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Archive for Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Diamond miner digs up giant stone, lots of trouble

July 20, 2004

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— 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 the average computer mouse.

The Hope diamond, by contrast, is 45.52 carats.

The largest diamond ever found, the Cullinan, was a gawdy bowling-ball size beauty at 3,106 carats in the rough.

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 industry-estimated, unconfirmed $13 million to $20 million.

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, on condition of anonymity -- he might have been killed if he hadn't turned it over to the authorities.

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