In a major blow to the smugglers in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, one of the world’s largest diamonds that was dubbed as the “Peace Diamond” was sold for $6.5 million on Monday. The deal was made by Sierra Leone to fund local development projects. According to the Rapaport Group, an international diamond trading network that handled the sale, the egg-sized diamond weighs 709 carats and was found by a British billionaire and jeweller. Martin Rapaport of the Rapaport Group while talking about the sale of the diamond said that of the proceeds received from the sale of the diamond, the government will get 59 percent or about $3.9 million in tax revenue and that will be used to fund clean water, electricity, schools, health centres and roads.
The auction of the diamond also marked the first time a diamond found in Sierra Leone was put up for public sale, and state officials said they hope it will be a step toward ending the illicit diamond trade. Back during the 1990s, diamonds fueled civil war in Sierra Leone when rebels forced civilians to mine the stones and bought weapons with the proceeds, leading to the term ‘blood diamonds’. In the year 2003, the United Nations lifted a ban on diamond exports from Sierra Leone but this multi-million dollar sector is still plagued by smuggling.
Abdulai Bayraytay, a spokesman for Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, at a news conference was quoted saying, “As a government, particularly in Africa, it has always been the narration of corruption, and the mineral wealth is not benefiting the people.” While talking about the diamond sale, Chief Paul Ngaba Saquee, head of Sierra Leone’s eastern Kono district said that it will encourage all the diggers back home. Kono district is the place where the diamond was found in March. Saquee added, “Instead of being ripped off in some dark corners when they find their diamonds, that they will bring it and put it on the table in front of the government.” He further said, “Maybe this is going to be the beginning of a new day in Sierra Leone.”
Reportedly, the balance of the proceeds will go to a local group overseeing development projects, the pastor and other miners who found the gem and gave it to the government. While the diamond has now been sold, back in the month of May the first effort to sell the diamond failed when Sierra Leone rejected the highest bid of $7.8 million. This time, the stone was shown to some 70 potential buyers and seven bids were submitted, according to Rapaport.