GLOBAL ECONOMY

Legal battle continues in L.A. court for ownership of 840-pound Brazilian emerald

Los Angeles Sheriff's Department

 (Los Angeles Sheriff's Department)

The trial over who owns a whopping 180,000-carat, 840-pound emerald appears to have no end in sight after a judge in California ruled that the courtroom battle will go on despite the Brazilian government's efforts to return the giant stone to the South American country.

The gem, a massive piece of rock with tubes of protruding green crystals, was found in 2001 in a mine in the state of Bahia in eastern Brazil. Valued at $372 million, it has been the subject a court battles since it was first found, as gem traders, miners, real estate tycoons and others have sought to own the enormous emerald.

While it appeared that the court battle was about to wrap up last September, Brazil stepped in and claimed ownership of the emerald, forcing Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson to continue trying to sort out its rightful owner while not rejecting Brazil's claim.

Brazil claims the emerald was illegally mined and exported.

The country asked the judge last year to either put the case on hold or dismiss it outright while officials for the government of President Dilma Rousseff negotiate with the U.S. government to secure the stone's return. The country's U.S.-based lawyer John Nadolenco told the judge this week that any ruling would hurt Brazil's ongoing discussions with the federal government.

More On This...

Johnson said that he wasn't ruling on who owned the gem but on the motion to dismiss or pause current court proceedings in Los Angeles. He added that Brazil's motion lacked sufficient evidence to warrant stopping the case.

"The county of Los Angeles, which has housed the emerald at taxpayer expense, is entitled to a decision," Johnson said, according to the Los Angles Times.  

The judge decision earlier this week continues the stone's long, strange trip that began when it was unearthed back in 2001 by miners who transported it to Sao Paulo.

In 2005, the emerald was sent to an unnamed self-trained geologist and mining entrepreneur from Northern California. The man had the stone shipped to New Orleans where it was submerged for weeks near the French Quarter during the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Despite fishing the gem up, the man somehow lost it to California-based investor Larry Biegler, who in turn reported the emerald missing in 2009 from a South El Monte vault. The stone was eventually found in a Las Vegas vault owned by Idaho businessman Kit Morrison and associate Todd Armstrong — who say they purchased it from Biegler.

The authorities couldn't figure who the rightful owner of the emerald was and stored the gem at an undisclosed Los Angeles Sheriff's Department location. Meanwhile, the arduous legal battle continues.

If the judge rules in favor of Morrison, Brazil would only be able to get the gem back if they file to have it repatriated and provide compensation to Morrison. The judge also said that Brazil can enter a documented claim to ownership, which would be considered.

"Though this obviously wasn't the ruling we were hoping for, we are not at all surprised that the court feels invested in continuing the case after so many years," Nadolenco said. "Brazil is heartened that the judge recognizes Brazil's interest in the emerald and has given it an option to pursue that interest."

Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter & Instagram