Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cache of smuggled diamonds seized in Arizona

Two men appeared in U.S. District Court for a detention and
preliminary hearing on federal charges that they smuggled African diamonds
into the United States and attempted to sell them to undercover agents for
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (IC) posing as gem buyers.
The defendants, Maliki Mohamad Diane, 60, and Kouyate Saoud, 49, were
arrested February 4 after ICE agents executed a search warrant at a room in
the Motel 6 on Freeway Road and recovered more than 11,000 carats of rough
diamonds, along with an array of other precious and semi-precious stones.
ICE received substantial assistance in the investigation from the Arizona
Attorney General's office.*Saoud, a national of Guinea ,* and *Maliki Diane,
a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Sierra* *Leone who now resides in New
Jersey,* are charged with violating the Clean Diamond Trade Act, a 2003 law
that prohibits the importation of diamonds into the United States unless the
stones undergo strict certification procedures, known as the Kimberly
Process, designed to control the trade of so-called "conflict diamonds."
"The violence and bloodshed spawned by profits from the illegal diamond
trade have left millions of people in Africa dead or homeless," said Alonzo
Peña, special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in
Arizona . "We will not allow unscrupulous gem dealers driven by greed to put
lives at risk."
"The Clean Diamond Trade Act was put into place to prevent the smuggling of
diamonds from areas where these gems have been used to finance often bloody conflicts," said United States Attorney Daniel G. Knauss.
"I want to commend ICE agents for their excellent investigative work in this
case."Saoud came under suspicion after he told ICE undercover agents who
approached him at one of the venues of the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil
Showcase that he had uncut diamonds for sale.
The undercover agents met Saoud and Diane at their motel room February 3 and purchased a seven-carat rough diamond for $15,300, one of four diamonds Saoud had in his possession.
During that meeting, the defendant acknowledged that the diamonds were
brought into the country illegally and advised that he was expecting a
shipment the following day containing another 400 carats of rough diamonds.
The agents returned to the motel February 4 where they arrested the
defendants and seized the diamonds and other precious stones.Under the Clean Diamond Trade Act, rough diamonds must be shipped in sealed containers and exported with forgery-resistant certificates certifying that the diamonds are from conflict-free areas.
The Act was sparked by mounting concern that funds from the sale of rough
diamonds were being used by groups in Africa to finance military activities
and gain control of diamond mining areas.
It is estimated that nearly four million people have been killed in civil
conflicts during the past decade in the prime diamond mining nations of
Sierra Leone , Angola , and the Democratic Republic of the Congo .
During that same time frame, the violence and unrest in these countries have
driven more than six million people from their homes.
If convicted of the charges, the men face a maximum penalty of five years in
prison and a $250,000 fine, or bothU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was established in March 2003 as the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
ICE is comprised of four integrated divisions that form a 21st century law
enforcement agency with broad responsibilities for a number of key homeland
security priorities