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— At least $2 billion worth of diamonds have been stolen from Zimbabwe’s eastern diamond fields and have enriched President Robert Mugabe’s ruling circle, international gem dealers and criminals, according to an organization leading the campaign against conflict diamonds.

Zimbabwe’s Marange fields have seen “the biggest plunder of diamonds since Cecil Rhodes,” the colonial magnate who exploited South Africa’s Kimberley diamonds a century ago, charged Partnership Africa Canada, a member of the Kimberley Process, the world regulatory body on the diamond trade.

Zimbabwe’s eastern Marange field, one of the world’s biggest diamond deposits, has been mined since 2006 and its vast earnings could have turned around Zimbabwe’s economy, battered by years of meltdown and political turmoil, the group said.

But funds from the diamond sales have not showed up in the state treasury. Instead, there is evidence that millions have gone to Mugabe’s cronies.

The report, released Monday to coincide with the Zimbabwe government’s conference on the diamond trade in Victoria Falls, casts a shadow over the Mugabe regime’s effort to win international respectability for its gem trade. Government officials at the conference denied the report’s allegations as “totally false.”

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