Naomi Campbell testifies at war crimes trial

Model Naomi Campbell testified during the war crimes trial of former Liberian ruler Charles Taylor that she received a gift of "dirty-looking stones" after attending a dinner with him — but stopped short of saying they were diamonds.

Model says she received 'dirty-looking stones'

Naomi Campbell testified before a war crimes tribunal Thursday that she had received some "dirty-looking stones" after a 1997 dinner party with former Liberian ruler Charles Taylor.

In this image taken from television, Naomi Campbell is seen at the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Netherlands on Thursday. ((Associated Press))

Still, the supermodel said she didn't know if the stones were actually diamonds or if the gift came from Taylor.

Campbell, an extremely reluctant witness at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, was being questioned in Taylor's war crimes trial about claims made by actress Mia Farrow.

Farrow had said Taylor gave the model an uncut diamond or diamonds after an event hosted by then-South African president Nelson Mandela at his presidential mansion in Pretoria.

Prosecutors had hoped Campbell would provide evidence that Taylor traded guns to neighbouring Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for uncut diamonds — sometimes known as "blood diamonds" for their role in financing conflicts — during Sierra Leone's 1992-2002 civil war.

Prosecutors allege that 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.

Taylor has been in custody in the Netherlands since June 2006. He is the first former African head of state to stand trial at an international war crimes court.  

Campbell reluctant to appear

After fighting for months to avoid testifying, Campbell arrived at the courthouse in Leidschendam surrounded by a police escort.

Campbell was calm and composed as she quickly 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."

Campbell had declined to co-operate with prosecutors until judges last month ordered her to appear or face a possible sentence of up to seven years for contempt.

Speaking confidently Thursday, Campbell testified that she was awakened in the middle of the night after the September 1997 dinner party by two black 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 that 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 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.

It was the first time Ratcliffe's name had appeared at the trial. He is still a trustee of Mandela's charity but it was not immediately possible to reach him Thursday. There was no response to phone calls to his South African homes in Johannesburg or Plettenberg Bay or to his cellphone.

Hollis asked Campbell why she had been so reluctant to appear before the war crimes tribunal, and the model said she was afraid to be associated with Taylor.

"This is someone that I read up on the internet that killed thousands of people supposedly and I don't want my family in any danger in any way," Campbell said.

Taylor's defence attorney, Courtenay Griffiths, angrily objected, saying the line of questioning was "totally irrelevant" to Campbell's testimony.

Campbell became one of the world's highest-paid models after being discovered while shopping in London at age 15. Now 40, the hot-tempered supermodel is no stranger to courtrooms, having faced a series of minor lawsuits and criminal cases over the years.

In 2000, Campbell pleaded guilty in Toronto to an assault charge for beating an assistant, who said the model whacked her on the head with a phone.