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Inmates caught tunnelling below prison were miners, not escapees

by Greg Klein | May 8, 2018

Illicit diamonds and metals, often from conflict sources, plague the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mineral-rich reputation. But in a new twist on illegal mining, authorities have discovered a covert diamond operation run by prisoners right underneath their prison. And while the country’s notorious conflict operations often use forced labour, this mine was popular enough with its workers to retain some of them after their sentences finished.

Inmates caught tunnelling below prison were miners, not escapees

According to a UN report, the DRC’s Osio Prison was
on its way to “becoming a model of self-sustainability.”
(Photo: UN Stabilization Mission in the
Democratic Republic of Congo)

The mine was discovered under the Osio Prison in the country’s north, DRC radio Okapi reported. A raid found over 30 people, including a prison guard, working underground or toiling in their cells at mining-related tasks.

Some prisoners had refused to leave the institution after finishing their sentences. Non-prisoners built temporary homes nearby to join the operation.

Miners said they extracted and sold gems weighing between half and three-quarters of a carat.

The prison guard or a police officer involved was sentenced to 15 days, Okapi added. Others were expelled from the site.

A 2011 United Nations report described Osio as a “high-security prison that houses 191 inmates, including 30 sentenced to capital punishment, 18 to life and 143 to prison terms ranging from three to 20 years.” The UN stated the prison’s agricultural and stock-raising projects had put it “on path to becoming a model of self-sustainability.”

Some companies that have recently run afoul of the DRC government include Glencore, its majority-held Katanga Mining TSX:KAT, AngloGold Ashanti NYSE:AU, Ivanhoe Mines TSX:IVN and Rangold Resources. Among the issues are a new mining code and tax structure, along with increased national ownership.

By far the world’s largest supplier of cobalt and a major source of copper along with diamonds, zinc, tin and gold, the DRC faces political instability and possible civil war after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his term ended in November 2016.

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