At the request of the US Department of Justice (DOJ), a Washington DC federal court today issued a restraining order protecting the famed 840-pound, $400 million “Bahia Emerald.” The DOJ obtained the restraining order at the request of the Federative Republic of Brazil, which has brought criminal charges in Brazil against two businessmen alleged to have illegally mined, transported, and exported the Emerald to the US.

In the case, led by Mayer Brown Litigation & Dispute Resolution partners John Nadolenco and Kelly Kramer, Brazil has sought to protect its interests in the Emerald in both US state and federal courts. Earlier this year, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused to dismiss a case purporting to determine the Emerald’s ownership even though Brazil was not a party to the action. After the state court’s refusal, federal authorities agreed to seek a restraining order to protect Brazil’s interest in the Emerald pursuant to a mutual legal assistance treaty. Today’s restraining order marks a significant step in Brazil’s quest to reclaim one of the world’s largest gems.

“We have always maintained that the ownership of the Bahia Emerald is a matter of international relations and should be decided at that level,” Nadolenco said. “The Bahia Emerald was illegally mined and unlawfully exported from Brazil, and we are grateful that the Department of Justice and the federal courts have acted to protect it. This is an important step toward returning the Emerald to its rightful home.”

The Bahia Emerald has led a storied existence since being pulled from a mine in Brazil’s Bahia region in 2001. Since 2008, roughly half a dozen parties have claimed ownership, claiming to have acquired the gem in a series of related and unrelated business deals. Along its journey, the Emerald is said to have survived a black panther attack, the floods of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans where it was submerged in a warehouse, and was reportedly involved in a banking transaction with Bernard Madoff. In 2008, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department seized the emerald and stored it in an undisclosed location, where it remains today, pending the DOJ’s restraining order.