The arrest of a woman accused of hiding more than 10,000 diamonds inside her body when she landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport comes amid warnings that Canada is one of the countries where illicit diamonds have been used for money laundering.
An expert said the case suggested that the stones could have originated from Venezuela and probably were destined for another country to be cut and polished so that they would be less identifiable.
The woman had landed at Pearson on a Feb. 3 flight from Trinidad and Tobago, when she came to the attention of a Canada Border Services Agency officer, according to CBSA spokeswoman Vanessa Barrasa.
The RCMP said the woman was found to have carried 10,202 stones inside her.
The 1,500 carats (about 300 grams) of rough diamonds have an estimated value of $398,000, the RCMP said.
Helena Freida Bodner, a 66-year-old foreign national, was charged with four customs offences and two counts under the Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act. She appeared at the Brampton courthouse on Friday.
“At $266 a carat, those are stones of very good quality,” said Dorothée Gizenga, executive director of the Ottawa-based Diamond Development Initiative, a non-governmental organization.
“Considering the distance over which the person had to carry such a quantity of diamonds in the belly, from Trinidad to Canada, it is possible that the diamonds were ingested in Trinidad.”
Trinidad is not a diamond-mining country. The nearest sources of the precious stones would be Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana.
Venezuela is particularly noteworthy because it removed itself five years ago from the Kimberley Process, an international certification program designed to stanch the flow of illegal rough diamonds.
Global Witness, an international NGO, alleges that millions of dollars in gems are smuggled out of Venezuela to neighbouring Brazil and Guyana, to be passed off as legitimate Kimberley Process diamonds.
There are few independent diamond cutters in Canada, Ms. Gizenga said, noting that Canadian-mined diamonds are usually cut in Antwerp, Dubai or India.
However, once smuggled into North America, the 10,202 rough diamonds could have been smuggled once more, to be taken to a cutter in New York, Miami or California, she said.
“I doubt they would have travelled all the way here without already having lined up a buyer.”
A similar scheme is outlined in a report released last month by the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based intergovernmental body that sets standards and promotes anti-laundering reforms.
The report identified Canada as one of countries that have seen major criminal cases where diamonds were used as a currency in the narcotics trade, money laundering and terrorism financing.
“In Canada, diamond money-laundering schemes appear to frequently relate to drug trafficking. Illicit financial flows are most often between Canada and the United States,” the report said.
In one case, the report said, illegal rough diamonds were smuggled into Canada, then smuggled again to another country to to be cut, then legally sent back to Canada since the stones were now passed off as legitimate stones.
“Once the diamonds have gone through the beneficiation process and the rough diamonds are cut and polished, it becomes almost impossible to determine the origin of a stone,” it said.