Jeremy Ractliffe, the South African who once directed Nelson Mandela's children's charity, has confirmed that he received three uncut diamonds from supermodel Naomi Campbell in 1997. South African police say Ractliffe brought them the gems Thursday.
During testimony at the war crimes trial of dictator Charles Taylor, Campbell said that two men she believed to be representative of the warlord had given her a pouch containing several "dirty-looking" diamonds, and that she had give the gems to Ractliffe so he could sell them and use the money for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. Campbell had previously denied to ABC News that she received any gems from Taylor.
In a statement released Friday, Ractliffe said that he had received "three small uncut diamonds" on Sept. 26, 1997. "I took them because I thought it might well be illegal for her to take uncut diamonds out of the country," explained Ractliffe. "Naomi suggested they could be of some benefit to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, but I told her I would not involve the NMCF in anything that could possibly be illegal."
"In the end I decided I should just keep them," said Ractliffe, who felt that it was in the best interest of NMCF, former South African president Mandela, and Campbell, "none of who were benefitting in any way."
Ractliffe told ABC News he gave the diamonds to South Africa's special police, known as the Hawks, on Thursday. On Friday, a spokesman for the Hawks told South African media they had received the diamonds and were having them authenticated.
Prosecutors at Taylor's war crimes trial claim that the former Liberian president was in South Africa in 1997 to trade uncut 'blood diamonds' for weapons that he then gave to Sierra Leonean rebels. Taylor is being tried on charges of fueling the long and bloody civil war in Sierra Leone.
Taylor has denied giving diamonds to Campbell. In a statement to ABC News, Taylor's defense attorneys continued to dispute the story. Said attorney Terry Munyard, "If the court finds that these things were diamonds and they were the gift of Mr. Taylor and therefore says he also bought arms and ammunition for Sierra Leonean rebels on that trip to South Africa, the defense says no competent criminal court could possibly make such a huge leap from one small fact to another."
Prior to her testimony Thursday, Campbell had told ABC News that she never received a diamond from Taylor. She reluctantly appeared at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague to give her version of events the night she met Taylor at the home of Nelson Mandela in 1997. She arrived at court under police protection, and said during testimony that appearing was an "inconvenience" for her.
On the stand, Campbell claimed two men came to her room at Nelson Mandela's residence in the middle of the night after a dinner at which she'd met Charles Taylor for the first time. She says the men woke her up, said "A gift for you," and handed her a pouch with several "dirty-looking" stones inside with no note or explanation.