We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Jeremy Ractcliffe leaves the court in Johannesburg after being found not guilty of dealing in "blood diamonds" Wednesday, June 15, 2011. AP Photo/Moeletsi Mabe
Blood Diamonds

Mandela charity ex-chief innocent in 'blood diamond' case

Supermodel Naomi Campbell testified that she gave stones – believed to have come from ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is being tried for war crimes – to the former head of Nelson Mandela’s children’s charity in 1997.

THE FORMER HEAD of Nelson Mandela’s children’s charity has been found not guilty of illegally possessing unlicensed diamonds, after supermodel Naomi Campbell testified that she handed him stones that she had received as a gift in 1997.

Jeremy Ractliffe was questioned about the gems as part of the UN’s investigation into war crimes allegations against former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Last year, it emerged that Campbell had received what she described as “dirty-looking stones” following a fundraising dinner, which was attended by Taylor and others, in 1997.

Following the dinner, Campbell said that she was awoken in the middle of the night by three men knocking at her door. When she opened it, she said, they handed her the stones. She told the court that she did not know who had sent them. However, other guests at the event testified that the model had bragged that Taylor had sent her the gems.

Prosecutors said that the stones were uncut ‘blood diamonds’, otherwise known as conflict diamonds – illegal stones, usually mined in war-torn Africa under extremely exploitative conditions and sold at high prices to finance rebel insurgencies, civil wars, money laundering and other crimes. The trade of blood diamonds is known to fund human rights abuses against some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The revelations have come out as part of the trial against Taylor at The Hague, where he is facing allegations of trading in illegal diamonds.

‘I did what I did for what I felt were totally valid reasons’

Campbell said that the morning after she received the stones she handed them to Jeremy Ractliffe, former chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, because she wanted them to help the cause.

Testifying at The Hague, Ractliffe, who had been charged with violating laws against possessing uncut diamonds, said that he had stored the stones because he did not wish to compromise the reputation of Mandela, Campbell, or the charity.

Ractliffe said he didn’t tell the foundation about the diamonds, and kept the stones in a safe for 13 years until he handed them over to police after Campbell’s August 2010 testimony.

Ractliffe stepped down as chief executive by last August and resigned as a trustee after the diamond scandal broke.

His lawyers told the court that he was not aware that the “possession of the stones, if they are shown to be diamonds, was in any way unlawful”, the BBC reports.

“Mr Ractliffe, you are not guilty and discharged,” Magistrate Renier Boshoff said after hearing just a half day of testimony. Ractliffe had been accompanied to court Wednesday by his wife and five daughters, who embraced after hearing the verdict.

“I did what I did for what I felt were totally valid reasons,” Ractliffe told reporters outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. “I have always thought I was innocent and it was very nice to have this proven.”

Additional reporting by the AP