As I write this article about my very recent trip to Guinea and Sierra Leone, I am sitting in my hotel room at the Hotel Bronte in Harare, Zimbabwe. This is my first trip to Zimbabwe and… Wait a minute. I am in the middle of my trip here and not ready to write about this adventure yet. You will just have to wait for my article on buying diamonds in Zimbabwe to find out what I was about to say.
This article is about my trip to Guinea and Sierra Leone. As a side note, some of you might have noticed that my last article on Sierra Leone has been removed from my website. I am sorry to have removed the article, but there were people in Sierra Leone who were upset by what I wrote and asked me in a “firm” way to please remove it from my website. This article is not a replacement; rather it is a new experience I would like to share with you. I believe my experience may be of value to those who wish to do rough diamond business in Guinea.
I was booked to go to Sierra Leone with a new client from Egypt. Although born in Egypt, he grew up in Western Canada. Mas, (not his real name) is 38 years old, highly intelligent, astute, and has a great sense of humor. (Anyone who laughs at my bad jokes have to have a great sense of humor) Mas is a lean, mean, business machine. He is a self-made multi-millionaire and does not suffer fools easily. Mas is the second Muslim client I have worked with, and the first Arab. Sooner or later, every Jew should have their first Arab. Despite what many may think, Jews and Arabs have a great deal in common. If you leave politics and religion aside, you will find many similarities, albeit, few may admit to it.
Mas and I got along from our first conversation. By the middle of our two weeks together in Sierra Leone and Guinea, we became good enough friends to make Jewish and Muslim jokes about each other. Mas nailed me with some Jewish stereotype one liners that were just hilarious and I was able to hit him with some barbs that expressed equally irreverent attacks on Arabs. We did all this without resorting to violence.
Interestingly, during our conversations on Arab and Jewish culture, we both came to the conclusion, that if Arabs and Jews could ever reconcile and join forces, they could rule the world. Now wouldn’t that be scary?
A few days before I was to go to Sierra Leone, a close friend, who is also a client, called me up and told me he had some relatively large parcels of rough diamonds available in Guinea. He told me the stones had come to him through his lawyer. He asked me to speak with his lawyer, and see if it made sense to go look at the goods in Guinea. Since I was already going to Sierra Leone, I called up the lawyer.
The lawyer, who I will call Mit, is about 60 odd years old, a Princeton Graduate, a former senior Vice President of a major American Bank and licensed to practice law in multiple states. Having done a very thorough background check on Mit, I was very happy to be dealing with an honest, experienced, intelligent, religious Christian. Mit had also attended seminary school and wanted to make a difference in this tired old world of ours.
Mit was connected to an African-American Pastor. I mention he is African-American, not because he is black, but because he was born in Sierra Leone. He grew up in the United States and became a citizen of this country. Mit informed me that the Pastor was an engineer who had worked for Honeywell for 30 years. The Pastor was a tall, good looking man in his early 60’s who was obviously charismatic and had warm eyes and a ready smile. It turns out I know the Pastor, as he and his associate had contacted me several times in the past.
After listening to Mit and the Pastor, they convinced me there was a real opportunity in Guinea. According to the Pastor, a number of local Guinea miners had entrusted the good Pastor to sell the miner’s stock of diamonds. The story told, was that the Pastor’s mother was a missionary who had spent a lifetime helping the poor in Guinea, and that because of the mother, the Pastor was entrusted.
The rough diamonds I was to view, and hopefully buy, were the combined stock of several miners and could be viewed and evaluated at an exporter’s office in Guinea. I called my Egyptian client and told him about the buy. He was interested, but the total value of the parcel was beyond his budget. I then called another client and asked if he would partner with my Egyptian client. Upon agreement between my two clients, arrangements to go to Guinea from Sierra Leone were made.
When I travel in Sierra Leone to Kenema and Kono and other bush areas, I travel with a security detail. Going to Guinea, we were accompanied by a wonderful man who arranges our security. He has “pull” in Sierra Leone and is well known by the right people in Guinea. In addition, he speaks French, thus making our journey much easier. I cannot tell you how many times we were spared expense and hassles because of this man.
The road to Guinea takes about 9 hours from Freetown. The road in Sierra Leone is good by African standards. However, once we passed the numerous checkpoints into Guinea, the road became a nightmare. You should know that when you drive to Guinea from Sierra Leone, you will encounter no less than 15 checkpoints. Several are close together on the Guinea side, where you must present your papers, and where your luggage will be searched. I must say, all of the checkpoints on both sides of the border were manned by professional staffs that were both courteous and friendly. Of course, it does not hurt to have a recognized, high ranking security man with you on such occasions.
Upon arrival, we met with Mit. Mit is a smallish, somewhat weak or frail looking man with poor eyesight and heavy glasses. Perhaps, to hide his lack of physical stature, he has a quick and somewhat explosive temper. I was on the receiving end of his over reacting temper several times. That being said, he is a sincere man and despite his anger issues, is quite nice and likeable.
Mit arranged for us to meet the Pastor the next morning. At our meeting, the Pastor seemed very sincere and explained how he wanted to use the funds he would make on this deal to help the people in Sierra Leone and Guinea. I liked him. He was obviously very intelligent, articulate and detailed our venture like you would expect an engineer to work.
Our meeting at the exporter’s office was arranged for that afternoon. Mit, Mas and I were picked up in a very nice Land Rover by the Pastor and his young driver. As we drove to the meeting, the Pastor passed the time talking of his relationship with the miners. Although Guinea is mostly a Muslim country, he was able to make inroads into the villages because he would bring in containers of donated food and clothing for the poor. He believed he could spread the Word, if he helped to relieve the people’s suffering. I could see why Mit held him in such high regard. As a matter of fact, Mit had attended some of the good Pastor’s sermons and was quite moved by his preaching.
We arrived at the exporter’s office. It was a compound with 12 foot high, light brown colored, stucco walls. The wall surrounded the entire compound, and for further security, the windows were protected with iron bars. It was a nice place, and looks like it is used as both an office and a residence. There was a late model purple Porches sitting in front of the house. As we were ushered into the office, I saw the exporter. I was instantly relieved because I know him, and have had a couple business dealings with him in the last two years.
After exchanging pleasantries, we sat down to do business. The exporter informed me that they had several parcels and they had already been sealed for Kimberley Certificates. Apparently, another buyer had contracted to purchase the parcels, paid for the taxes and at the last moment could not pay for the stones. He asked me not to break the seals unless I was serious about buying the stones as it would invalidate the KPC.
I had had a call from London a day before I left for Sierra Leone. The young man, who called, told me he needed my help. He said, he had contracted to buy a parcel in Guinea, had paid the taxes from his own funds, and then his buyer backed out of the deal at the last minute. He was hoping I had a customer who could buy the goods. He was quite convincing. I did not know at the time that these were the same parcels.
The memory registered in my thick little brain and I figured today was my customer’s lucky day. The exporter showed me a copy of the KPC and the government docs for taxes and export. In addition he handed me the invoice made out to the other customer.
The exporter asked me to do him a favor. He had a stone with a fracture through the middle of the stone and asked me to tell him what the yield of the stone would be after cutting. I did not look closely at the stone other than to see the fracture location. I did not need to look at the stone closely to know his yield would be around 25% of the rough weight. I handed the stone back to him and he took it to the other room with him.
When he returned, he had a parcel of sealed stones with him weighing 7000 carats. The stones were all large and white and from across the table looked pretty clean. Just then an older white man, perhaps Lebanese, came into the room and told the exporter his other customer has arrived and was waiting to see him.
I paid little attention to the man, and picked up the manifest to see what the parcel consisted of. The manifest said the stones were all Sawable 1 (See my website or Google “Sawable I” if you are unfamiliar with the term) 5 to 25 carat, D to I color, VVS clarity. These were very, very nice stones.
I picked up the parcel and checked the parcel for fluorescence. Not a single stone fluoresced. There were a couple hundred stones; how unusual. Next, I noticed there did not seem to be any stones in the parcel under 8-9 carats; how strange. After this, I was further surprised to see that not a single stone had any triangular shaped TRIGONS, That was also very weird. For those of you who are interested, you can see examples of trigons if you go to Google Images and type in the word trigon.
When a stone has a trigon, it is absolute proof it is diamond. The absence of trigons however, does not mean it is not a diamond. In addition, diamonds have characteristic step like growth and fracturing. Like trigons, the absence of step growth or fracturing does not mean it is not a diamond. Each stone in this parcel was absolutely without any step fractures or growth, very interesting indeed! I began to examine the parcel more closely, when I noticed that inside the SEALED parcel, is the very stone the exporter had just asked me to examine. The stone was very unique. How could it possibly be in this government sealed parcel?
So… let’s see, maybe I should do a little review here: Not a single fluorescent stone from a country with a high percentage of fluorescent stones.
Not a single Sawable 2 or Makable 1 or 2 in a country that has mostly Sawable 2, Makable 1, and Makable 2.(Sawable and Makable are rough diamond shapes)
Not a single stone was less than 8-9 carats. Yet, the manifest clearly stately the parcel contains stones from 5 carat and above.
Not a single trigon. It is possible for some of the stones to be without trigons, but is it possible to have 200 plus stones without a single commonly seen trigon?
Not a single step growth or step fracture. It is possible to have some stones without the steps, but is it possible to have 200 plus stones without a single step?
I put the parcel down. I looked at my good buddy the exporter, and my new friend the Pastor and MIt. I looked at my customer. All eyes were upon me with great hope and expectation. I then said;” These look good, but I need to test them to be sure each one is a diamond. However, the exporter has another customer waiting. Why don’t we let the exporter take care of his other customer, while we take a little break, and get a quick lunch and tea. I will check the stones when I get back.”
The exporter asked;: “How are you going to check them, they are all sealed?”
“Don’t worry; I have a tool that will let me test them.”
Everyone agreed to go have lunch. I gathered up all my gemological equipment and with a smile, told the exporter we would see him in an hour. We started driving towards a restaurant near our hotel. I have several weapons I carry with me and had my most trusted weapon in my hand. As we were almost at the restaurant, I casually stated that I believe the stones were not real. As we pulled into the restaurant, everyone was suddenly silent. We all got out of the car; I scanned the restaurant and my surroundings. There was no one else in the restaurant and I took a seat with my back to the wall as I motioned for my client to sit beside me. The good Pastor and Mit sat opposite, with the driver at the end of the table. I had my weapon still in my hand. Mit stared at me intensely; “What do you mean, the stones are not real? You have not even tested them!”
“Mit, I tested them, believe me, they’re fake.”
Mit turned absolutely white. All the color drained from his face, and he looked like he was having a heart attack or a stroke. He shook severely. I was afraid he was about to collapse. Both Mas and I looked at Mit and saw that he was going to die right at the table in front of us. I prepared to rush to his side to do CPR. Urgently, we called the waiter and got poor Mit some water.
Meanwhile, the driver sat silent and the Pastor turned to me. He was not upset, did not seemed fazed by the news whatsoever. He said inquisitively; “We watched you look at the stones, but you did not test them, you need to do a “real” test. ” Putting on his engineer’s hat, he said; “You have only one data point, you cannot make assumptions without verification of your data point. Perhaps, if you are not satisfied with these stones, we can go back and we can look at the other parcels.”
Then he smiled ever so sweetly. Poor Mit was slumped in his chair. He died right there and then.
“Please take us back to the hotel.” I said desperately. We put Mit’s body in the car and drove the few blocks back to the hotel. The Pastor and his driver did not bother to say goodbye as Mas and I brought the body of Mit into the hotel and sat it down in the lobby.
As Mas, the Muslim, me the Jew, and Mit the dead Christian sat in the lobby, I explained how I knew the stones were not diamonds. It took less than a minute to know they were not real. Mas was very unhappy. This little trip from Sierra Leone cost him about $5000. I had previously told Mas that I would not charge my time fee for Guinea unless we bought goods. This meant I was out thousands of dollars as well.
Because Mit was dead, he could not hear what I was telling him. I tried to explain it to him over and over, but his faith in the good pastor was so strong it had killed him. Mas was upset, but Mas has a strange sense of humor. He looked over at poor dead Mit, and exclaimed that he was going to fire me because I do not know what I am doing. He pleaded with dead Mit to arrange another meeting on Monday to look at the goods again. He told Mit’s body that he was going to go through with the deal regardless of what I said.
We took Mit’s body up to his room. Fearing, what the thieves might do, Mas and I prepared to leave Guinea. It was Friday. Mas wanted Mit’s body to arrange for a meeting Monday with the sellers. The hotel we were staying at costs $280 per night. If Mit’s body was not discovered, his bill would increase $280 per day until at least Monday. We, on the other hand, could already be back safely in Sierra Leone the next day.
For the next three days. Mas called Mit’s body repeatedly and told it he would be there on Monday to complete the deal. Mit’s body believed Mas, and arranged a meeting with the Pastor for Monday afternoon. However, at the last minute, Mas canceled the meeting. He canceled the meeting because Mas does not like to deal with thieves, idiots and dead people.
Postscript: No horses were harmed in the writing of this article. Mit’s body was returned to the U.S, and continues to practice law in Colorado despite being brain dead. The pastor still owes Mit a lot of money for legal work he performed. The exporter, who told us he is a Christian, continues to go to the Mosque to pray. The Pastor is still running around trying to steal from people in God’s name. The customer from London called me, and threatened me if I exposed them. I told him I do not have to expose them, their stupidity will reveal them. They really don’t need any of my help.
Me? I’m sitting in my hotel room in Zimbabwe talking to you.
“Time will either promote you, or expose you.”