BHP Billiton announced it would sell its diamonds business, which consists of its interests in the EKATI Diamond Mine and Diamonds Marketing operations, to Harry Winston Diamond Mines Ltd. for $500 million. The deal is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2013.

Under the terms of the agreements, Harry Winston will assume all of BHP Billiton’s obligations under EKATI’s environmental, aboriginal and socio-economic agreements with Canada and the Northwest Territories. Harry Winston is also committed to maintaining EKATI’s environmental standards and will continue to work with local businesses and communities in the Canadian North. All BHP Billiton employees working at EKATI, in Yellowknife and in Diamonds Marketing in Antwerp will become employees of Harry Winston as part of the transaction.

“We are very proud of EKATI’s track record and the substantial value it has created for the region and our shareholders,” said BHP Billiton Diamonds & Specialty Products President Tim Cutt. “The mine’s success is a credit to the people who work there, at Yellowknife and with the marketing team in Antwerp. Harry Winston has a long experience in the Canadian diamond industry and their commitment to study further development at EKATI could help extend the mine’s contribution to Northern Canada for many years to come.”

The EKATI divestiture falls in line with BHP Billiton’s message earlier this year to pursue a simpler business and focus on large, long-life, low-cost, expandable, upstream assets.