Thursday, July 01, 2010

Supermodel Naomi Campbell Called to Testify at War Crimes Trial

July 1, 2010

Supermodel Called to Testify at War Crimes Trial

New York Times

PARIS — Diamonds may well be a girl’s best friend, but perhaps no longer for the model Naomi Campbell, who was summoned Thursday to appear at a war crimes trial to state under oath whether she was given a handful of diamonds by Charles G. Taylor, the deposed president of Liberia.

The hearings, set for later this month at a special court in The Hague, are also expected to include the actress Mia Farrow, who has said that Ms. Campbell told her the “unforgettable story” about the gift the day after she received it, in September 1997.

Ms. Campbell’s former agent, Carole White, is also expected to appear; she recently told prosecutors that she was present one night as two men sent by Mr. Taylor delivered a gift of small unpolished stones. Ms. White’s new account has raised additional questions about how many diamonds Mr. Taylor offered to his new friend — he had met Ms. Campbell just hours earlier at a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela, who was then president of South Africa — and what happened to the gift.

Prosecutors see the testimony of the three women as vital, because since the start of the trial Mr. Taylor has steadfastly denied in court that he ever owned or traded in diamonds. The prosecution contends that he used them as currency to finance a rebellion in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, in which tens of thousands of people were killed, raped or mutilated. The charges against Mr. Taylor include murder, conscripting child soldiers, and terrorizing and mutilating civilians.

Arguments over diamonds have been at the heart of the trial, which began in 2007, with several of Mr. Taylor’s former aides and associates testifying that they knew of diamonds being delivered to Mr. Taylor’s mansion in Monrovia by Sierra Leone rebels, who were subsequently given weapons. All of these accounts have been challenged by defense lawyers as hearsay and biased.

Prosecutors hope the testimony by the three women will cast a different light on the diamond question, because they have no connection to the past conflict. If they stand by their earlier accounts, they will corroborate prosecution claims that Mr. Taylor owned and traveled with gemstones dug up in Sierra Leone that have become known in human rights campaigns as “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds.”

Both Ms. Farrow and Ms. White have sent word that they will testify, prosecutors said, but Ms. Campbell has repeatedly refused, through her lawyer, to appear as a witness. She has said on several American television shows either that Mr. Taylor did not give her diamonds or that she did not want to talk about the issue. On Thursday, the court issued an order for her to appear in court on July 29.

Part of what happened a month after Mr. Taylor took office as Liberia’s president in 1997 has already been told in court, as prosecutors questioned him using a written account supplied by Ms. Farrow. In it, she said that Ms. Campbell had recounted that after the previous night’s dinner, she had received a large rough-cut diamond from two men sent by Mr. Taylor. To each question about the account, Mr. Taylor replied: totally incorrect.

But the new account provided to prosecutors by Ms. White, Ms. Campbell’s former agent, provides new details. Ms. White is suing Ms. Campbell over overdue payments, according to Daniel Bright, Ms. White’s lawyer.

Ms. White told prosecutors in May, Mr. Bright said, that she had attended a dinner in Pretoria, South Africa, on Sept. 25, 1997, given by Mr. Mandela. He said Ms. White recalled that Ms. Campbell and Mr. Taylor flirted during the dinner and that she heard Mr. Taylor tell Ms. Campbell that he was going to send her diamonds. That night two men came to the house where the women were staying. “Carol said one of the men pulled out a crumpled piece of paper with about six grayish pebbles — Carol saw them,” Mr. Bright said. “But Naomi was disappointed because she thought she was going to get a big shiny diamond, not rough pebbles.”

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