THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Supermodel Naomi Campbell, testifying reluctantly at a war crimes trial, said on Thursday she was given “dirty looking pebbles” but did not know if they were blood diamonds from former Liberian ruler Charles Taylor.
Complaining that having to appear at the court in The Hague was an “inconvenience,” Campbell said two unidentified men came to her bedroom after she attended a charity dinner with Taylor and then-South African President Nelson Mandela in 1997.
“I was sleeping and had a knock at the door that woke me up. Two men were there and they gave me a pouch and said: ‘A gift for you’,” she told the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone.
“I went back to bed. I looked into the pouch the next morning,” the model said. “I saw a few stones, they were very small, dirty looking stones.”
“I’m used to seeing diamonds shiny and in a box ... If someone had not said they were diamonds, I would not have known they were diamonds,” she said.
Prosecutors summoned Campbell to support their allegations that Taylor received so-called blood diamonds from rebels in Sierra Leone and used them to buy weapons during his 1997 trip to South Africa. Taylor denied the allegations as “nonsense.”
He is charged with 11 counts of instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers during wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in which more than 250,000 people were killed. He denies all the charges.
Campbell initially refused to testify and told the judges she feared for her family’s safety after reading on the Internet about Taylor’s alleged involvement in mass killings.
Under defence questioning, she stressed she did not know personally whether the stones came from Taylor. She said she had handed them to the manager of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Jeremy Ratcliffe, on boarding a luxury train the following day and asked him “to do something good with them.”
The fund’s donor relations manager has denied it ever received diamonds from Campbell, chief defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths said.
Campbell said she recounted the night-time incident at breakfast to actress Mia Farrow and her then modelling agent, Carole White.
“One of the two said ‘That’s obviously Charles Taylor’, and I said ‘I guess it was’,” the model told the court.
Asked whether she thought it was strange to be given such a gift, Campbell replied: “It’s not abnormal for me to get gifts, I get gifts all the time.”
The supermodel, whose temper outbursts have previously landed her in court, spoke calmly and said either Farrow or White had said the stones were probably diamonds, although she did not recall showing them to the women.
Cross-examined by Griffiths, Campbell denied White’s account that her former agent was present at the late-night meeting with the two black men.
The defence lawyer told reporters that Campbell’s testimony did not incriminate Taylor, since she had said she did not know who gave her the diamonds.
“There is now a large hole in the theory the prosecution are trying to float regarding the use and possession of diamonds by Mr Taylor,” Griffiths told reporters outside the courtroom.
The prosecution acknowledged there were “significant differences” between Campbell’s testimony and the statements of Farrow and White.
“It will be for the judges to determine the credibility of the evidence before them at the end of the case; it is not appropriate for counsel to comment on that at this time,” the prosecution said in a statement.
Citing concerns for her security, the 40-year-old supermodel won a court order barring journalists from photographing or filming her arrival and departure from the courthouse.
She was, however, filmed while giving testimony.
“I don’t want to be here. I was made to be here ... This is a terrible inconvenience to me,” Campbell said. “Obviously I just want to get this over with and get on with my life.”
Prosecutors had alleged that Taylor — accused of receiving the diamonds from rebels a month before his trip to South Africa — gave Campbell a large rough cut diamond after the dinner.
Prosecutors plan to call White and Farrow next Monday.
Campbell had in the past denied she was given diamonds and refused at first to testify, prompting the court to subpoena her.
Editing by Charles Dick