05 - 12
By Lisa Vives
When a Sierra Leonean pastor looked at the shiny stony that came from the ground, it didn’t look like much of a rock. It was orange with red speckles and the diggers at the Kono mining district almost tossed it aside.
But the lumpy stone was unusual enough to bring to a local diamond dealer who recognized a thing of great value. “The look on his face when he saw the rock made me believe we had discovered something extraordinary,” the pastor Emmanuel Momoh recalled in an interview with the NY Times.
The hockey puck-shaped sparkly thing turned out to be a 709-carat diamond – one of the world’s largest diamonds and the largest one ever found in Sierra Leone.
After much thought and debate, Pastor Momoh turned the gem over to the government, instead of selling it to middlemen and pocketing the cash. The community stands to lose, he said, if middlemen were involved.
“We lack a lot of things,” Momoh told the BBC. “We don’t have a good road network, we don’t have better schools or drinking water.”
Sierra Leone allows miners to sell diamonds up to a certain size, but requires them to turn over larger stones to the government to sell, with the proceeds, in theory, going to the ones who found them, minus an unspecified government tax.
Often, diamonds — both large and small — are sold on the black market, depriving the government of sorely needed revenue.
President Ernest Bai Koroma thanked the cleric for not smuggling the diamond out of the country and allowing the government to sell the historic stone in a set bidding process.
An early sealed bid offer involving five buyers for the stone produced a bid of $7.7 million which the government said was too low. Some estimates put the value at $50 million.
This week, the stone sold at a New York auction for a lower-than-expected price of $6.5 million. The buyer was reportedly British billionaire and jeweler, Laurence Graff.
According to the Rapaport auction house that handled the bidding, half the sale proceeds are to be used to fund clean water, electricity, school, medical facilities, bridges and roads, none of which are currently available in the village of Koryardu where the diamond was found.
The auction house is reported not to be charging its usual fees for the sale. w/pix of ‘Peace Diamond’