HARARE — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said on Thursday his government would take possession of all diamond operations “because existing miners had robbed the country of its wealth”.

Mr Mugabe’s comments came a week after the ministry of mines ordered all mining companies to halt work and leave the Marange fields. At the time it denied it was seizing the mines.

“The state will now own all the diamonds in the country,” Mr Mugabe said during a two-hour interview with state broadcaster ZBC TV.

“Companies that have been mining diamonds have robbed us of our wealth, that is why we have now said the state must have a monopoly,” Mr Mugabe said.

The Harare High Court on Monday allowed the largest mine in Marange, Mbada Diamonds, to return and assume control of all assets after challenging the government’s ban on mining operations.

A full hearing on whether Mbada could resume mining started on Wednesday and continued on Thursday.

Chinese-run Anjin Investments also challenged the government ban at the same court on Wednesday, according to a court application on Thursday.

Mr Mugabe said he had told Chinese President Xi Xinping during his visit to Zimbabwe last December that his government was not getting much from Chinese-owned mining firms.

Zimbabwe was the eighth largest diamond producer in the world with 4.7-million carats in 2014, according to industry group Kimberly Process.

Last year, the government received $23m in royalties and other fees from diamond mines, down from $84m in 2014.

Separately, Zimbabwean police confirmed the bodies of three illegal diamond miners had been found and a search was under way for seven more at the shuttered Marange diamond fields.

The bodies were retrieved from a shaft in Marange owned by Diamond Mining Company, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said.

The Marange diamond area, 400km east of Harare, was first the focus of controversy when 20,000 illegal miners invaded in 2008 and were forcibly removed by soldiers and police. Human rights groups said at the time up to 200 people were killed during the removal but Mr Mugabe’s government denies the charges.