's Unita faction were still thought to be transiting Switzerland.

Up to SFr3 billion ($1.68 billion) worth of diamonds move through the country every year.

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