NAOMI Campbell has admitted accepting a gift of "dirty" diamonds after a charity dinner attended by former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is standing trial for war crimes.
• Naomi Campbell is sworn in before giving evidence in court at The Hague yesterday
The supermodel, who said she feared for her family's welfare by giving evidence, told a UN court yesterday how she had been presented with the "dirty looking" stones, only to learn later that they were diamonds.
However, her testimony at the Taylor's trial was dismissed as a "spectacular own goal" by his defence team, which said Campbell had offered only the "purest speculation".
The 40-year-old's account of a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela and attended by celebrities such as Mia Farrow, Quincy Jones and Imran and Jemima Khan, is considered integral to the prosecution's case.
It is alleged that in the aftermath of a party at the home of the former South African president, Taylor had given the model "blood diamonds" as a gift.
Dressed in a cream outfit and wearing an "evil eye" pendant for her appearance at the court in The Hague, Campbell was visibly uncomfortable when recalling events at the 1997 function.
"I didn't really want to be here, I was made to be here," she told the court."
The London-born model told prosecutors that, after going to bed, two men came to her room and gave her a pouch. "They said 'a gift for you' and then gave me a pouch. They were two black men. I took it, said thank you and closed the door. There was no explanation, no note," she said
The next morning, she opened the pouch to discover two or three "dirty looking pebbles", but did not presume they were precious gems.
"I am used to seeing diamonds shiny and in a box," she said. "If someone had not said they were diamonds, I would not have guessed they were diamonds."
A photograph of the dinner guests showed Taylor, dressed in a military-style brown jacket, with Mandela to his left. On his right, Campbell is seen standing in a white gown, smiling.
She told the court that, while she met Taylor at the dinner, there had been no close contact between them. During dinner, she had sat between Mr Mandela and Quincy Jones.
Campbell said she had no reason to link the gift to the African leader, other than a comment made the morning after the dinner, when she was attending breakfast with her former agent Carole White and Mia Farrow. "One of them said, 'That is obviously Charles Taylor', and I said, 'I guess that is right'," she said.
Campbell, who lives in New York, said she had never heard of Taylor and was wary of becoming a prosecution witness.
She told the court: "I had never heard of the country Liberia before. I had never heard the term blood diamonds before."
Asked why she had refused to give evidence before being compelled under threat of a seven-year jail sentence, the model said she was frightened.
"This is someone who, I read on the internet, has killed thousands of people. I don't want my family endangered in anyway," she said.
She said she had given the stones to Jeremy Ratcliffe, who, at the time, worked for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. An ambassador for the charity, she said she had called Mr Ratcliffe last year to ask what he had done with the stones and he told her he still had them.
However, in a letter presented in court by the defence, the charity said it had "never received a diamond or diamonds from Ms Campbell", saying it would have been illegal to have done so.
Ms White and Farrow are expected to appear before the court next week. In documents submitted to the hearing, Farrow said Campbell had provided an "unforgettable story" of the incident over breakfast and had boasted about the gift.
Taylor, 62, has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges, including war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone, murder, rape and sexual slavery.
He is accused of trading in "blood diamonds" to fund a brutal and bloody war carried out by Sierra Leonean rebels, who committed horrendous atrocities and mutilations on civilians.
The trial, which opened in 2007, continues.
NAOMI Campbell was discovered while shopping in London as a teenager.
Born to parents of Caribbean and Chinese descent, she appeared on the cover of Elle aged 15, and later featured in the music videos of several well-known artists. Attempts to branch out into music and writing have failed, but she continues to promote her own perfume line.
Her appearance at the Taylor's trial is not her first in court. In 2008, she was sentenced to 200 hours' community service for assaulting two police officers on a plane at Heathrow. A year later, she settled a legal case with a former maid who accused the supermodel of assaulting her. Campbell denied the claims.
Trade in precious stones helped to finance conflicts in Africa
THE term blood diamond refers to the trade in precious gems in conflict zones, which has helped pay for wars that have claimed the lives of millions in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo.
The gems, also known as "conflict diamonds", are usually uncut and acquired by violent means, such as forced labour, before being sold at high cost or traded.
Rebel movements and corrupt governments often put the profits towards arms to support conflicts.
Public awareness of the issue received a boost thanks to the 2006 film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly, which showed how diamonds financed Sierra Leone's civil war.
Former Liberian president Charles Taylor is accused of supporting the rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone during that country's civil war in exchange for diamonds and other natural resources.
Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo and more recently Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe have been accused of producing blood diamonds.
An international initiative known as the Kimberley Process was established in 2002 to combat the trend, with participant nations forced to certify the origins of diamonds being traded. While concerns remain about the trade in Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and eastern Congo, the World Diamond Council claims the flow of conflict gems has been reduced drastically.
The council advises that people should check with a jeweller before buying an expensive diamond. The jeweller should be able to provide proof of the stone's origins.
Chris Stephen: Very reluctant witness leaves questions unanswered
DIAMONDS were clearly not Naomi Campbell's best friend yesterday.
Her evidence could be the silver bullet prosecutors have been searching for for three long years, proof positive of a link between Taylor and the diamonds he is accused of plundering, through an orgy of violence, from Sierra Leone.
But for prosecutor Brenda Hollis, simply getting Campbell to testify was an epic struggle.
The allegation of the diamond gift came after the prosecution had rested its case last year. Once judges agreed to re-open the case, prosecutors had to issue a subpoena to get her to show up.
Even then, she engineered a week-long delay, and then managed to be nine minutes late into court. War crimes tribunals don't really do Fashionably Late, but neither do they normally rely on supermodels for key slices of evidence, so the judges let it pass.
Once on the stand, Campbell displayed signs of coaching, either from a prosecution lawyer or one of her own. Her answers were tense and stilted, the accent wavering between her native South London and Mid-Atlantic drawl, but they seemed to be following prepared questions.
Gaining a little confidence, she even found time for her famed insouciance, declaring: "I'm just like wanting to get this over with and get on with my life. This is a big inconvenience for me."
Again, Ms Hollis must have suppressed the urge to remind Campbell the inconvenience was hardly comparable to many of the other 91 witnesses, forced to travel from Sierra Leone and relive before judges the horrors to which they were subjected.
As for Taylor, Campbell's only rival in the courtroom fashion stakes in his immaculate dark suit, he sat impervious, showing no expression as Campbell denied the two had ever flirted at Nelson Mandela's party.
While Campbell provided the prosecutors with what they wanted, for the rest of us it left as many questions as answers, not least why the saintly Mandela had decided to invite Taylor, at the time already known as West Africa's most ruthless warlord, to his house party.
And, more to the point, what happened to the diamonds?
Like the trial itself, Campbell's evidence seems like a show that will keep on running.
• Chris Stephen is the author of Judgement Day: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic (Atlantic Books).