Mandela charity ex-boss cleared over 'blood diamonds'

15th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

The former head of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund was cleared Wednesday of charges of holding rough diamonds that proved pivotal in the war crimes trial of ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor.

A Johannesburg magistrate court ruled that Jeremy Ractliffe had no case to answer because prosecutors had failed to provide enough evidence to back the charges.

"Mr Ractliffe, you are not guilty and the case is discharged," said magistrate Renier Boshoff about two hours after the trial began.

Holding uncut diamonds without a permit is a crime in South Africa, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a 250,000 rand ($37,000, 25,650 euro) fine.

Ractliffe, once chief executive of Mandela's Children's Fund, had pleaded not guilty, telling the court that he did not know the three stones were diamonds, apparently given by Taylor to supermodel Naomi Campbell in 1997.

The existence of the stones had gone unnoticed for more than a decade until Campbell took the stand last year at The Hague to testify in Taylor's trial for arming Sierra Leone rebels who paid him in "blood diamonds", or gems used to finance conflicts.

Campbell testified that she had received a pouch of "dirty-looking stones" as a late-night gift she assumed came from Taylor after a 1997 dinner hosted by then-president Mandela.

Campbell told judges she gave the three uncut diamonds to Ractliffe, then the chief executive of the Children's Fund, to "do something good with."

The day after her testimony, Ractliffe confirmed he had kept the stones and had never given them to the charity, saying he did not want to involve the organisation in any potentially illegal activities.

He subsequently handed the diamonds over to police.

© 2011 AFP

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