Campbell may have broken diamonds law, admit lawyers
Published 07/08/2010 | 05:00
NAOMI Campbell's legal team last night accepted that the supermodel may have broken the law when she received three unfinished diamonds as a gift from the alleged war criminal Charles Taylor.
Ms Campbell told a war crimes trial at The Hague on Thursday that she was given the gems following a party at Nelson Mandela's home in South Africa in 1997.
She said she was awoken in the middle of the night and handed a pouch containing the stones by two men whom she "assumed" were sent on behalf of Taylor, the former president of Liberia.
But Ms Campbell said she thought they were "dirty-looking pebbles" and, upon being told they were diamonds, she gave them to a friend.
However, under South African law, even being in possession of uncut diamonds without authority is an offence punishable by a fine or even a prison sentence.
Last night, Ms Campbell's solicitor appeared to accept that the model may have inadvertently broken the law simply by accepting the gift.
Gideon Benaim of the London firm Schillings said: "In terms of having uncut diamonds, we now know there is a statute in South African law dealing with uncut diamonds.
"But I would hope that the authorities in South Africa, after investigating, will not take action against her. Ms Campbell will, of course, co-operate fully if asked to do so."
He added: "She was given a gift many years ago. She did not ask for the gift and did not know precisely what they were. She also only had them for a very short period of time."
The possibility that Ms Campbell may have broken the law came to light as the South African police announced that officers had seized the diamonds at the centre of the supermodel's testimony.
Police spokesman Musa Zondi said: "They are now being handed over to the diamonds board for authentication and whatever happens after depends on a number of other things -- but there is an offence against possessing uncut diamonds."
Tests will attempt to verify whether the stones were mined in regions patrolled by rebels Mr Taylor is alleged to have armed in exchange for the stones. If so, it will be a key part of the prosecution's attempt to convict Taylor of facilitating the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians.
Yesterday, Jeremy Ractliffe, the former head of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the man to whom Ms Campbell gave the diamonds after the dinner in 1997, admitted he had had the stones ever since.
He said he would now co-operate with the Taylor war crimes trial if called as a witness.
He said: "Three small uncut diamonds were given to me by Naomi Campbell on September 26, 1997.
"I took them because I thought it might well be illegal for her to take uncut diamonds out of the country.
"Naomi suggested they could be of some benefit to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (NMCF) but I told her I would not involve the NMCF in anything that could be illegal.
"In the end, I decided I should just keep them. A factor that influenced me not to report the matter to any one was to protect the reputation of the NMCF, Mr Mandela himself and Naomi Campbell, none of whom were benefiting in any way." (© Independent News Services)