/ 5 August 2010

Campbell tells court of gift of ‘dirty-looking stones’

British supermodel Naomi Campbell, testifying at the war-crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, said on Thursday she had been given a pouch containing diamonds while in South Africa in 1997.

“I saw a few stones, they were very small, dirty-looking stones,” she told the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, but added she was not sure who the diamonds were from.

Prosecutors summoned Campbell to support their allegations that Taylor received diamonds from rebels in Sierra Leone and used them to buy weapons during a 1997 trip to South Africa.

Taylor has denied the allegations as “nonsense”.

He is charged with 11 counts of instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers during wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in which more than 250 000 people were killed. He denies all the charges.

Campbell told the court she had been woken up by two men who knocked at her bedroom door and gave her a pouch, saying they said to her: “A gift for you.” She then put the pouch beside her bed and opened it up the next morning.

“When they gave me the pouch … I went back to bed. I looked into the pouch the next morning.”

She said she had recounted the incident at breakfast to actress Mia Farrow and modelling agent Carole White.

“One of the two said ‘That’s obviously Charles Taylor’, and I said I guess it was,” the model told the court.

Speaking calmly, Campbell said either Farrow or White had said the stones were probably diamonds, but she did not recall showing the stones to the women, despite taking the pouch with her to breakfast.

Defence lawyers for Taylor tried to delay her testimony, arguing the ex-Liberian president’s right to a fair trial was being denied because they had not seen her full intended statement.

Late on Wednesday, the court dismissed the defence motion so that Campbell’s testimony could go ahead as planned.

Photo ban
Citing concerns for her security, the 40-year-old supermodel won a court order barring journalists from photographing or filming her arrival and departure from the courthouse.

She was, however, filmed while giving testimony and was wearing a cream-coloured outfit and a choker necklace with her hair tied in a bun.

Prosecutors had said Taylor — accused of receiving the diamonds from rebels a month before his trip to South Africa — gave Campbell a large rough cut diamond after a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela.

“The timing of this dinner is important because if this story … is true, it places Taylor in possession of at least one rough-cut diamond the month after the rebels came to see him, and the month before the junta received a large shipment of weapons in October,” said Open Society Justice Initiative, a human rights organisation monitoring the Taylor trial.

Prosecutors plan to call White and Farrow to the stand next Monday.

The prosecution says White had heard Taylor say he was going to give Campbell a diamond and was there when she received it, while Farrow attended the reception where Campbell met Taylor and was told later by Campbell about the gift.

The court has granted one of Campbell’s lawyers a limited right to intervene on whether to allow questions for Campbell if she could incriminate herself by answering them.

Taylor’s lead defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths has argued that Campbell’s evidence is “entirely based on conjecture”, stressing in court filings that Campbell has previously denied publicly ever receiving a diamond or diamonds from Taylor.

Campbell initially refused to testify, prompting the court to subpoena her. A subpoena is a legal measure used to gain testimony from an unwilling witness on the threat of a fine or imprisonment. – Reuters