Model tells court: Not clear gift was diamonds

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LEIDSCHENDAM, NETHERLANDS (AP) - Naomi Campbell told a war crimes tribunal Thursday that she had received some “dirty-looking stones” after a 1997 dinner party with former Liberian ruler Charles Taylor _ but added that she didn’t know if the stones were actually diamonds or who sent the gift.

The British supermodel had fought for months to avoid testifying and being questioned at Taylor’s war crimes trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone on the subject of “blood diamonds” _ illegally mined gems used to finance wars. She had declined to cooperate with prosecutors until judges last month ordered her to appear or face a possible seven years in jail for contempt.

Entering the courtroom fashionably late _ several minutes after she was first summoned to take the stand _ Campbell was calm and composed as she answered questions from prosecutor Brenda Hollis for nearly two hours.

“I didn’t really want to be here,” she said. “I just want to get this over with and get on with my life, this is a big inconvenience for me.”

Prosecutors had hoped Campbell would provide evidence that Taylor traded guns to neighboring Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for uncut diamonds during Sierra Leone’s 1992-2002 civil war. Actress Mia Farrow has claimed that Taylor gave Campbell an uncut diamond or diamonds after a 1997 dinner hosted by then-South African President Nelson Mandela at his presidential mansion in Pretoria.

Prosecutors say from his seat of power in Liberia, Taylor armed, trained and commanded Sierra Leone rebels who murdered and mutilated thousands of civilians across the border. Taylor, 62, says he is innocent of the 11 war crimes charges he faces, including murder, rape, sexual enslavement and recruiting child soldiers.

Campbell arrived at the courthouse in Leidschendam surrounded by a police escort. In contrast to her usual edgy fashion style, she wore a demure cream two-piece outfit and piled up her straight dark hair into a classic chignon. The look was topped off with a silver “evil-eye” necklace.

Speaking confidently, Campbell testified that she was awakened in the middle of the night after the September 1997 dinner party by two men at her door. She said they offered her a pouch they said was a gift for her with no further explanation.

She said she frequently receives gifts from admirers and didn’t look at it until the following morning.

“I saw a few stones in there. And they were small, dirty-looking stones,” she said.

She said, at breakfast the following day, either Farrow or Campbell’s former agent Carole White had told her the rocks must be diamonds and were probably a gift from Taylor.

Campbell said she gave the stones to a friend, Jeremy Ratcliffe, who at the time was the director of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, intending he use them for charity. She said she had called Ratcliffe a year ago to ask what he had done with the stones, and he told her he still had them.

Campbell’s comments were the first time Ratcliffe’s name had appeared at the trial.

In South Africa, a spokesman for Mandela’s charity, Oupa Ngwenya, told reporters later Thursday that the fund did not receive the diamonds, noting it would have been illegal for them to do so. But he also said the fund was unable to locate Ratcliffe, now a trustee for the charity.

It was not clear where Ratcliffe was _ there was no response to phone calls to his South African homes in Johannesburg or Plettenberg Bay or to his cell phone.

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