A judge Monday rejected an effort by the nation of Brazil to dismiss or put on hold a case filed five years ago to determine the rightful owner of the 840-pound Bahia emerald, saying lawyers for the country waited too long to get involved and failed to follow proper legal grounds in bringing the motion.
The cluster, mined in Brazil in 2001, has roughly 180,000 carats of emeralds in nine gigantic crystals, one about as big around as a man’s leg. At one point, as many as eight parties laid claim to the find.
In court papers filed in September, the nation of Brazil asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson to dismiss all remaining claims among U.S. parties to the emerald and allow the South American country to try to have it returned.
But Johnson said two trials have already been held in the case at considerable expense to the parties and taxpayers. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Department has gone to the trouble of taking responsibility for the safekeeping of the gem, Johnson said.
“Brazil has done nothing whatsoever to assert an interest or to give the courtesy of giving notice of its interest in the case,” Johnson said.
The lawyers for Brazil filed two declarations by attorneys in support of its motion, but neither were signed, Johnson said. No sworn statement from a Brazilian government official was offered, the judge said.
The judge said he would consider a proper motion if brought later by the nation of Brazil for repatriation of the gem, but he said seeking to dismiss the case or put it on hold while the country tried to get the gem back through diplomatic channels were not the correct legal avenues.
Attorney John Nadolenco, on behalf of the nation of Brazil, called the gem a “national treasure” that is part of the country’s heritage. He said after the hearing that while he had hoped for a different outcome, he was encouraged that Johnson did not rule out hearing a future motion. He also said diplomatic efforts to bring the emerald back to Brazil will continue.
Andrew Spielberger, on behalf of claimant Ferrara Morrison Holdings, praised the judge’s ruling. He said members of FM Holdings paid a seven-figure sum for the gem and that the nation of Brazil has been aware of the battle among claimants for the emerald since the case was filed five years ago.
“I’m very happy for my clients,” Spielberger said.
Johnson has yet to hear testimony on FM Holdings’ claims to the gem. He previously tossed out the claims of two other men competing for the emerald, Anthony Thomas and Mark Downie.
Downie’s lawyers previously brought a motion for reconsideration of Johnson’s Oct. 14 ruling that the gem investor has no interest in the Bahia emerald. But the judge denied the motion and upheld his previous decision that Downie can only seek about $81,000 to compensate him for a January 2005 loan made to another group to ship the gem to the United States.
The Sheriff’s Department has custody of the emerald, which is estimated to be worth as much as $400 million.
“The emerald is literally a piece of Brazil that belongs to Brazil and in Brazil,” lawyers for the country state in their court papers.
The lawyers for Brazil argue that the gem should be put to cultural and scientific use, including allowing it to be examined by researchers and students. They also say it should be displayed at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janiero, the largest museum of natural anthropological history in Latin America.
FM Holdings is comprised of Kit Morrison, Todd Armstrong and Jerry Ferrara.
The case was initially filed by miner Kenneth Conetto in January 2009. Thomas filed his court papers as a claimant to the emerald three months later.
Conetto later reached a settlement with FM Holdings.
— City News Service
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