“For decades, De Beers has possessed monopolistic power in the diamond industry…” reads the opening line of a class action lawsuit against De Beers brought by Emert and Katie Null in July 2005.
The Nulls accused De Beers of illegally restraining trade, controlling and limiting diamond inventories, and falsely advertising the scarcity of diamonds in order to boost prices.
The Nulls brought the class suit “on behalf of all people who purchased diamonds in the state of Illinois,” but excluded sightholders, diamond dealers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. The plaintiffs say members of the class paid more than fair value for diamonds purchased due to monopolistic practices by De Beers, and sought “less than” $75,000 per and for individual class members plus legal fees.
On November 30, 2005, De Beers released a statement saying an “agreement has been reached, and a preliminary approval order issued, to settle the majority of civil class action suits filed against De Beers in the United States.”
De Beers said that in settling the claims, it does “not involve any admission of liability on the part of De Beers and will bring an end to a number of outstanding disputes.”
The settlement announced by De Beers is for $250 million, and they name the following plaintiffs/cases: Null vs. DB Investments, et. al.; Sullivan vs. DB Investments, et. al.; Hopkins vs. De Beers Centenary AG, et. al; and Cornwell vs. D.B. Investments.
The cases are all similar in nature and list the same causes of action for price fixing and monopolistic practices. In June 2004, about one year prior to the Null’s amended complaint, Arrigotti Fine Jewelry and two of its customers, all of whom resided in California, sued De Beers for violating anti-trust laws –or the Sherman Act– in Sullivan vs. DB Investments.
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act is meant to limit a combination of corporations from agreeing to not lower prices below a certain rate in order to reduce competition and control prices within an industry.
“Defendants [De Beers Group of companies] routinely acknowledge that their control over the diamond industry constitutes an illegal monopoly that violates United States antitrust laws,” the plaintiffs wrote.
Arrigotti, Shawn Sullivan, and James Walnum, alleged supply quotas were withheld from the market, that De Beers refused to work with anyone other than “entities under their control,” restricted and price-fixed polished diamonds.
Furthermore they claimed De Beers conspired with sightholders to artificially keep polished diamonds out of “free and open competition.”
Arrigotti’s case requested of the court to name De Beers as engaged in unlawful contract, conspiracy, and that it indeed violated the Sherman Act. The court was asked to permanently restrain the defendants from continuing the practice of monopoly and conspiracy in the United States.
De Beers states, “We believe that settling these suits is the most sensible and responsible course of action for the company to take.”
“We do not wish to comment or speculate on the approval process itself, or the issues under consideration by the court. Therefore, for the time being, we have nothing further to add to this statement.”
Outgoing managing director Gary Ralfe was quoted in the announcement as saying the settlement is “behind us, De Beers can now focus greater attention and resources on being a leader in all of our markets and playing a leading role to address humanitarian issues such as the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
De Beers says any final settlement is subject to approval by the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey and the company hopes their offer is approved in 2006.
There is currently a major lawsuit against DeBeers filed by the W.B. David Corp in reference to losing their Siteholder status
due, they claim, DeBeers implementation of their Supplier of Choice program. This lawsuit is in process.