Judge denies Brazil's request to dismiss Bahia Emerald case

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It weighs in at 840 pounds, a boulder containing more than 180,000 carats of emerald crystals, but the future of the Bahia Emerald remains in limbo.

Attorney Andrew Spielberger represents three people who lay claim to the emerald, but his clients are pitted against the nation of Brazil.

Miners found the emerald in the state of Bahia in eastern Brazil in 2001, and the country now wants the gem back.

"Ultimately, the goal is to repatriate the Bahia Emerald," said Brazil's Los Angeles-based lawyer, John Nadolenco.

Brazilian officials say the emerald was mined illegally and illegally exported to the United States.

Both sides were in a Los Angeles County courtroom Monday, as a five-year-legal battle to determine the emerald's rightful owner continues in state court.

On Monday, Judge Michael Johnson denied Brazil's request to dismiss any private claim to the emerald.

"I'm happy to argue about the merits of Brazil's claim to the emerald," Johnson said. "Dismissal of the case is not warranted."

Spielberger says his clients paid seven-figures for the emerald back in 2008 and that his clients deserve compensation for their investment.

"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," Spielberger said. "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."

Even as the case moves forward in state court, Brazil says it's working with the federal government in the U.S. to have the emerald returned to Brazil.

"This is a matter of international relations that needs to be resolved via diplomatic and other federal channels," Nadolenco said.

Currently, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is in possession of the emerald, which is worth an estimated $372 million. The emerald is being stored in an undisclosed location at taxpayer expense.

All parties are due back in court on April 27.
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