Supermodel Naomi Campbell told the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor that two strangers handed her some “dirty looking stones” after a 1997 dinner at Nelson Mandela’s home also attended by the former Liberian President.
“When I was sleeping, I heard a knock on the door,” Campbell, 40, told the Special Court for Sierra Leone, near The Hague today. “Two men gave me a pouch and said ‘a gift to you’. I opened it the following morning. I saw a few stones, they were very small dirty looking stones.”
Taylor, who is on trial for crimes against humanity during the Sierra Leone civil war, has been accused by Chief Prosecutor Brenda Hollis of giving the British model a diamond after the Mandela dinner. Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, have been used to fund wars throughout Africa. Taylor last year denied providing weapons to fighters in the Revolutionary United Front, a Sierra Leone rebel movement, in exchange for diamonds.
Campbell’s testimony may refute Taylor’s claim he never possessed rough diamonds.
Actress Mia Farrow told prosecutors last year that the morning after the dinner, which she also attended, Campbell said a “large diamond” was delivered to her room by men who told her it was from Taylor.
Carole White, Campbell’s former agent, has said she heard Taylor say he wanted to give Campbell diamonds and after dinner witnessed the stones being delivered on his behalf. Both White, with whom Campbell has an ongoing legal dispute, and Farrow are scheduled to testify Aug. 9.
Carole White “was not with me when I received them,” Campbell said in response to a question from Taylor’s defense lawyer Courtenay Griffiths. “It is someone I trusted and worked with and it is someone I no longer trust.”
Campbell, who was wearing a beige two-piece suit as she took the oath, said she told Farrow and White about the gift the following morning in Mandela’s residence.
“One of them said that is obviously Charles Taylor and I said I guess it was,” Campbell said.
Taylor has pleaded innocent to 11 counts including enlisting child soldiers, murder and sexual slavery during the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone. As many as 250,000 people were killed in the conflict.
“Somebody like Naomi Campbell, I’m sure, gets offered very expensive gifts from time to time,” Taylor’s lawyer Griffiths told reporters after the hearing. “But what I fail to see is the logical link between the gift of a diamond to a beautiful woman and the purchase of weapons and ammunition.”
The supermodel was in South Africa to attend a fundraising activity of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
Campbell, who sat between Mandela and music producer Quincy Jones during dinner, said she initially didn’t know who Taylor was.
Interest in Liberia
“Mr. Mandela explained to Mr. Taylor what I did” for the children’s fund, Campbell said. “I spoke in general, I was interested in Liberia, I didn’t hear about it before.” She said she never had contact with Taylor since then.
The supermodel said she gave the stones to Jeremy Ratcliffe, at the time the head of the fund.
“I get gifts given to me all the time, at all hours of the night,” Campbell said today. “I said take them, do something with them, make the children better, I don’t want to keep them.”
Taylor’s lawyer Griffiths presented the court with a letter from the fund, stating it never received any diamonds from Campbell or anyone else and that it considered such a gift would be illegal.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Taylor headed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, an armed group, prosecutors said. Taylor, now 62, was president of the West African country from 1997 to 2003. Prosecutors have said Taylor led a campaign to terrorize the civilians of Sierra Leone, which neighbors Liberia, as he sought control of that country’s diamond mines.
Taylor was apprehended in Nigeria and transferred to The Hague in 2006. The court was set up in 2002 by the United Nations and Sierra Leone to prosecute those responsible for breaking international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law in the country since 1996.
Eight people have been sentenced to jail terms ranging from 15 to 52 years by the court, which will close down after Taylor’s trial.