The dark side of gem stones in Colombia and beyond – by Eugen Iladi (Columbia Reports – July 26, 2016)

The global market for colored gemstones, such as emeralds and rubies, is dominated by a few major players. One of the largest is Gemfields Plc, a U.K.-registered, London Stock Exchange-listed company with significant mining operations in Zambia, Mozambique, India, Sri Lanka and, recently, Colombia.

At first glance, things appear rosy at Gemfields, but a closer look reveals questionable deals and associations. As with blood diamonds, the precious stone trade purports to offer transparency, but many of its practices are murky and dark.

In September 2015, Gemfields announced a series of acquisitions in Colombia. The main target was a 70 percent stake in the Coscuez emerald mine in the mountainous province of Boyacá, one of the world’s best sources of emeralds.

Boyacá was at the center of the infamous “green wars” between local factions of the emerald mining business. The Colombian emerald trade has long been dominated by mafia-like organizations that dabble in paramilitary activities and cocaine production and trafficking. Former guerillas, drug lords and private armies continue to offer support for mine leaders in exchange for protection payments or even equity stakes in mining operations.

As documented by InSight Crime, a foundation that studies organized crime in Latin America, targeted assassinations within the industry have escalated in recent years. Turf squabbles erupted again after the 2013 death of longtime emerald kingpin Víctor Carranza, who fought fiercely to maintain control over about 40 percent of Columbia’s emerald production. This violence, along with declining revenues from emerald mining, has kept most international companies away, with very few venturing to invest – until now.

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