UPDATE 3-BHP exits diamonds with sale to Harry Winston

Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:50pm EST
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* BHP sells controlling stake in EKATI mine for $500 mln in cash

* Sale sees BHP exit diamond industry

* Takes a $200 mln non-cash writedown as result of sale

* Harry Winston shares fall 2.23 pct to C$13.15 on TSX

By Clara Ferreira-Marques

LONDON, Nov 13 (Reuters) - BHP Billiton has agreed to sell its Canadian EKATI diamond operation to Harry Winston for $500 million, as the luxury jeweller bets on rising prices that could extend the life of Canada's oldest diamond mine.

Miner BHP - which has been narrowing its portfolio to focus on larger, long-life assets - announced the sale almost a year after it first said it planned to pull out of diamonds and would sell assets including its 80 percent stake in EKATI, the cornerstone of its diamond business.

One of several jewellers that have gone into mining to secure access to diamonds, Harry Winston has long been named as a potential suitor for EKATI - it already partners rival Rio Tinto at nearby Diavik, with a 40 percent stake.

The luxury jeweller had been expected to focus its attention on Diavik after Rio said earlier this year it was following BHP's lead and would consider the sale of its diamond assets. Harry Winston has a right of first refusal on Diavik.   Continued...