Industry officials say latest WSJ tanzanite article is the same old story

Recycled news.

That’s the reaction by a couple of jewelry industry representatives to the latest Wall Street Journal (WSJ) tanzanite article in which it excerpts a diary by convicted Osama bin Laden associate Wadih el Hage, outlining trips taken to London and the United States to sell tanzanite.

According to Hage’s diary, he traveled to Hatton Garden-London’s jewelers’ row-Los Angeles, and San Francisco where, after several failed attempts, he sold tanzanite to jewelers. The document, seized from the al Qaeda network by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1997, according to the WSJ, doesn’t indicate how much tanzanite he sold or how much money he made. The diary was part of court records during the trial of the August 7, 1998, truck bombings of U.S. Embassies in the East African cities of Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Hage was convicted of being part of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network that were blamed for the bombings.

The WSJ story of Jan. 16, states that the diary “is the strongest documentary evidence to date of the bin Laden network’s involvement in the trade of the velvety blue gemstone from East Africa.”

Industry representatives, however, have a different reaction.

“It’s just a regurgitation of the same story,” says Cecilia L. Gardner, executive director of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC). “It’s nothing new. It’s the same incident. It’s the same guy back in 1995 trying to sell his stuff. It’s the same story. We knew about this information from the beginning from the original trial transcripts. We still don’t believe that it constitutes a connection in current tanzanite trading and al Qaeda.

Douglas Hucker, executive director of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), adds, “It appears to be a reiteration of the information included in the original article (which appeared in the WSJ in mid-November). We have a more detailed description of the evidence that was entered in the bombing trials that this individual had some dealings in tanzanite,” Hucker says. “The problem is the implication in this story and ongoing stories is that the evidence entered in this trial is somehow evidence of a larger participation in the tanzanite market. And that is not the case.”

Gardner, Hucker, and Matthew Runci, president and CEO of Jewelers of America (JA), met with U.S. and Tanzanian officials in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 9. The industry officials said they were told by both governments that there is no evidence of a widespread connection between the tanzanite trade and terrorism. Hucker added that the U.S. State Department has assigned Alan Eastham, the lead negotiator on conflict diamonds, to examine the issue.

“I don’t see how that [the diary] connects the tanzanite trade to al Qaeda,” Gardner says. “And I’m not alone in this. The state department doesn’t see that way and the Tanzanian government doesn’t see it that way.”

“We continue to work with our government and the Tanzania government to find substance with the story, Hucker says. “There’s nothing there.”

Hucker also said that the AGTA will host a “Tanzanite Summit” during the AGTA GemFair on Friday, Feb. 8, at 2 pm. He said that officials from Tanzania and other industry members familiar with the issue will be in attendance to discuss recent events in the tanzanite trade and to work on developing a better way to track gems from Tanzania. He also said that attendees will review a U.S. study that specifically deals with the structure of small-scale mining operations in Tanzania.

Hucker cites the summit and the meeting in Washington as how the jewelry and gem industries are taking a proactive approach to the allegations being raised by news organizations.