Thursday 27 April 2017

Naomi knew gems were from warlord, court told

Aislinn Laing in Johannesburg

The Nelson Mandela charity boss who accepted alleged "blood diamonds" from Naomi Campbell has contradicted the model's claim that she did not know they came from Charles Taylor, the Liberian warlord.

Jeremy Ractliffe told a South African court yesterday that Miss Campbell told him she was given the diamonds by "the African leader who sat next to her" at a dinner party in 1997.

Charles Taylor, Liberia's president at the time, was the only African leader at the dinner hosted by then President Nelson Mandela in Pretoria.

He is being tried on 11 counts of war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone, including charges of murder, rape and sexual slavery, and is accused of trading in "blood diamonds" to pay for a war carried out by Sierra Leonean rebels. It is alleged that he gave some of those gems to Miss Campbell.

Called to give evidence at Mr Taylor's trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague last August, Miss Campbell said that she had no idea the diamonds came from Mr Taylor, but that fellow guests on the trip had suggested as much to her the morning after the dinner.

Mia Farrow, the American actress, and Carole White, Miss Campbell's former agent, both told the court that the model told them they came from Mr Taylor.

In a statement read to a court in Alexandra, Johannesburg, Mr Ractliffe said Miss Campbell told him and his wife Gayle how she was given the "dirty-looking stones" the evening after the dinner.

"Naomi Campbell told us that late on the night of September 25, two people whose names she did not know came to her room and handed her three diamonds as a present from the African leader who had sat next to her at the dinner party," he said.

Illegal

"She appeared to be at a loss as to what to do with them." said Mr Ractliffe. "She suggested that they could possibly be given to the fund," he said. "I told her that I did not want to involve the fund in anything that could possibly be of dubious origin, or even illegal.

"Reluctantly, I offered to keep the stones for her and to see what could be done with them. I thought there would be no harm in simply leaving them where they were (in a safe in his home) until Naomi either asked for them back, which seemed unlikely, or life presented an opportunity where I could have used them for the good of the fund."

After Miss Campbell revealed at The Hague that Mr Ractliffe still had the diamonds, he handed them over to police.

He was yesterday cleared of charges of illegally possessing uncut diamonds.

Magistrate Renier Boshoff ruled that the state had not used an expert to determine the stones were diamonds, despite an official from the Diamond Regulator declaring they made up 5.9 Carats and were worth 25,000 rand (€2,500).

The judge's verdict in the ICC case against Mr Taylor is expected later this year. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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