Naomi Campbell, the British supermodel, took the witness box at the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor on Thursdayand admitted receiving a pouch of “very small dirty-looking stones” in response to questions seeking to establish whether she had received conflict diamonds from the Liberian president in 1997.
Prosecutors called Ms Campbell because they want to prove that Mr Taylor was in possession of so-called “blood diamonds” from rebels in Sierra Leone that, they say, were used to buy arms from Mr Taylor.
However, Ms Campbell’s testimony stopped short of directly linking the diamonds to Mr Taylor or to Sierra Leone.
Ms Campbell said that, a few hours after a charity dinner in South Africa hosted by Nelson Mandela, unidentified men came to her room, woke her and then handed her the gift.
Mr Taylor, 62, is accused of orchestrating a campaign of terror in Sierra Leone to gain control of the country’s diamond resources, using methods including murder, sexual slavery and the recruitment of child soldiers during a decade-long civil war that left tens of thousands dead.
“I don’t know a thing about Charles Taylor, I’d never heard of him before, I’d never heard of the country Liberia before, I’d never heard of the term blood diamonds before,” Ms Campbell said. “I’m used to seeing diamonds shiny in a box, that’s the kind of diamond I’m used to seeing.”
Ms Campbell, who was ordered to appear before the court after refusing to co-operate with prosecutors, previously denied receiving any diamonds from Mr Taylor.
The diamonds were given to Jeremy Ratcliffe, at the time the head of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, after the breakfast, in order to raise money for the charity, Ms Campbell said.
But she also claimed that when she spoke to Mr Ratcliffe last year, he still had them. The charity said it had not received the diamonds, according to a letter shown in court.
According to her testimony, either Mia Farrow, the US actress, or Carole White, her former agent, suggested that the stones in the pouch were rough-cut diamonds and came from Mr Taylor when she discussed the matter at breakfast the following morning. Ms Campbell said she assumed the suggestions had been correct.
Ms Campbell, who was ordered to appear before the court after refusing to co-operate with prosecutors, has previously denied receiving any diamonds from Mr Taylor.
She said she had given the pouch to the head of a charity after the breakfast. Ms Farrow and Ms White are to appear in court on Monday.
The improbable collision of the worlds of fashion and international justice took place in an equally strange location – a converted basketball court that had been used by Dutch spies before the building in a suburb of The Hague was vacated by the intelligence service and converted into an international tribunal.
Mr Taylor’s trial, which has run for three years, is hearing the case for the defence but prosecutors won leave to reopen their case in order to hear Ms Campbell and the two other witnesses.