Mandela charity ex-boss says not guilty in 'blood diamonds'

15th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

The former head of a Nelson Mandela charity pleaded not guilty Wednesday to keeping rough diamonds whose existence emerged during the war crimes trial of ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor.

Jeremy Ractliffe, former chief executive of Mandela's Children's Fund, told a Johannesburg court that he was innocent because he did not know the three stones were diamonds, apparently given by Taylor to supermodel Naomi Campbell in 1997.

"I have pleaded not guilty because in my mind I did not believe that my possession of the stones, if they are shown to be diamonds, was in any way unlawful," Ractliffe said in a statement read out by his lawyer, Mike Hellens.

"I did not know that they were diamonds. I merely knew that they were said to be diamonds," he said.

"In addition, I did not know that it would be unlawful for me -- either at all, or in particular in the circumstances in which I came to be holding these diamonds for and behalf of Naomi Campbell -- for it to be a criminal offense for me to hold such diamonds for her."

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", which are stones from a conflict zone.

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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