By Toby Sterling
LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands – Naomi Campbell flirted with Liberia’s former president across the dinner table at Nelson Mandela’s presidential mansion in 1997 and boasted the following morning that Charles Taylor had given her a huge diamond during the night, Mia Farrow and another witness testified at Taylor’s war crimes trial Monday.
Prosecutors hope testimony from the actress-turned-human rights activist and from Campbell’s estranged former modeling agent will help tie Taylor to the illicit “blood diamond” trade that fueled Sierra Leone’s civil war. Both contradicted Campbell’s account from the witness stand last week that she did not know the nature or value of what she had received.
The episode was a surreal interlude of glamour in a grim case focused on murder and mutilation in the jungles of West Africa.
Taylor says he is innocent of 11 war-crimes charges linked to allegations he supported rebels during Sierra Leone’s vicious 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002 with an estimated 100,000 dead.
He has dismissed suggestions he was involved in the diamond trade as “complete, complete nonsense.”
Farrow, however, recounted what she called the “unforgettable” memory of an excited Campbell coming down for breakfast the morning after Mandela’s dinner party, so excited she could hardly sit.
“She said ‘Oh my God, last night I was awakened by men knocking at the door and it was men sent by Charles Taylor and he sent me a huge diamond’,” Farrow said.
Campbell, who resisted appearing before the war-crimes court for months, testified under subpoena Thursday that she was given several small “dirty-looking” stones by men she didn’t know after the function in Pretoria.
The British model said she hadn’t known they were diamonds, nor who had sent them, and said Farrow was the one who suggested the gift was from Taylor.
Defense lawyers accused the prosecution of calling the unlikely witnesses as a publicity stunt to raise the profile of the trial, which has gone on for more than two years. Taylor himself was on the stand for seven months, portraying himself as an African liberator and statesman who sought to bring stability and peace to his turbulent corner of the continent.
Taylor’s chief counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, said Farrow was unlikely to accurately remember what happened at a breakfast 13 years ago. He noted that Campbell received three uncut diamonds — not the single diamond Farrow insisted she heard Campbell talk about.
The defense also suggested Farrow’s credibility was tainted by her activism, particularly her campaigns for the victims of Africa’s wars.
Farrow, 65, conceded she had never seen the diamond or diamonds herself, and that Campbell might not have used the word “huge.” But she insisted remembering Campbell only mentioned a single diamond.
South African businessman Jeremy Ractliffe, the former head of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, confirmed last week he had three stones he had received from Campbell to donate to charity after the 1997 dinner. He said he hadn’t done anything with them because he feared that a blood diamond scandal might attach to Mandela or Campbell as a result. He has now handed them over to South African authorities and they have been identified as uncut diamonds, but their origins are unknown.
In court, Judge Julia Sebutinde asked Farrow whether it was possible she might have seen the 2006 movie “Blood Diamond” and been influenced by its plot, which centers on a single large diamond.
But Farrow denied any suggestion that she was confusing reality with Hollywood.
Agent Carole White, who fell out with Campbell several years ago, told the court that Taylor and her then-client enjoyed each other’s company at the dinner table.
“I think she was flirting with him and he was flirting back,” she said.
At one point during the meal, White said, Campbell leaned back to speak to her. She “was very excited and she told me he was going to give her some diamonds,” White told the court.
She said Campbell later appeared disappointed when she saw the uncut diamonds and they were “not very impressive and not enormously big.”
But under cross examination, Griffiths strongly challenged White’s testimony.
“You have a very powerful motive for lying,” he said, noting that White is suing Campbell for millions of dollars over an alleged breach of contract.
Campbell has served community service twice after pleading guilty in minor assault cases. A few of her former aides and maids have sued her, accusing her of violent outbursts and usually settling on undisclosed terms.