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Gem accused back in court

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“on October 4, 2011 information was received from De Beers intelligence regarding the illegal dealing of uncut diamonds

Picture: Norma Wildenboer

THIRTEEN big names in the local diamond industry yesterday returned as accused in the multimillion-rand Project Darling illicit diamond buying (IDB) trial currently being heard in the Northern Cape High Court.

The accused – Ashley Brooks, Patrick Mason, Manojkumar Detroya, Komilan Packirisamy, Ahmed Khorani, Antonella Florio-Poone, McDonald Visser, Willem Weenink, Sarel van Graaf, Carl van Graaf, Kevin Urry, Trevor Pikwane and Frank Perridge – were arrested by the Hawks in August 2014 following a covert police operation called “Project Darling” that took place from February 2013 to February 2014.

The accused face charges of illegal diamond dealing, possession and sale of unpolished diamonds, money laundering and racketeering.

During the operation an undercover agent, Linton Jephta, was assigned to infiltrate identified individuals (suspects).

His assignment was to purport that he was unlawfully selling unpolished diamonds, which in fact belonged to the State. Numerous alleged transactions led to the arrest of the accused.

The case’s investigating officer, Warrant Officer Louis Potgieter, from the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), yesterday returned to the witness stand and was led as State witness by State prosecutor Johan Roothman.

Potgieter indicated that he got involved with Project Darling in October 2011, after receiving information from a De Beers “intelligence officer”, Marius Korff.

Potgieter compiled a document (proposal) containing the information provided by Korff, which was presented by Potgieter’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel De Witt Botha, to several top police officials, including General Anwa Dramat, to explain the aims and objectives of Project Darling.

This presentation led to the approval for the operation to go ahead.

In the document, the aims and objectives include “to successfully address the suspects by buying (first phase of Project Darling) and selling (phase two of Project Darling) uncut diamonds from and to them and address the suspects in such a manner that court ready and court directed evidence is gathered, to make use of a multidisciplinary approach for asset investigations, making links between suspects to ensure that suspects are charged with racketeering and money laundering and making use of investigation methods to try and ensure that money put into the project is circulated back to De Beers by restraining the suspects’ assets, and to ensure suspects are addressed in such a manner that they can not continue with their criminal activities”.

Roothman asked Potgieter to explain this statement, specifically referring to the money that had to be “circulated back to De Beers”.

Potgieter said that at that stage, De Beers was providing the money used in the purchase (phase one) transactions and that there were discussions around looking at getting De Beers back the money it spent through the asset forfeiture unit (the restraining of suspects’ assets).

Roothman also enquired whether Potgieter had received any tasks/instructions following the presentation and he replied by saying that he was told to “go ahead” with the project, adding that, after indicating that the “diamond industry” was prepared to supply the money needed, there was a question posed by one of the attendees, who wanted to know if bookkeeping of the project’s finances was needed.

Potgieter said that General Dramat stated that “it was not necessary” as the “diamond industry” would supply the money.

In the statement, referring to the “background” of the project, it states that “on October 4, 2011 information was received from De Beers intelligence regarding the illegal dealing of uncut diamonds. The information was gathered regarding persons that are working for De Beers, sub-contract for De Beers, as well as police officials that are involved in the illegal dealing in uncut diamonds”.

The trial, being heard by Judge Bulelwa Pakati, is expected to continue today.