The Culture of Mazzel. Trust and Crime Among Diamond Dealers in Antwerp

Dina Siegel, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Trust is a basis of diamond trade. Diamonds worth thousand of euros can change hands on the basis of a handshake alone, payment is taking place much later. There is no signature, no contract, what matters is the word. Trust between dealers is expressed by a handshake and the Hebrew words 'Mazzel Tov u'Vracha' (Good Luck and Blessing). The origin of this trust is tight family links, outsiders almost never get into the circle. If one is too late, or unable to repay his debt, there is always someone from his family who will do it for him. Doing international business on the basis of handshake is a cultural phenomenon, the modern diamond industry is based on internal regulation system and traditional trust relationships. However, in the process of internationalisation and globalisation of economy, this tradition becomes more and more affected by external factors, including criminal aspects.

Diamonds are suitable tools for smuggling, money laundering and fraud. In the last years a number of criminal groups abused the flexible internal rules of the Antwerp diamond sector in order to commit financially tinted crimes in all discretion. Do loyalty and trust -- the two most important principles of the diamond trade are loosing their original meaning?

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Updated 05/20/2006