Confusing Campbell testimony raises more questions

By Peter Biles
World affairs correspondent, BBC News, The Hague

  • Published

The public gallery fell silent as Naomi Campbell was called into court as a witness for the prosecution.

A delay lasting a few minutes led the presiding judge to ask "Where is she?"

But Ms Campbell did eventually appear, wearing a cream dress and a sparkly necklace.

Watching attentively from the back of the courtroom, behind the team of defence lawyers, was the accused - former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

His gold ring flashed in the reflection of the overhead lights. But today the man in the dock was largely a forgotten figure in court. He was not asked to speak, and the media were fixated on one person - the British supermodel.

It transpired that the charity dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela in September 1997, about which Ms Campbell had been called to testify, coincided with the re-launch of the famous Blue Train that runs between Cape Town and Johannesburg.

But the select group invited to dine with South Africa's then-president was a curious celebrity mix, including actress Mia Farrow, music producer Quincy Jones and Pakistani politician Imran Khan and his wife Jemima.

The odd man out, perhaps, was Charles Taylor, the Liberian-warlord-turned president. How Mr Taylor came to be a guest at the dinner was not explained.

'Blase attitude'

Ms Campbell revealed that she had never previously heard of Charles Taylor. Indeed, she knew nothing about Liberia.

It was a comment which led defence lawyer Courtney Griffiths to quip: "Many people hadn't, until you turned up."

At times, Ms Campbell raised more questions than she provided answers.

For example, she said she gave the stones to Jeremy Ractliffe of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund the very next day because she wanted them to go to charity, and that when she spoke to Mr Ractliffe on the telephone in 2009, he said he still had them.

But if this were true why would Mr Ractliffe, the fund's former head, hang on to the diamonds for 12 years, after Ms Campbell passed them to him in the hope of "doing some good"?

In a letter presented in court by the defence, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund said it had never received a diamond or diamonds from Ms Campbell, nor from anyone else - a denial a spokesman for the fund repeated on Thursday.

"The point I need to communicate today, on behalf of the board of trustees, is that the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund is not in receipt or possession of a diamond," spokesman Oupa Ngwenya said.

It also seems that, even though she was used to receiving presents from fans, Ms Campbell had an extraordinarily blase attitude when being handed gifts.

In this instance, she was woken by two strangers in the middle of the night, and given a pouch containing stones.

She put it by her bed and did not examine it until she woke the next morning.

She explained she was not accustomed to receiving diamonds in a cloth pouch, only in a box.

The confusing evidence looks likely to be contradicted when the prosecution calls as witnesses Ms Farrow and Ms Campbell's former agent, Carole White, next week.

Ms Campbell must have been relieved when her ordeal in court ended in less than two hours.

She had had a special adviser, Lord McDonald - the former Director of Public Prosecutions in Britain - on standby in the courtroom to help her. But he played no part in the proceedings.

Mr Griffiths hastily called a news conference when Ms Campbell had finished giving evidence.

He was relishing the fact that the prosecution team had clearly had a bad morning in court with the witness they had subpoenaed.

"The prosecution has scored an own goal.... Naomi Campbell has blown up spectacularly in their faces," he said.

After Ms Campbell's high-profile appearance, the Charles Taylor trial may sink back into the relative obscurity that it has had since it opened in 2007.

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