Sierra Leone said on Tuesday it plans to auction off a massive 709-carat diamond at a December sale in New York, aiming to make a clean break with the “blood diamonds” of its past.
The stone, which was unearthed in March, is the largest discovered in Sierra Leone in almost a half-century and is between the 10th and 15th largest ever found worldwide, experts say.
Sierra Leone authorities told reporters that the massive gem will go up for sale on December 4 at Rapaport Auctions, which specialises in the diamond trade.
The government has pledged to be transparent in the stone’s sale, mindful of the history of cross-border diamond trafficking that fuelled Sierra Leone’s civil war from 1991-2002.
Such “blood diamonds” were often found by enslaved members of the population, who were killed or maimed by rebel groups if they refused to dig.
The 709-carat behemoth was discovered by Emmanuel Momoh, an Evangelical pastor who is also one of hundreds of so-called artisanal miners in Kono, Sierra Leone’s key mining district.
Momoh said he hoped the sale would “improve the lives of the people by providing water, electricity, schools, health facilities, roads and bridges” in the Kono region.
The state expects to collect 15 percent of the sale’s proceeds and a 30% income tax.
Sierra Leone had initially looked to sell the diamond at home but the best offer the country received was $7.7 million in April, which the government deemed insufficient.
It then decided to sell abroad. The rough stone was shown in Israel on Monday and Tuesday and will be on display in the Belgian city of Antwerp – one of the world capitals for diamond trading – from October 30 to November 10.
The diamond – known under its official name as the “diamond of peace” – will then be shown at the United Nations in New York, authorities said.
“We are grateful to the pastor for transferring the diamond to the government rather than smuggling it abroad,” presidency spokesman Abdulai Bayratay said.
Conflicts and controversy surrounding “blood diamonds” led the international community to enact a process known as “Kimberley” in 2003, which certifies diamonds as “conflict-free”.
Djibouti commissions $3.5 billion Chinese-built free trade zone
Djibouti commissioned a $3.5 billion, Chinese-built free trade zone on Thursday, deepening ties with the Asian giant and helping the Horn of Africa nation generate more jobs for its youths.
Djibouti, with a population of 876,000, already hosts Chinese, U.S. and French naval bases and it also handles roughly 95 percent of the goods imported by Ethiopia, its land-locked neighbour with 99 million people.
The zone will be jointly operated by Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority and China’s Merchants Holdings company.
The zone which will house manufacturing and warehouse facilities, an export-processing area and a services centre, is expected to handle trade worth $7 billion within two years, and create 15,000 jobs when complete.
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