Sierra Leone rejects $7.77 bid for 709-carat diamond, seeks higher offer

An undated picture released March 16, 2017 of a 706-carat diamond discovered by pastor Emmanuel Momoh in eastern Sierra Leone. (Sierra Leone State House/Handout via Reuters)
Updated 11 May 2017
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Sierra Leone rejects $7.77 bid for 709-carat diamond, seeks higher offer

FREETOW: Sierra Leone’s government said Thursday it would seek higher offers in Belgium for a massive 709-carat diamond found by an Evangelical preacher after underwhelming offers at auction at home.
A Thursday auction in Freetown drew a top bid for the uncut gem — which has a reddish stain that has so far resisted efforts to clean it — of $7.77 million dollars, an AFP correspondent reported.
The prospect of bids not passing muster with the authorities had already previously seen bidding extended once to May 10 at the central bank, where the gem was placed for safe keeping.
Emmanuel Momoh, a 39-year-old pastor who is also one of hundreds of so-called artisanal miners in Kono, Sierra Leone’s key mining district, unearthed it in March and handed it over to the government.
Momoh, who remains the official owner, told AFP the diamond was worth far more than bids made to date.
“I want my diamond to be sold abroad so I can get the best price to enable many people to benefit from the proceeds,” said Momoh.
“I’m expecting not less than $50 million from the diamond,” Momoh stated after attending the auction with his wife and several of his employees.
British citizen Ziad Al-Ahmadi, based in Belgium’s diamond trading center of Antwerp and reportedly working for Raydiam BVBA, lodged the $7.7 million bid which failed to match the government’s unspecified reserve price, prompting the decision to try again in Belgium.
“We are going to sell the diamond in Antwerp, Belgium, for us to get the best (bid) within the next few weeks,” said Sahr Wonday, director general of Sierra Leone’s National Minerals Agency (NMA).
Experts say the diamond is between the 10th and 15th-largest ever found and the biggest uncovered in Sierra Leone in half a century.

'Blood diamonds'
Ahmadi told reporters the color of the gem made him doubt it would attract much more than $7 million.
Sierra Leone authorities lack the necessary equipment for properly cleaning and polishing the uncut stone.
The Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources said last month it had tried to clean the diamond “by boiling (it) in hydrofluoric acid and nitric acid for 72 hours,” but it was not enough to be able to set an accurate value estimate.
Deputy mines minister, Ignosi Koroma, says the government is committed to achieving a competitive and transparent sale despite the underwhelming local bids.
Diamond trafficking, notably to neighboring Liberia, has left a deep scar on Sierra Leone after helping to foment a brutal civil war which lasted a decade from 1991.
Experts say the money emanating from the smuggling trade in ‘blood diamonds’ helped to fuel the conflict in Sierra Leone and others in Africa.
A year after the conflict ended in 2002, the Kimberley Process international certification scheme was created to keep so-called conflict diamonds out of the market and lay down export conditions applying to the agreement’s 75 signatories.


Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

A passenger takes a selfie next to the first train of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Linkas after it arrived in Shenzhen on September 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

  • Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s controversial bullet train got off to a smooth start on Sunday, as hundreds of passengers whistled north across the border at speeds of up to 200 kph (125 mph), deepening integration of the former British colony with mainland China.
While the $11 billion rail project has raised fears for some over Beijing’s encroachment on the Chinese-ruled city’s cherished freedoms, passengers at the sleek harborfront station were full of praise for a service that reaches mainland China in less than 20 minutes.
“Out of 10 points, I give it nine,” said 10-year-old Ng Kwan-lap, who was traveling with his parents on the first train leaving for Shenzhen at 7 a.m.
“The train is great. It’s very smooth when it hits speeds of 200 kilometers per hour.”
Mainland Chinese immigration officers are stationed in one part of the modernist station that is subject to Chinese law, an unprecedented move that some critics say further erodes the city’s autonomy.
The project is part of a broader effort by Beijing to fuse the city into a vast hinterland of the Pearl River Delta including nine Chinese cities dubbed the Greater Bay Area.
Beijing wants the Greater Bay Area, home to some 68 million people with a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion, to foster economic integration and better meld people, goods and sectors across the region.
Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system.
But at a ceremony on Saturday ahead of the public opening, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam praised the so-called “co-location” arrangement with Beijing which the government has said is necessary to streamline immigration.
Scores of excited passengers straddled a yellow strip across black tiles that highlighted the demarcation line between Hong Kong and mainland China, while others passed through turnstiles surrounded by red, orange and white balloons.
“I’m excited to experience the high-speed train, even more excited than when I take a plane,” said a 71-year-old retiree surnamed Leung.
While there have been questions over whether Hong Kong residents would be able to access foreign social media, largely banned in mainland China, in zones subject to Chinese law, some passengers arriving in Shenzhen, on the mainland side, were able to bypass China’s so-called Great Firewall.
The rail link provides direct access to China’s massive 25,000-km national high-speed rail network and authorities on both sides have hailed it as a breakthrough that will bring economic benefits, including increased tourism.
“No matter what you think about the new line, high-speed rail is extremely convenient,” said Feng Yan, assistant professor at the Communication University of China in Beijing who took the bullet train from Shenzhen to Hong Kong.
“Even if it takes some time for people to realize how convenient it is, sooner or later they will.”