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Suspected 'blood diamonds' seized in Alaska
Anchorage Daily News


July 21, 2007

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- U.S. customs officials have seized more than $400,000 of smuggled diamonds in Anchorage over the last two months, and say they may be so-called "blood" or "conflict" diamonds -- stones mined in war zones and sold to finance insurgents and armed conflict in Africa.

Lance Robinson, Anchorage port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the diamond seizures are the first here he's aware of. He has worked for the local agency office since 2000.

The diamonds were found in six shipments at the Federal Express cargo hub at Stevens International Airport.

On May 16, customs officers inspected a document shipment from Hong Kong to New York City. When they opened the envelope they found two smuggled diamonds inside a newspaper. The uncut stones, which looked sort of like quartz, Robinson said, were valued at $29,000.

Two days later nine diamonds worth $18,000 were found hidden in a magazine -- also being shipped as a document package from Hong Kong to New York.

A week later, on May 25, a small package of rough diamonds was found beneath a larger package of yellow quartz shipped from Bangkok en route to New York City. They were valued at $300,085.

The next day officers intercepted another $44,000 of smuggled diamonds en route from Bangkok to New York City.

A package from Taipei, Taiwan, traveling to Antwerp, Belgium, with $31,000 in diamonds was seized on June 4. And another $200 of stones going from Bangkok to South Carolina was taken on June 16.

Customs officials will hold the rough diamonds until legal forfeiture procedures are completed. After that they will either be exported or destroyed.

The diamonds' intended receivers can pursue litigation, but the law was broken when the rocks touched U.S. soil, Robinson said. Federal law sets standards for transporting rough diamonds in tamper-resistant containers and requires certificates of origin that the stones are from areas free of conflict.

Robinson called the local seizures highly unusual. He said they could be the result of smugglers looking for new routes into America.

"I kind of think maybe they were trying different areas," he said.

Customs officials said it appears there were multiple, unrelated senders and receivers. No criminal charges have been filed. Officials do not know where the stones came from originally, but said the way they entered the country without certification raises the likelihood that they may be conflict diamonds.

To help prevent the trade of conflict diamonds, many countries adopted the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in 2003 to certify a diamond's conflict-free origins.

Conflict diamonds gained international attention for the role they played funding bloody insurgency in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. Diamonds are known to have played a part in conflicts in Angola, Liberia and the Ivory Coast.

Thanks to the regulations, the World Diamond Council - a partnership of government officials, diamond businessmen and international banking professionals - estimates less than 1 percent of diamonds now come from war zones.


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