South Africa's parliament on Tuesday agreed that a new task team be formed to investigate the records of diamond giant De Beers, alleged to have exported a large quantity of diamonds to London during the 1990s.
Some parliamentarians have alleged that De Beers exported large volumes of gems during the period leading to black majority rule in South Africa, a time of massive capital flight and tax avoidance.
The task team recommendation, contained in a public accounts committee report adopted by parliament, re-opens a long standing dispute both De Beers, 45 percent owned by Anglo American Plc
The new task team, assisted by South Africa's auditor-general, would examine the De Beers London stockpile records between the period Dec. 3, 1992 to March 19, 1998.
What we want resolved is whether De Beers had the legal right to export the diamonds that it did, Themba Godi, chairman of parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts told Reuters.
So that if it was legal then that's the end of the story. But if it was not legal then it means that the amount that was due to the fiscus as tax must be returned to the state by De Beers, Godi said.
He said the amount was in the region of 1 billion rand ($129.2 million).
At one stage, South Africa considered litigation to compel the world's biggest diamond producer to pay a disputed 15 percent export tax on the shipment of 22 million carats of uncut diamonds to London in 1992.
But De Beers has strenuously denied that exports in the mid-1990s were larger than normal or that it had benefited from improper exemptions of export duties.
A De Beers official said they may issue a comment on the newly launched probe later.
The Department of Minerals and Energy and the South African Reserve Bank should also compare its data to determine the exact quantities and values of exports during the same period, the report recommended.
Parliament also agreed that national treasury obtain independent, constitutional legal opinion on certain sections of the 1986 Diamond Act and of agreements entered between De Beers and government. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf, Editing by Nigel Hunt)
(c) Reuters 2008. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.