Legal Adventures of a Brazilian 840-Pound Emerald
On Monday in the Los Angeles Superior Court, the latest hearing began in the battle over ownership of the Brazilian 840-pound Bahia Emerald. Mayer Brown litigation partner John Nadolenco is representing the Brazilian government.
The case may be playing out in LA, but John's a former Washingtonian, having attended law school at American University's Washington College of Law. In 2013, the Brazilian government joined in the ongoing litigation over the 180,000 carat emerald's ownership. The gem, once valued at $372M, was mined in the Bahia region of Brazil in 2001. It was illegally extracted and exported, John says, and almost certainly illegally imported into the US. A national treasure, the emerald should be repatriated to Brazil. The country asked the court to dismiss or stay the case to allow Brazil to pursue its ownership claim.
There's a long and convoluted backstory to how the Bahia Emerald made its way to an "undisclosed location" in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. (That includes surviving an alleged panther attack, time in flooded New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, participation in a transaction with Bernie Madoff, and repeatedly changing hands and locations around the US.) In 2009, Los Angeles County sheriffs confiscated the gem, unable to determine to whom it belonged, and litigation over its ownership has played out since.
The colorful stories aren't too relevant to Brazil's assertion of rights to the emerald, John says. The minute it was mined in 2001, it belonged to the country of Brazil and still does. (At least eight people have claimed their right to the emerald.) John started his representation of the matter last year after he flew to Brasilia in August with pitch materials to talk about strategy with the Brazilian government and he and the firm were retained. Meanwhile, Brazilian officials continue to work with the DOJ on the rock's return.
Currently one of the co-heads of Mayer Brown's litigation practice, John says he realized very early on that he wanted to be a litigator. After interning for a senator, he went to law school and joined the appellate advocacy team. Though he hasn't had the opportunity to see the Bahia Emerald in person due to its secure status, John tells us he hopes his next trip is to visit it where it belongs, in a museum in Brazil.