Johannesburg - The mystery over a 50-carat pink diamond that allegedly disappeared from a Geneva company last year has led to allegations by two South African businessmen that they are in fact the owners of the multimillion-dollar gem.
The Pink Panther-type saga emerged publicly last month when Sylla Moussa, head of Joburg-based company Sylla Diamond International, filed a complaint against Swiss storage and transport company Malca-Amit after the gem allegedly vanished.
The Geneva prosecutor’s office confirmed at the beginning of last month that they had opened an investigation into the 50.66-carat diamond.
Moussa said he had placed the large, rectangular diamond, worth R527 million ($50 million), in storage with Malca-Amit in 2007.
But when he wanted to see the gem last August, he was told it had been transferred to South African businessman Moti Abbas, otherwise known as Zunaid Moti.
Moti is a well-known property tycoon.
Malca-Amit has denied Moussa’s allegations. In a public statement made earlier this year, the company said they stored the diamond for Moussa in 2007, with a declared value of $15m.
“The following year, Moussa is understood to have defaulted on a debt and relinquished possession and ownership of the diamond to his creditor (Moti). At that time, Moussa came to Malca-Amit in Geneva and personally delivered the diamond to his creditor, in the presence of witnesses.
“The diamond was then given to Malca-Amit for storage, under the name and ownership of the creditor – not Mr Moussa,” the company said.
Malca-Amit also said that Moussa had been involved in criminal wrongdoing in South Africa and, according to local media articles, was involved in fraud, theft and money laundering as well as wrongfully accusing police officers of diamond robbery.
Francisco Bautista, the manager of Malca-Amit in Geneva, said what was happening was nothing more than an ownership dispute.
Moussa said he had no criminal convictions in South Africa, and he laid a complaint of defamation against the company.
He said Moti was not his creditor and he never gave him ownership of the diamond.
Moussa added that he and Moti were in talks over his becoming a partner in Moussa’s diamond business.
“He (Moti) wanted to be a partner in my business, but after making one payment into my bank account, he blocked it and never paid the rest, so the deal fell through,” Moussa said.
He said he had documents proving that he is the owner of the diamond and “never changed the ownership of that diamond. And if they said I did, then it was done fraudulently.”
Moussa said he had taken Moti to Malca-Amit to see the diamond in 2008 when they were in business discussions, but he never handed him ownership of the stone.
Moti said Moussa was lying and he had all the documents relating to the diamond. He said he could not say more because the matter was sub judice, and referred The Star to his business partner Ashraf Kaka.
Kaka said the diamond was given to the Moti family as security for a loan granted to Moussa.
He said Moussa had given up ownership of the gem because he did not pay the loan.
Kaka said Moussa was lying about the sale of his business to Moti.
“It is impossible, we would have looked at the company,” Kaka said.
A legal representative from Malca-Amit, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the company had launched an in-depth internal investigation after Moussa filed the criminal complaint and felt very comfortable with their position.
He said Moussa was the contract holder of the diamond until 2008, when he came to the company premises with Moti and instructed the company to make a new storage agreement for the diamond under Moti’s name, as he was the new owner.