De Beers Settles Some Suits, Still Has Others

De Beers recently agreed to pay $250 million to settle a group of consumer-driven class-action antitrust lawsuits.

In the suits, a group of consumers alleged that De Beers owed them money for keeping diamond prices high in violation of American antitrust laws. That means that, in theory, this settlement is owed to every consumer who purchased a diamond from Jan. 1, 1994, to the date of the settlement. It remains to be seen how that money will be distributed.

The settlement does not involve any admission of liability on De Beers’ part. It is subject to court approval.

The settlement agreement, obtained by JCK, also puts a number of unprecedented restrictions on De Beers’ behavior, including the stipulation that it abide by American antitrust laws. Spokeswoman Lynette Hori said, “We are confident that our business model is legally robust and that we are fully compliant with U.S. law as well as the laws of jurisdictions where we do, in fact, conduct our business activities.”

De Beers still faces several thorny lawsuits, including one from defrocked sightholder W.B. David (see sidebar); one from Anco Industrial Diamond alleging anticompetitive conduct; and another from Derek Parsons, head of the Miami diamond bourse, charging that De Beers is eliminating industry middlemen. Because it lacks an official U.S. presence, De Beers has defaulted on these suits.

De Beers spokesman Andy Bone said that eventually De Beers hopes to settle all the suits. “It is part of our general strategy to put all of these things behind us,” he said.

De Beers has previously indicated that these suits are preventing the company from establishing an official presence in America. But Bone told JCK that regardless of what happens with the suits, De Beers is not currently interested in entering the United States.

Many of the provisions De Beers agreed to clearly show that its monopoly days are behind it.

The company agreed not to enter into an agreement with any “third-party producer” to be the exclusive purchasers of that producer’s rough diamonds—something it did regularly in the days when De Beers ran the Central Selling Organisation—although De Beers can still buy from Russian producer Alrosa, if the De Beers–Alrosa agreement is OK’d by the European Commission and other regulators. De Beers can also enter into joint ventures.

It also pledged not to order any sightholder to “set or fix the resale price of rough diamonds,” “restrict the entities from which a sightholder can [purchase or sell] rough diamonds,” or restrict the geographic region to which a sightholder may sell. This does not, however, preclude De Beers from selecting sightholders based on established criteria in a process approved by the European Commission (meaning Supplier of Choice).

In a statement, De Beers managing director Gary Ralfe called settling the suits “the most sensible and responsible course of action for the company to take.”

Jared Stamell, a New York attorney involved in several of the lawsuits against De Beers, said the settlement was a “good move and step forward for the company.”

The settlement affects several consumer antitrust suits, including the first of its kind, recently filed in Madison County, Ill. The case—Leider v. Ralfe—has been so far unsuccessful in getting damages and will cease as the result of this settlement.