/ 3 August 2010

Spotlight on Naomi Campbell in war-crimes trial

The spotlight in Charles Taylor’s war crimes trial shifts on Thursday to supermodel Naomi Campbell when she testifies about an uncut diamond he allegedly sent to her room after they met at a 1997 dinner.

Prosecutors say the feisty model’s evidence will disprove the former Liberian president’s claim that he never possessed rough diamonds, but Taylor’s lawyer says it is “nothing but a cheap publicity stunt”.

“Already the public gallery, we are told, is packed out. It has never been the case throughout the proceedings,” said defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths.

“It [the media attention] will bring to the public mind again all the negative things said about Charles Taylor over the years,” he claimed of the prosecution’s motive.

Taylor’s defence has applied to the Special Court for Sierra Leone for a last-minute delay of 40-year-old Campbell’s testimony, saying they had not been given a summary of her evidence and could not prepare a response.

A decision may only be given on the day of the scheduled hearing.

Prosecutors claim that Taylor (62) had men deliver a so-called “blood diamond” to Campbell’s room after he met the model at a celebrity dinner hosted by then South African president Nelson Mandela in 1997.

Material witness
It is relevant because Taylor, accused of seeking to “take political and physical control of Sierra Leone in order to exploit its abundant natural resources … diamonds”, has denied ever dealing in or possessing rough diamonds.

“Ms Campbell is a material witness … as it was to her that the accused chose to give the diamond he supposedly did not have,” a prosecution filing states.

Campbell’s former agent Carole White and actress Mia Farrow, who both attended the dinner, are to testify about the late-night gift next Monday.

White claims she was present when the diamond was delivered, while Farrow says Campbell told her about it the next morning over breakfast.

Campbell herself has refused to talk to prosecutors, citing fears for her family’s safety, which prompted them to get a court subpoena for her testimony.

A spokesman for the court said more than 200 journalists from around the world had sought accreditation for Thursday’s hearing.

Some will be disappointed, with only 40 seats available in the public gallery of the courtroom and 36 in the media centre.

Taylor has been on trial in The Hague since 2008 on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the 1991-2001 civil war in Sierra Leone — accused of arming rebels in return for illegally mined diamonds.

Campbell’s testimony, due to open at 9am (7am GMT) on Thursday, should take “one to two hours”, said prosecutor Brenda Hollis, adding that investigators still had “no statements” from the model.

Added Griffiths: “We can’t see that her evidence has any relevance whatsoever. She has made two public statements to the effect that she has not received any diamond from Mr Taylor whatsoever. This does not support the case they are trying to make.

“He [Taylor] denies having given her any diamonds.”

Campbell’s lawyer Gideon Benaim stressed that “Naomi has not done anything wrong”.

“She is a witness and not on trial herself. Whilst she would rather not be involved in this case at all, she will nevertheless attend to assist the court as requested,” he said in a written response to questions. – AFP