British model Naomi Campbell arrives for an AIDS benefit during the Cannes international film festival in May.
British model Naomi Campbell arrives for an AIDS benefit during the Cannes international film festival in May. Matt Sayles/AP
Supermodel Naomi Campbell is known nowadays as much for her outbursts as her outfits.
Now she finds herself caught up in yet another controversy.
Prosecutors at an international tribunal in the Netherlands have summoned her to testify later this month in the war crimes trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. Among the many charges against him is involvement in the trade for so-called blood diamonds — gems used to finance a civil war in the neighboring West African nation of Sierra Leone.
Taylor's Diamond Gift To Campbell?
The prosecution alleges that Taylor, while president of Liberia, teamed up with rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone to rob that country of its natural resources, including diamonds. Tens of thousands of people were killed or maimed during the 11-year civil war that officially ended in 2002.
"In Sierra Leone you had crimes of mutilation, serial rapes, enslaving people," says Brenda Hollis, prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. Hollis alleges Taylor took diamonds from rebels in Sierra Leone and gave them weapons and ammunition in return.
Taylor has denied all of the charges against him, which include murder, recruiting child soldiers and terrorizing civilians. "Most definitely I am not guilty," Taylor told the court.
Dinner Party In South Africa
The prosecution recently got the court's permission to reopen its case after hearing of possible new evidence dating back to 1997.
"In South Africa, after a dinner party, attended by Mr. Taylor, Naomi Campbell, Mia Farrow and others, individuals came to where Naomi Campbell was lodging and gave her a diamond, indicating that the diamond came from Mr. Charles Taylor. The next morning she related that story to Mia Farrow and perhaps others at breakfast," Hollis alleges.
But Campbell recently told a producer for ABC News that never happened. "I didn't receive a diamond and I'm not going to speak about that. Thank you very much," Campbell said.
Taylor's defense attorney Courtenay Griffiths says prosecutors are desperate.
"The prosecution have obtained a subpoena for a witness whom they know in advance is not going to support their case. The bottom line is the prosecution are calling this evidence and have made a big deal out of it in order to get some cheap publicity," Griffiths says.
Documents show that the story around Campbell was corroborated by the model's former agent and actress Mia Farrow, both of whom have agreed to testify.
The story is significant because prosecutors want to show that Taylor had diamonds on him just weeks before a crucial deal. At that time, arms and ammunition were shipped to rebels in Sierra Leone, and the allegation is they were bought with diamonds.
Diamonds In A Mayonnaise Jar
One witness, Varmuyan Sherif, told the court he saw a rebel leader with a mayonnaise jar full of diamonds, in his jacket, just prior to a meeting with Taylor.
"He took a jacket off, to hang it. While in the process of taking his jacket off, I saw the bottle, the mayonnaise bottle ... with diamond in it in his pocket," Sherif testified.
Taylor scoffed at the idea.
"I am supposed to be such a scumbag that people bring me diamonds in nothing but mayonnaise jars? How much more can you demonize me?" Taylor said.
Prosecutors say Taylor's links to rebel leaders went far beyond diamonds. They've presented evidence of satellite phone conversations between Taylor and the rebels. And one witness testified that he overheard a rebel refer to Taylor as his boss.
Griffiths says his client is not guilty of the charges against him. Griffiths acknowledges, however, that Taylor knows some bad people.
"I'm not suggesting Charles Taylor is a saint," he says.
But what Naomi Campbell thinks of him remains to seen. She is scheduled to testify at the end of this month.