Sierra Leone’s government rejected a $7.8 million bid for one of the world’s largest diamonds at an auction on Thursday, saying it failed to meet the valuation.
The diamond was discovered in the country’s eastern Kono district in March by Christian pastor Emmanuel Momoh and given to the Sierra Leonean government to handle the sale. The 709-carat diamond is the second-largest to ever be discovered in the West African country, behind only the Star of Sierra Leone, which was found in 1972 and weighed 969 carats, the BBC reported.
The gem went up for sale in the capital Freetown on Thursday. Five bids were made for the diamond, ranging from $2 million to $7.8 million; the highest bid came on behalf of Belgian diamond dealership Ray Diam BVBA.
The head of Sierra Leone’s National Minerals Agency, Sahr Wonday, told the auction that the highest bid “does not match the government reserve price,” which he did not disclose, Reuters reported. Wonday, the chief auctioneer, said the diamond would be taken to international auction in either Antwerp, Belgium, or to Tel Aviv, Israel.
Momoh, 39, remains the official owner of the diamond until it is sold. He told AFP he wants the stone to be sold abroad “so I can get the best price to enable many people to benefit” from its sale. “I’m expecting not less than $50 million from the diamond,” said Momoh, who attended the auction.
Diamonds have a mixed history in Sierra Leone. Many so-called artisanal miners make a living from searching for diamonds—either legally or illegally—but the trafficking of diamonds also played a significant role in funding a bloody civil war in Sierra Leone, which lasted from 1991 to 2001 and killed an estimated 50,000 people.
Most notably, former Liberian president Charles Taylor was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by a United Nations-backed Sierra Leonean court, with the trial held in The Hague. The judge said that Taylor had sold so-called blood diamonds in order to raise funds to back rebels in the civil war. As part of the evidence against Taylor—who is currently serving a 50-year sentence in a U.K. prison—British supermodel Naomi Campbell testified that he had given her a bag of rough diamonds following a charity dinner held by the late South African leader Nelson Mandela in 1997.
The country’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, thanked Momoh for “not smuggling the diamond out of the country” in a March statement after it was discovered. The president said the proceeds of the sale would “benefit the country as a whole.”
The largest diamond ever found is the Cullinan Diamond, discovered in modern-day South Africa in 1905, which weighed 3,107 carats. The diamond has been cut into several smaller gems, the largest of which is part of the crown jewels belonging to the British royal family. The most expensive diamond ever, the 59.6-carat Pink Star, was sold for $71.2 million by Sotheby’s to a Hong Kong jewellery company in April.