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Tanzania orders wall built around tanzanite mines

The blue-violet tanzanite gemstone is found only in the East African nation.

This file photo taken in 2006 shows tanzanite gems worth $1,500 from the Mererani mine in Tanzania. Picture: AFP.

DAR ES SALAAM - Tanzania’s president on Friday ordered the military to build walls around its tanzanite mines and directed the central bank to buy the precious stone to boost reserves - the latest twist in a spat with mining firms over alleged tax evasion.

“All tanzanite gemstones will be controlled and will pass through one gate and he (Magufuli) ordered the (central) Bank of Tanzania to take part in the tanzanite buying trade,” a statement from the presidency said.

President John Magufuli’s government accuses mining firms of cheating Tanzania out of its fair share of mineral wealth through tax dodging and smuggling, allegations they hotly deny.

A parliamentary inquiry team said on 7 September that it had uncovered massive smuggling of the blue-violet tanzanite gemstone, found only in the East African nation.

Magufuli ordered the military to build walls with security cameras and checkpoints around all tanzanite mining concessions in northern Tanzania “to control illegal mining and trading activities,” the presidency statement said.

“Even if someone swallows some tanzanite gemstones, they will be detected at the proposed checkpoint,” Magufuli said.

“Tanzania gets just 5% of revenues from the global tanzanite trade - all the rest of this precious gemstone benefits other people abroad. This is unacceptable.”

Tanzania overhauled the legal, regulatory and fiscal framework governing the mining sector with three new laws in July, sending stock in foreign-owned mining companies plunging.

The new laws established a National Gold and Gemstone Reserve under the control of the central bank.

On 7 September the government confiscated a consignment of diamonds from a mine majority-owned by Petra Diamonds after accusing the London-listed firm of under-declaring the value of the stones by around half. Petra denies the charge.

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