Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton) acknowledged Thursday that he altered his support for sanctions against South Africa diamonds after meeting with a diamond importer who later gave $34,200 to an educational foundation at the suggestion of a Dymally aide.
Dymally, however, vehemently denied that he changed his position in response to a request from the diamond merchant, Maurice Tempelsman, or that he was even aware of the contribution, which was earmarked for a scholarship fund bearing the congressman’s name.
While he later received a $2,000 speaking fee from the foundation, Dymally said in an interview, he donated the same amount to the scholarship fund for high school students in his congressional district.
“Nobody influences Dymally with any contribution, and I don’t (care) how much money he has,” Dymally said.
Tempelsman, chairman of Lazare Kaplan International of New York, said in a written statement that he met Dymally on April 19, 1988, and expressed his fear that a law barring South African diamond imports would be impossible to enforce because diamonds from many countries are commingled by suppliers and later cannot be distinguished from each other. Tempelsman said Dymally asked his firm to draft a proposed amendment in sanctions legislation.
As a buyer of uncut South African diamonds, the firm could have been crippled by strong sanctions, Tempelsman said.
An amendment authorizing a study on distinguishing South African diamonds from gems mined elsewhere was offered on Dymally’s behalf and approved the next day by a House subcommittee. The bill was approved by the House but died when the Senate failed to act on it that year.
Dymally, however, said he introduced the amendment at the request of Botswana, a major diamond-producing country, and of black groups that felt that the original broad language on diamond imports might have the effect of killing the bill.
Asked about a report in the Washington Post that Lazare Kaplan’s Washington lobbyist, Howard Marlowe, provided the draft amendment to his office, Dymally replied: “I don’t recall details of those meetings. . . . I don’t recall getting any language or anything like that. The staff handled it.”