Alongside diamonds, sapphires, and rubies, emeralds are highly regarded as genuine precious gemstones. Naturally, this means that any potential ownership of these green jewels will be hotly disputed.
Employees of the Los Angeles County Superior Court are more aware of this than most. The Bahia Emerald, weighing in at over 750 lbs and boasting an eye-watering estimated value of $925m, is the focus of a legal dispute that lasted more than ten years – with no ending in sight.
The gemstone was discovered in Bahia, Brazil, in a mine back in 2001. Standing at almost three feet tall and boasting the single biggest shard of emerald ever located, the stone is nine emeralds embedded in schist – a large, black metamorphic rock.
The emeralds have changed hands multiple times since discovery, leading to the courtroom ownership dispute. Various attempts to trade in the emerald fell, though, and it found itself in locations as diverse as Sao Paulo, San Jose, New Orleans (where it was submerged underwater during Hurricane Katrina), South El Monte, Las Vegas (naturally), and eventually Los Angeles.
It was LA that the emerald entered the realm of legal challenge. The emerald was reported stolen during a jewel raid in 2008 and was seized by investigating county sheriff officers. From there, the jewel was secured in a private location and not touched by human hands again. It has never been presented as evidence in any legal proceedings, with court employees making do with photographs.
The first ownership claim was filed in 2009. Since then, multiple different individuals or consortiums filed claims to ownership of this most precious of gemstones. Two claims were dismissed, presumably considered to be spurious at best. Others were settled out of court, or the claims were dropped.
Eventually, only one claim remained. A judge ruled that diamond traders Kit Morrison, Todd Armstrong, and Jerry Ferrera, collectively known as FM Holdings, LLC, were the rightful owners of the emeralds.
Kit Morrison made the compelling argument that swung the case in his favor. He explained to the judge that he and his partners agreed to a trade deal for diamonds in 2008. After paying over a million dollars as an advance, a contract was signed promising that the emerald would act as collateral if the deal fell through. Obviously, this is what happened. Presenting paperwork as evidence, a judge ruled these three men as the rightful owners of the emeralds.
So, a happy ending for FM Holdings, LLC? Not quite. Remember how these stones were found in a mine? Well, the powers-that-be in Brazil claim that the mining operation that upturned the emeralds was illegal. This, in turn, made the importing, exporting, and trading of the stones unlawful. As a result, they are claiming that stones are the property of the Brazilian state.
No accusations of wrongdoing have been leveled at FM Holdings, LLC. The business has presented documents that prove they have acted lawfully and in good faith throughout the process. It was what preceded their ownership that is continuing to cause ructions.
The Bahia Emerald remains in a secret location somewhere in LA. This is where it will stay until the Brazilian authorities drop their legal case or agree to recognize FM Holdings, LLC, as the owners of the stone. This debate has been raging for over ten years now, however, so we won’t hold our breath waiting for an outcome.
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