LOS ANGELES, CA — A lawsuit to determine ownership of the world’s largest emerald will proceed despite the objections of Brazil, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled today.
Judge Michael Johnson denied Brazil’s motion to dismiss a contentious, five-year-long lawsuit over the Bahia Emerald’s ownership. Brazil argued the emerald was the country’s property, alleging it was illegally mined and exported to the United States. Declaring the stone a ‘national treasure,’ Brazil’s attorneys asked that the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit over ownership be dismissed so the emerald could be repatriated to Brazil.
But attorneys for U.S. claimants, Kit Morrison, Todd Armstrong, Jerry Ferrara, Market Link, Inc. and FM Holdings, Inc. (The Morrison Group) argued that Brazil’s motion was extremely prejudicial and unfair to The Morrison Group and that Brazil’s claim was “frivolous” because it legally cannot pursue its action in a California Superior court due to Brazil’s failure to timely file a claim.
Today’s dismissal of Brazil’s motion clears the way for The Morrison Group to be declared the lawful owner of the Bahia Emerald at a future court hearing.
The tumultuous court battle in Los Angeles Superior Court that has dragged on for more than five years entered a new phase in January 2015, when attorneys for Brazil claimed that mining was not authorized in 2001, where the Bahia Emerald was mined.
The Morrison Group claims there’s extensive documentation that shows the Brazilian government has authorized mining activities in the Bahia region since the late 1970’s.
“My clients are American citizens who paid out of pocket for the stone and now a foreign government is trying to take their property, for which they paid a substantial sum of money,” said Spielberger. “That’s inconsistent with our constitution and the bureaucrats of Brazil are trying to evade having to prove their claim in our Superior Court and just take the rock,” said Spielberger.
The Bahia Emerald, weighing in at 840 pounds and worth an estimated $372 million, is considered the biggest uncut emerald ever unearthed. The ongoing legal fight that involved two trials and multiple parties was close to a resolution before Brazil decided to join the fight.
The gemstone has had a long and dramatic journey since it first surfaced in a Brazilian mine in 2001. Renata Joias e Embalagens Ltda. discovered the Bahia Emerald in Brazil and registered it with the Brazilian Government. On August 31, 2004, an Assignment & Bill of Sale was made from Renata Joias e Embalagens Ltda. to Gemworks Mining, Inc. (Panama).
In 2008, Kit Morrison, Todd Armstrong, Jerry Ferrara and their companies Market Link, Inc. and FM Holdings, Inc. paid seven-figures to obtain valid legal title to the Bahia Emerald. Apparently experiencing “seller’s remorse”, the seller tried to back out of the purchase agreement and filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
The Sheriff’s Department contacted Kit Morrison who voluntarily handed over the Bahia Emerald to the Sheriff’s Department after showing the authorities his purchase agreement and the change of title given to him. The LA County Sheriff’s Department has maintained possession of the Bahia Emerald with the expectation it will be released at the conclusion of the civil trial.
Browne Greene of Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP and Daniel K. Balaban and Andrew J. Spielberger with the law firm of Balaban & Spielberger, LLP represent Respondents Kit Morrison, Todd Armstrong, Jerry Ferrara, FM Holdings, Inc. and Market Link, Inc.
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