Campbell testifies at war crimes trial

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  • Published 6.08.10

The Hague, Aug. 5: Supermodel Naomi Campbell appeared today at the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, and testified that she had been given a pouch containing “very small, dirty-looking stones” after she met Taylor at a charity dinner with Nelson Mandela in 1997 in South Africa.

Campbell had been subpoenaed to testify about whether Taylor had sent her a gift of rough diamonds after the dinner. Prosecutors hope to show that Taylor lied under oath when he said that he never had any diamonds and did not trade any for weapons to support the bloody rampage by rebels in Sierra Leone during the country’s civil war.

Campbell said she had been at a dinner with Mandela, Taylor and others in South Africa and had later gone to her room at the presidential guest house in Pretoria. After she fell asleep, there was a knock on the door and two men presented her with a pouch. One of them said: “A gift for you,”Campbell said.

The men did not introduce themselves or say who the gift was from, she said. Campbell put the pouch next to her bed and went back to sleep without opening it, she testified. “I was extremely tired and I wasn’t sure who they were,” she said, referring to the men who brought the pouch.

The next morning, she opened the pouch. “I saw a few stones in there. They were very small, dirty-looking stones,” Campbell said. She later described them as “pebbles” and said that, at the time, she associated the word diamonds with glittering gem-stones.

When she went to breakfast she met other guests, including her former agent Carole White and the actress Mia Farrow, both of whom are set to testify later in the trial.

One of her fellow guests said the stones appeared to be diamonds and, Campbell testified, she replied: “I guess so.”

She did not keep the stones, but handed them on to a friend working for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. It was not clear what happened subsequently to the stones.

In the past, Farrow has said that Campbell told her the “unforgettable story” about a gift the day after she received it in September 1997. White has also said that she was present one night as two men sent by Taylor delivered a gift of small unpolished stones. But in court today, Campbell disputed the versions offered by those two witnesses in interviews with prosecutors.

In particular, the supermodel denied an account by White from May 2010, read to the court today, in which she told a prosecutor that Campbell had been “mildly flirtatious” with Taylor at dinner and that Taylor had said he would send her diamonds.

“That is not true at all,” Campbell said. Asked on several occasions to say whether her former agent had been lying, Campbell replied: “Correct.”

Wearing a cream-coloured outfit, Campbell’s appearance brought a whiff of unusual glamour to the court’s proceedings and has been widely followed across Europe.

Television bulletins in Britain, for instance, have featured a photograph of Campbell alongside Taylor and Nelson Mandela at the charity dinner that allegedly preceded the gift.

The guest photograph from that evening was presented in court today, showing a glitzy gathering alongside Taylor that included Campbell, Mandela, his future wife Graça Machel, the former Pakistani cricket star and politician Imran Khan and his then wife Jemima Goldsmith, the American music impresario Quincy Jones and Farrow.

Campbell said Mandela had invited her to South Africa for a charity event aboard the Blue Train running from Pretoria to Cape Town.

The trial revolves around the issue of so-called blood diamonds that drew huge international attention a decade ago when clandestine diamond sales fuelled civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Campbell said today she had never heard of blood diamonds at the time of dinner in 1997. Yesterday, judges in The Hague turned down an effort to delay Campbell’s appearance.