Antwerp World Diamond Centre CEO resigns amid Russia diamond sanctions

Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) chief executive Ari Epstein resigned unexpectedly on Thursday, the AWDC’s board of directors said in a statement.

A spokesperson for AWDC, Belgium’s main diamond industry group, said on Friday that Epstein, who had been CEO for 13 years, did not wish to communicate about the reason for his sudden departure, but Belgian financial newspaper De Tijd reported that Russian diamond sanctions had been the cause of conflict between the diamond sector and the Belgian government.

AWDC did not say who would replace Epstein as CEO. Epstein did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent via LinkedIn.

Following an EU ban on Russian-origin diamonds that took effect on March 1, rough and polished diamonds have to enter the EU and G7 countries with documentary proof and declarations that the stones are not of Russian origin.

Antwerp’s diamond dealers have said they are facing long and costly delays as a consequence.


Russian diamond ban creates costly delays, Antwerp diamond dealers say

Antwerp’s diamond dealers face long and costly delays following an EU ban on Russian-origin diamonds that took effect on March 1 and has slowed imports, they say in a letter seen by Reuters.

The letter, dated March 13, said the disruptions would erode the competitive advantage of the centuries-old Antwerp diamond trade. It was addressed to Belgium’s main diamond industry group, Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), and requested a review of the new procedures.

Any impact is likely to be reduced by sluggish market conditions. Diamond inventories are high and prices have fallen. Paul Zimnisky, a global diamond analyst, said last month that prices were down 25% from their early 2022 peak.

Al Cook, CEO of mining company Anglo American’s De Beers’ diamond business, has said the miner would reduce production this year in response to surplus supply.

“While we fully support the decisions taken by Belgium, the European Union, and the G7 nations, in regards to the sanctions of January 1st 2024, the implementation of the measures to enforce the sanction has adversely affected all of our operations,” said the letter, signed by over 100 local firms.

“The intention was to prevent the flow of diamonds from sanctioned states, but the reality we face is the severe disruption of our supply chains, and alienation from the rest of the global trade.”

A Belgian government official said the delays were temporary and were easing.

The EU and Group of Seven (G7) countries agreed to ban direct imports of Russian diamonds to their markets as of Jan. 1 and before phasing in a full ban on Russian-origin stones via third countries from March 1 because of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Russia’s state-run Alrosa, which together with De Beers is one of the world’s top diamond producers, was also placed under sanctions by the EU.

Diamond hub
Antwerp remains the world’s biggest diamond hub though 90% of stones are polished in India. Belgium pushed hard for the G7 to adopt a version of its proposed plan to try to prevent Antwerp from losing more business after major Western jewellers began eschewing Russian stones.

Diamond dealers said their shipments have been held up for over a week at customs even if the gems were straight from African producers.

The Belgian government official said shipments pending would be processed within 24 hours.

“The indirect ban coincided with the Hong Kong Diamond Fair which is an annual peak period… This, in combination with the expected teething problems caused some initial delay in processing of shipments during the first days,” he said.

Diamond dealers say they expect more problems when the additional tracing requirements take effect from September.

“We see the procedures will cause Antwerp to further lose competitive advantage… rather than deal a meaningful blow to any sanctioned products,” the letter said.

“The current trajectory threatens the existence of Antwerp’s diamond industry, a heritage of six centuries.”

The head of the AWDC, Ari Epstein, said the group would soon present the new measures, adding it was “acutely aware of the challenges and disruptions this timing may have caused”.

“Let me be unequivocally clear: the violation of sanctions is criminal in nature and not taken lightly by governments or our organization. Our commitment to compliance… is unwavering and absolute,” Epstein said in a statement.

Source: Dmitry Zhdannikov and Julia Payne

Belgium’s Diamond Shipments Drop Further

The Diamond Office in Antwerp. (Antwerp World Diamond Centre)

Belgium’s diamond trade slowed in June, with polished exports down 44% year on year to $469 million, according to data from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC). However, the rate of decline eased following heavier drops in April and May, when the global industry shut due to the coronavirus. US orders rose 4% to $173 million in June, indicating a gradual recovery as the important retail market reopened.

Belgium Trade Data for June 2020
 June 2020Year-on-year change
Polished exports$469M-44%
Polished imports$350M-66%
Net polished exports$120M2019: Deficit of $185M
Rough imports$351M-48%
Rough exports$237M-71%
Net rough imports$114M2019: Deficit of $125M
Net diamond account$6M2019: Deficit of $60M
Polished exports: volume146,350 carats-60%
Average price of polished exports$3,206/carat40%
 1H 2020Year-on-year change
Polished exports$2.49B-58%
Polished imports$2.51B-59%
Net polished exports-$14MDeficit decreased 95%
Rough imports$2.75B-37%
Rough exports$2.25B-55%
Net rough imports$494M2019: Deficit of $621M
Net diamond account-$508M2019: Surplus of $360M
Polished exports: volume1.2 million carats-46%
Average price of polished exports$2,097/carat-21%

Source: Antwerp World Diamond Centre; Rapaport archives

About the data: Belgium is usually a net exporter of polished diamonds. As such, net polished exports — representing polished exports minus polished imports — will normally be a positive number. The nation is also a net exporter of rough. While Antwerp is home to some high-value manufacturing, its main role in the market is as a facilitator of rough-diamond trading, with companies from around the world coming to the city to buy rough. The net diamond account is total rough and polished exports minus total imports. It is Belgium’s diamond trade balance, and shows the added value the nation creates by exporting rough or manufacturing it into polished.


Zimbabwe ruling elite linked to disappearing diamonds

Zimbabwe Diamonds

An anti corruption group alleges it has evidence linking Zimbabwe’s ruling elite to  a decade of disappearing diamond wealth. Top security and political leaders steeling and profiting from Zimbabwe’s diamond reserves.

London based Global Witness report published on Monday, accuses Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation spy agency of  concealing a stake in Kusena Diamonds in the Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe.Diamonds produced by the CIO linked company are traded in Dubai and  Antwerp two of the world’s leading marketplaces and have funded political repression.


Zimbabwean military, and the government itself with the Companies have concealed their finances and shielded their operations from public scrutiny.

Zimbabwean officials had no immediate comment.