Another bit of circumstantial evidence has brought UN war crimes prosecutors one step closer to linking former Liberian President Charles Taylor to the use of “blood diamonds” to fund his brutal civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
On Friday morning, a friend of model Naomi Campbell’s handed over three uncut diamonds to the special UN war-crimes trial of Mr. Taylor at The Hague. The diamonds, which Ms. Campbell described as “dirty looking stones” in her Thursday testimony, had been handed to Campbell by unknown men after she met Taylor at a 1997 dinner party in Johannesburg, hosted by then-South African President Nelson Mandela.
Campbell told prosecutors that she didn’t know who the gift was from, and didn’t know the men who gave her the stones. She later handed them over to Jeremy Ratclifffe, an administrator of a charity set up by Mandela for children.
“Three small uncut diamonds were given to me by Naomi Campbell on the Blue Train on 26 September 1997,” Mr. Ratcliffe is quoted by Reuters as saying in a statement. Ratcliffe said he eventually decided against selling them because he didn’t want to tarnish the name of the charity.
While Campbell could not directly link the stones with Taylor in her testimony, her former agent and other celebrity guests at the Mandela dinner party are likely to testify next week that Campbell had bragged about the gift from Taylor.
Prosecutors are eager to prove that Taylor used “blood diamonds” – or diamonds used to fund conflicts – as a way to arm his ragtag army of child soldiers during the decade-long civil war that led to his election in 1997. More than 250,000 people were killed during the civil wars that Taylor led in both Liberia and in the neighboring nation of Sierra Leone. He was deposed in 2003.
The tangential involvement of a charity linked to Mr. Mandela, a man credited for reconciling the black majority with the white minority during his time as president, is a troubling new development in the case, and one that Ratcliffe says he did his best to prevent.
"A factor that influenced me not to report the matter to anyone was to protect the reputation of the [Nelson Mandela Children's Fund], Mr Mandela himself and Naomi Campbell, none of whom were benefiting in any way. So I did not inform the [Fund] or anyone else," Mr Ratcliffe said in his statement. He has indicated that he is willing to testify in Taylor’s case.