Miner digs up 182-carat gem -- and trouble to go with it
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
CONAKRY, Guinea -- There's lucky: Finding a diamond when you're a young miner sweating it out in the west African forests of Guinea. And there's too lucky: finding a 182-carat stone, that everyone -- starting with the government of Guinea -- wants a piece of.
Result: the stone -- four times the size of the famous Hope diamond -- was tucked away Monday deep in the vaults of Guinea's Central Bank, no pictures, please.
And the 25-year-old miner who found it, if not exactly in hiding, was making himself scarce. No interviews, please.
State radio in impoverished, mineral-rich Guinea announced the find last week. Guinea mining industry officials confirmed Monday that the newly dug-up stone -- though not flawless -- was a fortune in the rough.
"It's a quite brilliant diamond, of good enough quality despite having numerous veins. One thing is certain -- it's worth millions of dollars," a top official with the Aredor mining company, Guinea's biggest diamond operation, told The Associated Press.
The Guinea gem is four inches by 1.2 inches high -- roughly the size and shape of an average computer mouse.
The Hope diamond, by contrast, is 45.52 carats.
Free-lance discoveries of big diamonds in west and central Africa typically touch off fierce, fast-buck feeding frenzies, pitting the finders and first-round buyers against would-be moneymakers higher up the food chain.
Finders, terrified, have been known to flee into the bush rather than dare bring their find to market.
In Congo in 2000, the government confiscated a 265-carat stone and jailed its local buyer for a month, freeing both only after massive public protests. That stone eventually went at auction in Israel for an unconfirmed $13 million to $20 million.
Industry officials and diplomats in Guinea on Monday would discuss the find here only on condition of anonymity.
The 25-year-old, who was not identified, struck his shovel on the stone at a dig in southeast Guinea, bordering Ivory Coast and Liberia.
Authorities gave few other details of the diamond's first hours and days in the light. It was clear, however, that the rock's time with its discoverer was brief. By Monday, the gem was in the capital, Conakry, behind steel doors at the guarded Central Bank.
The young miner had no choice, a Western diplomat said -- he might have been killed if he hadn't turned it over to the authorities.
An Associated Press reporter, visiting the area of the find, was unable to locate the young miner.
Diamonds, along with aluminum ore and gold, are among the top exports of Guinea, a resource-rich but virtually undeveloped country whose people live on less than a dollar a day.
The Aredor mining company, using heavy equipment in high-dollar operations, turns up an average of 30,000 carats each year.
Small-scale miners like the 25-year-old, with no more overhead than the cost of a spade, produce 300 to 400 carats a year here.
The 182-carat stone came from a site owned by the government, and leased to miners.
Miners are believed to slip many smaller finds into their pockets, taking the stones out for smuggling and avoiding the government and any cuts it would take.
Especially since it was found on government land, the gem's discoverer may have believed bypassing Guinea's officials too risky in this case, experts said.
Authorities were to inspect the stone later this week and offer an official estimate. The finder -- if luck holds -- would likely receive an undetermined percentage of that, industry officials said.