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Seoul under fire over Cameroon diamond business

Controversy another setback in president’s ‘resources diplomacy’


Government agencies deliberately exaggerated the amount of diamonds buried in Cameroon and sought to provide a large amount of aid to the African state, lawmakers said Monday, suspecting the government of inappropriate ties to the project.

Disputes over the long-sought business plan may serve as another setback in the Lee Myung-bak government’s so-called “resources diplomacy” following the failed oilfield development plan in Kurd.

The Foreign Ministry made false reports over the amount of diamonds buried in Cameroon, Rep. Kim Jae-kyun of the main opposition Democratic Party said during the parliamentary audit on government agencies, citing a ministry inside document.

According to the document, C&K Mining, which has been seeking diamond business with Cameroon, reported about 18 million carats of diamonds can be developed after its exploratory research on the country in 2009 May. 

 
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-hwan (right) and other senior officials take an oath at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee audit of the ministry in the assembly, Monday. The 18th National Assembly started its last audit of the government Monday. (Yang Dong-chul/The Korea Herald)
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-hwan (right) and other senior officials take an oath at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee audit of the ministry in the assembly, Monday. The 18th National Assembly started its last audit of the government Monday. (Yang Dong-chul/The Korea Herald)


The government, however, made a press release later, claiming at least 450 million carats of diamonds are waiting to be tapped.

The Foreign Ministry also sought to provide at least $7 million in grant-type aid to the South African state, apparently in return for the diamond mine business, Kim said.

The alleged aid amount is more than twice the amount the ministry had originally decided to provide to Cameroon earlier last year.

The aid was expanded after the Cameroon vice industry minister asked the Korean ambassador for increased financial support, the lawmaker said.

“It is highly likely that the money was provided in return for the diamond development rights,” Rep. Kim claimed, calling for investigation into the issue.

Other lawmakers also raised suspicions over the government’s inappropriate promotion of the business.

Rep. Lee Sung-nam of the DP claimed the Prime Minister’s Office promoted C&K Mining’s potential business “without proper understanding” of the deal.

“The firm never even presented to the government its assessment on the feasibility of the business,” the lawmaker said.

The Korea Resources Cooperation has said the firm has “failed to present all the necessary reports” to make a concrete decision on whether it would be profitable to carry on the business plan, Lee added.

“Despite various suspicions on the feasibility of the business plan, the Economy Ministry and the Foreign Ministry actively took part in promoting it,” he said.

Woo Jae-chang, another main opposition party lawmaker, claimed the Foreign Ministry “deliberately left out” possible financial risks of the deal while sending out two press releases on the government achievement of the deal.

Shares of C&K surged after the government disclosed the estimated amount of buried diamonds amid efforts to promote the business despite the uncertain prospect of the deal.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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