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180,000-karat gem sparks international debate

Several people are staking a claim on the 840-pound emerald, but they're up against the entire country of Brazil
Battle for massive and prized Bahia Emerald 02:35

One of the largest and rarest gems in the world is at the center of a court battle in Los Angeles. Several people are staking a claim to the 840-pound emerald, but they're taking on an entire country, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Kit Morrison said the Bahia belongs to him and two of his associates.

"We've beaten six people," Morrison said. "We've either settled with them or beaten them in court to show that we are the bonafide purchaser of this emerald. We are the last man standing, if you will."

The emerald was first discovered in Brazil's Bahia mines in 2001. It was reportedly shipped from São Paulo to northern California, then bought, sold and allegedly stolen several times in several locations. Then in 2008, a man named Larry Biegler reported it stolen from his California warehouse. Police found the emerald in Las Vegas in the possession of Morrison, who said he bought it from Biegler.

Morrison said he paid seven figures for the emerald and has proof.

"We have a purchase and sale agreement we have a lot of documentation," he said.

But the stone's story isn't that crystal clear.

"It belongs to Brazil and we are going to fight for it," Brazilian government representative Marconi Melo said.

The government claims in court documents that the emerald was "illegally mined, illegally transported, illegally exported to the United States."

When asked if they would even care if the emerald weren't worth so much money, Melo said, "We care that no gem or stone or mineral of Brazil could be taken out of the country without the correct authorization."

He sees it as an exploitation of Brazil's resources.

In court Monday morning, Brazil will ask a judge to dismiss Morrison's claim to the gem. Attorney John Nadolenco is representing Brazil and said the case against Morrison is clear.

"The emerald was never theirs to buy, trade, sell, or invest in," Nadolenco said. "The second it came out of the ground, it belonged to Brazil and it still does."

If it succeeds, the Brazilian government says the Bahia Emerald's new home would be in a museum.

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