Royal gift or ‘stolen’ gem? Calls for UK to return 500 carat Great Star of Africa diamond to its rightful owners.
The British government’s decision to return a 500-carat stone stolen from a South African mine to its rightful owners is the latest move by the UK to recover stolen assets after the arrest of a notorious jewel thief.
The Great Star of Africa weighs 3.23 carats and it could fetch up to $30 million at auction in the United States. The British government has made an offer of $7.7 million.
But after years of public outcry, the jeweler who set the jeweled necklace, the late Peter Phatswe, wanted this valuable piece returned to the person who had entrusted it to him. Phatswe took a great deal of risk and lost his life while trying to retrieve the stone more than a decade ago. He died in London in 2008.
This decision should not be the final word by the UK government about the diamond, according to Paul Schottler, president of the New York-based Association of Jewelers and Diamond Dealers.
“This is a case in which the thief of the stone got what was rightfully his,” he tells NPR in an interview this week. “At the very least we want to make it right for the owners who have lost so much. This is in the spirit of the diamond industry that we have.”
How to claim diamond
The diamond is a chunk from a Cullinan or Great Star of Africa mine in the region of South Africa known as the Mahikeng diamond district.
The Mahikeng diamond district, which was owned by the Anglo American mining and mining group, is now part of the Lesotho diamond-producing province.
South African police arrested the suspected jewel thief, Gert Nel, in April. He is charged with stealing hundreds of diamonds from the mine at Mahikeng and selling them to an unnamed British diamond buyer.
South African police seized Nel’s car and a house in the country after he was arrested. In the course of that investigation, South African authorities also came to the conclusion that Nel also had valuable diamonds on his person, which were not confiscated by the government.
The South African government then sought a court order allowing it to return the diamond to its owner