Court battle over giant emerald nears resolution

AP News
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Posted: Oct 15, 2014 7:18 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An incredible hulk of an emerald weighing 840 pounds was hauled out of a Brazilian mine more than a decade ago and began a global odyssey that ended in Los Angeles Superior Court, where a fight over its ownership is nearing resolution.

On Tuesday, a judge eliminated from consideration gem trader Mark Downie, one of the men claiming ownership of the emerald that has been appraised at $372 million. It is considered one of the largest in the world.

Downie was the second claimant to be eliminated from consideration by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson. The judge found Downie's claim was not credible.

One more trial awaits for a group of purported owners that includes gem trader Kit Morrison, who was trying to sell the gem in Las Vegas when authorities confiscated it. He says he received it as collateral from a gem dealer for a shipment of diamonds for which he paid $1.3 million but never received.

The emerald came into the U.S. in early 2005 and was kept in San Jose, California, for a time before being taken to New Orleans, according to a lawyer for the remaining group of claimants, including Morrison.

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, which trucked it to Los Angeles, now has it under lock and key.

The emerald, that was pulled from a mine in the jungles of Brazil's Bahia state and is known as the Bahia Emerald, is not going to win any beauty contests. According to those who have seen it, it is a hulking brute of a gem, with several thick green rods the size of a man's forearms jutting out of a stone base.

Lawyers said that museums including the Smithsonian and the Getty have expressed interest in obtaining it for their collections. Its value is as an art object, and it can't be broken down to make jewelry, they said.

Last month, the Federative Republic of Brazil submitted a motion claiming the emerald is a piece of the country's cultural and scientific heritage and should be returned there.

A hearing is scheduled for January to determine if Brazil has a claim.