Thursday, August 5, 2010

Naomi Campbell's gift of ‘dirty-looking stones’

Supermodel Naomi Campbell told a war crimes court on Thursday she that had received a gift of “dirty-looking stones” she assumed was from Liberia’s Charles Taylor after a 1997 dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela.

“When I was sleeping I had a knock at my door and I opened my door and two men were there and gave me a pouch and said: ‘A gift for you’,” the model told the court, dressed in a classical, beige two-piece with a knee-length skirt. Her long, straightened hair was swept back in a stylish bun, and she wore a sparkling, choker necklace. Campbell said she left the pouch next to her bed, went back to bed and opened it the next morning. “I saw a few stones in there. Very small, dirty-looking stones,” she said, adding “there was no explanation, no note”. The model told judges she “would not have guessed right away” that the contents of the pouch, “dirty-looking pebbles”, were diamonds. “I am used to seeing diamonds shiny and in a box, you know.”

At breakfast that morning, Ms Campbell said she told her then modelling agent Carole White and actress Mia Farrow about the gift. “One of the two said that is obviously Charles Taylor and I said: ‘Yes, I guess it was’.”

Prosecutors of the Special Court for Sierra Leone have called Campbell, 40, to the stand in a bid to disprove the former Liberian president’s claim that he never possessed rough diamonds. They say that Taylor, 62, had men deliver at least one so-called “blood diamond” to Campbell’s room after the two met at a celebrity dinner hosted by Mandela, then South African president. Taylor allegedly took the diamonds to South Africa “to sell ... or exchange them for weapons”. Accused of seeking to “take political and physical control of Sierra Leone in order to exploit its abundant natural resources ... diamonds”, Mr Taylor has denied the claims.

Ms Campbell said she gave the stones to a friend, an official of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, “to do something with”. “I didn’t want to keep them,” she said, adding there were “maybe three, two or three,” stones in the pouch. She added she never saw Taylor again and never confronted him about the gift, which she said she had not found strange. “I get gifts given to me all the time, at all hours of the night,” she told the court, adding that “it is quite normal for me to receive gifts.” Citing concerns for her security, the supermodel won a court order barring journalists from photographing or filming her arrival and departure from the courthouse.

Ms White and Ms Farrow, who both attended Mandela’s dinner, are to testify about the gift next Monday. Mr Taylor’s lead defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths has argued that Campbell’s evidence is “entirely based on conjecture”, stressing in court filings that Ms Campbell has previously denied publicly ever receiving a diamond or diamonds from Taylor. Ms 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. Blood diamonds, like the one he allegedly gave to supermodel Naomi Campbell, are at the heart of the trial of Taylor in the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Taylor, was the president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003. He is accused of arming neighbouring Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in exchange for “blood diamonds” — so called for being mined in rebel-held regions of Africa and sold to fund warfare. The prosecution claims that Taylor wanted “to take political and physical control of Sierra Leone in order to exploit its abundant natural resources ... diamonds”.

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