A pastor in Sierra Leone has found the largest uncut diamond in more than four decades in this West African country and has turned it over to the government, saying he hopes it helps to boost recent development in his impoverished nation.
Pastor Emmanuel Momoh found the 706-carat diamond in in Sierra Leone’s diamond-rich east, and it was presented to President on Wednesday.
It is the second largest diamond found in Sierra Leone. In 1972, the 968.9-carat Star of Sierra Leone was found by miners and sold for about $2.5 million.
Momoh turned in the diamond because he was impressed by the development being undertaken in Kono District, where the gem was found. He cited road construction and improvements to electricity after almost 30 years of blackouts.
“I believe the government can do more, especially at a time when the country is undergoing some economic challenges,” he said.
Sierra Leone’s diamond wealth fueled a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002. Despite its mineral wealth, the country remains one of the poorest in the world.
It was not immediately clear how the pastor came across the diamond.
The president expressed appreciation that there was no attempt to smuggle the gem out of the country, and encouraged others to emulate the pastor’s example. He promised the diamond would be sold to the highest bidder and whatever is due to the owner and government would be distributed accordingly.
“A gift from God, and it will be a terrible thing if anyone tries to do something criminal with it,” the president said.
Spokesman Bayraytay said the diamond has not yet been valued and has been placed in the Bank of Sierra Leone.
The president has given “clear instruction to the Ministry of Mines that the evaluation, sale and distribution of the proceeds must be done in the most transparent manner,” he said.
The stone, a photograph of which was posted on the president’s official website, is being stored in the country’s central bank, government sources said. A local chief from Kono handed the stone to President Ernest Bai Koroma on behalf of Emmanuel Momoh who made the discovery. The government plans to auction it.
The presidency said in a statement on Thursday that Koroma thanked the chief who acted as an intermediary for not smuggling it out of the country.
Diamonds fueled a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002 in which 50,000 people were killed. Rebels forced civilians in the east to mine the stones and bought weapons with the proceeds, leading to the term ‘blood diamonds’.
“He (Koroma) underscored the importance of selling such a diamond here as it will clearly give the owners what is due them and benefit the country as a whole,” the statement said.
The stone is yet to be valued but could be worth millions of dollars. Sierra Leone’s gross national income per capita stood at $620 in 2015, according to World Bank data.
The United Nations lifted a ban on diamond exports from Sierra Leone in 2003. The International Monetary Fund expects the country to export $113 million worth of diamonds this year though the sector remains plagued by smuggling.