Unearthed in Brazil in 2001, the "Bahia Emerald” is one massive chunk of controversy.
At times, no less than eight people and one country have laid claim to a gem that weighs roughly 840 pounds and contains about 180,000 carats of emerald crystals.
On Monday, the battle over ownership moved to Los Angeles Superior Court, where a judge began hearing arguments over who should have custody of one of the world's largest emeralds, known as the "Bahia Emerald" -- which by some accounts is said to be worth upwards of $400 million.
Once listed on eBay for what once seemed to be a bargain “buy it now” price of $75 million, legal possession of the Bahia has changed hands several times, and the stories of its travels are truly straight out of the latest tinsel-town caper flick.
In no particular order, we’re told 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 now is in the possession of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
We know two claims already have been dismissed by the court, but the rest of the cast of characters are hoping to plead their case to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson. The judge says he will hear whether members are the rightful owners of the 840-pound 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.
John Nadolenco, the lawyer representing Brazil, said: “It’s important to Brazil's cultural heritage. It was improperly mined, improperly exported, almost certainly improperly imported into the United States before Brazil knew it even existed. So Brazil wants its national treasure back. And its goal is to have it displayed in a museum -- not sold for any type of profit."
Brazil’s emeralds are not world renowned due to the amount of impurities found within them, but this “Bahia” cluster appears to be the exception, and its massive size -- photos show nine gigantic crystals, one about as big around as a man’s leg — adds to its luster.
"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 more rare and less dense in composition, which means 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.
Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.