Bahia Emerald case to continue despite Brazil's efforts

Updated: 2015-04-02 16:09


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Bahia Emerald case to continue despite Brazil's efforts

The Bahia Emerald weighs roughly 840 pounds and contains about 180,000 carats of emerald crystals. [Photo/The Beijing News]

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ruled that a trial to determine ownership of the prized Bahia Emerald will continue despite efforts by the Brazilian government to have the gem returned to its country of origin.

No less than eight individuals and a country have laid claim to a gem that weighs roughly 840 pounds and contains about 180,000 carats of emerald crystals.

Unearthed in 2001 from a mine in eastern Brazil's Bahia state, it is a mass of rock with tubes of protruding green crystals. It is among the largest unbroken stone of its kind.

Since its discovery the emerald has been used as collateral for a cache of diamonds; spent several weeks submerged in water in a New Orleans vault after Hurricane Katrina; was part of an investor scheme; has been in several plots involving the Brazilian Mafia; was involved in a $197,000,000 banking transaction with Bernard Madoff; held in private vaults all over California and Las Vegas; traded among con men; reported stolen to the Los Angeles Police Department and is now in the possession of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

Last year, just as the court saga seemed to be nearing a conclusion, Brazil staked its own claim, alleging the emerald was mined and exported illegally to the United States.

"Ultimately, the goal is to repatriate the Bahia Emerald," said Brazil's Los Angeles-based lawyer John Nadolenco who told the judge a decision in Los Angeles Superior Court would significantly hinder Brazil's ongoing discussions with the federal government.

Brazil's motion lacked sufficient evidence to warrant halting the case, Judge Michael Johnson said. There was no official declaration from Brazilian officials, nor was there any indication that diplomatic efforts would prove fruitful or timely.

The judge said he will hear whether individuals are the rightful owners of the massive raw gem, or does it actually belong to the nation of Brazil, where it was mined and which claims it as a national treasure.

"The simple fact of the matter is when it was mined out of Brazil and illegally exported, it should not have been," Nadolenco said. "It belongs to the country of Brazil. It needs to be returned regardless of what happened subsequent to it leaving the country".

The finest emeralds usually are worth more than diamonds because they are rarer and less dense, meaning a 1-carat diamond is smaller than a 1-carat emerald.

As for the Bahia Emerald, while it's been appraised at $392 million, its story is priceless - and that's without even knowing the ending.