Model's testimony

War crimes trial is disputed

As the war crimes trial of the former Liberian president Charles Taylor blended with a celebrity spectacle, two witnesses, one of them the actress Mia Farrow, challenged testimony last week by the supermodel Naomi Campbell about whether Mr. Taylor made her a gift of diamonds after a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela 13 years ago.

Ms. Farrow quoted Ms. Campbell on Monday as saying the day after the dinner in Pretoria, South Africa, that Mr. Taylor, who denies trading in so-called conflict diamonds, had sent her a "huge diamond" during the night but that she planned to donate it to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. Ms. Campbell's former agent, Carole White, also testified Monday as a prosecution witness and said Ms. Campbell and Mr. Taylor appeared to be flirting at the dinner and Ms. Campbell had said, "He's going to give me some diamonds."

"They were quite enjoying each other's company," said Ms. White, referring to Mr. Taylor and Ms. Campbell. In a separate case, Ms. White is suing Ms. Campbell over overdue payments, according to Ms. White's lawyer. Ms. White said in court on Monday that Ms. Campbell was countersuing her, but the suits were not related to the diamonds. Last week, Ms. Campbell said she found it an inconvenience to attend the trial, where she has been subpoenaed on behalf of prosecutors. They are seeking to establish another link between Mr. Taylor and diamonds used to fuel conflict.

Several earlier witnesses at the trial, among them former close aides of Mr. Taylor, have already testified that rough diamonds from Sierra Leone were delivered to Mr. Taylor's mansion by rebel commanders who then left with weapons that had been stored in the house.

At a hearing of Mr. Taylor's trial last Thursday, Ms. Campbell said two unidentified men had come to her room at the presidential guesthouse in September 1997, after the dinner hosted by Mr. Mandela. They presented her with a pouch containing "very small, dirty-looking stones." But, in a setback for the prosecution, she said she did not know who the men were or who had sent them.

Contradicting that account on Monday, Ms. White told the court in The Hague that she had heard Ms. Campbell discussing with a Liberian official how the diamonds would be delivered. And, she said, she was present when two men returned to the presidential guesthouse some time after midnight and handed over five or six stones wrapped in "scruffy paper."

The stones were "quite disappointing" because they did not sparkle, Ms. White said. The men left and, discussing the gift, Ms. White and Ms. Campbell concluded that the diamonds were "not very impressive."

Mr. Taylor has denied charges of war crimes including murder, rape, sexual enslavement and recruiting child soldiers. The prosecution alleges that Mr. Taylor received uncut diamonds from rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in return for weapons used in a civil war that killed tens of thousands of people. But he denies all the charges against him.

Ms. Campbell said it was only at a breakfast the following morning with Ms. White and Ms. Farrow that one of them suggested the diamonds had come from Mr. Taylor. She said she passed the stones later that day to Jeremy Ractliffe, then the chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

Mr. Ractliffe said last week that he had received three small uncut diamonds from Ms. Campbell and had kept them until he handed them to the police last Thursday. Ms. White said the diamonds were handed over on board on the luxury Blue Train to Cape Town from Pretoria. Ms. Campbell and others were riding the train as part of a fund-raiser on behalf of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

Mr. Ractliffe was "quite shocked and horrified" and "looked very uncomfortable to accept these diamonds," Ms. White said.

Earlier on Monday, Ms. Farrow had offered another version of events.

Under intense cross-examination from Mr. Taylor's legal team, Ms. Farrow insisted repeatedly that Ms. Campbell had arrived at the breakfast table saying she had received a "huge diamond" from Mr. Taylor.

When Ms. Campbell arrived at breakfast, Ms. Farrow said on Monday, "she said that in the night she had been awakened, some men were knocking at the door, and they had been sent by Charles Taylor, and they had given her a huge diamond."

Ms. Farrow said she had not seen any diamonds but she said repeatedly that she had not erred in her recollection of what she called a "sort of unforgettable moment."

Ms. Farrow told the court that, when Ms. Campbell arrived for breakfast, "she was quite excited" and even before sitting down she announced that said had received "a huge diamond" in the middle of the night. "She said it was sent from Charles Taylor. I did not mishear," Ms. Farrow said.

Later, Ms. Farrow seemed to modify her initial statement, but maintained that Ms. Campbell referred to a single stone.

"She may not have used the word huge, but she did say a diamond," Ms. Farrow said after several hours of testimony. She said she recalled Ms. Campbell identifying Mr. Taylor as the source of the gift.

"Her demeanor seemed excited, happy," Ms. Farrow said.

(Published by The NY Times - August 9, 2010)

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Read more

8/5/2010 - Supermodel Campbell testifies about receiving 'dirty-looking stones' - Click here.

8/4/2010 - Naomi Campbell granted special protection during war crimes trial - Click here.

7/26/2010 - ICC's call to arrest Bashir is futile - Click here.

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