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

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Mariette Le Roux
Guest Author

Two dead in new ANC KwaZulu-Natal killings

A Mtubatuba councillor and a Hammarsdale ANC Youth League leader were shot yesterday near their homes

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it

Press Releases

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations