Apr. 23, 2010 — -- International war crimes prosecutors said they were unaware of a photo showing supermodel Naomi Campbell with Charles Taylor before the picture was shown during an ABC News report Thursday.
The photo, found by actress Mia Farrow, shows Campbell posing with the African warlord at Nelson Mandela's house in 1997. Taylor is accused of using 'blood diamonds' to fuel an insurgency that cost tens of thousands of lives, and prosecutors want to know if Taylor gave Campbell a "blood diamond."
Farrow discovered the photo with an ABC News producer while looking through an old photo album. "I'm excited to hear that you have it," said Brenda Hollis, lead prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where Taylor is on trial. Hollis said she would consult with the prosecution team before deciding what to do next. Campbell had previously declined to provide testimony to prosecutors. The Special Court for Sierra Leone has the power to subpoena Campbell.
Campbell, Farrow and Taylor were at Nelson Mandela's house in Pretoria, South Africa in 1997 when the picture was taken. According to Farrow, the next morning, Campbell told her she had been visited by representatives of Taylor during the night, and they had given her a "huge" uncut diamond.
"You don't forget when a girlfriend tells you she was given a huge diamond in the middle of the night," Farrow told ABC News.
When ABC News tried to question Campbell about the allegation during a recent New York fashion show, the model had another of her infamous outbursts.
Asked if she had received a diamond from Charles Taylor, Campbell bristled. "I didn't receive a diamond and I'm not going to speak about that."
Campbell then stalked out of the interview and slapped the camera in a producer's hand.
Prosecutors say Campbell has refused their requests to be interviewed about the allegations that they say could help directly link Taylor, the former president of Liberia, to the possession of uncut diamonds used to buy weapons for rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone between 1997 and 2001.
Campbell would not answer questions about her alleged refusal to cooperate with the international criminal tribunal. Her London-based lawyer also declined to comment.
Taylor is accused of orchestrating bloody massacres in which thousands were killed or maimed by amputation, leading to the phrase "blood diamonds."
"The diamonds made possible the continuation of the conflict but they also profoundly profited Charles Taylor," said former chief prosecutor Steven Rapp, who is now the United States Ambassador at Large for War Crimes.
Campbell's alleged receipt of a "blood diamond" first surfaced when prosecutors contacted Farrow to ask about the dinner at Mandela's house. Farrow then told prosecutors what she remembered Campbell telling her about the visit from Taylor's men. At the time she spoke to prosecutors, however, she did not remember the photo of Campbell with Taylor.
Prosecutors say the event is significant because it directly links Taylor to such uncut diamonds. One of the allegations in the case is that Taylor was in South Africa at the time to buy weapons for the Sierra Leone rebels with "blood diamonds."
Under cross examination at the trial, Taylor repeatedly denied he had a large quantity of diamonds or that he sent one to Naomi Campbell.
"Total nonsense," Taylor testified when asked if "that diamond that you sent Naomi Campbell was one of the diamonds that you had been given by the junta in Sierra Leone."
"And those diamonds, along with money given to you by the junta were to be used to procure weapons for the junta?," the prosecutor, Brenda Hollis, then asked.
"Totally incorrect," replied Taylor.
Prosecutors had hoped Campbell could rebut Taylor's denials.
Despite Campbell's refusal to help prosecutors, and her denial to ABC News that she received a diamond from Taylor, actress Farrow says "there's no doubt in my mind" of what happened.
"All I thought was gosh, what an amazing life Naomi Campbell has. Probably lots of men are always giving her diamonds and she said she was going to give it to Nelson Mandela's children's charity and I thought no more about it," Farrow said.
The donor relations manager for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, Mpake Pule, said there is no record the charity received a diamond from Campbell. She did make cash contributions of $50,000 that year and the year after, the charity officer said.
The Taylor trial has been underway for almost three years in the Hague.
Witnesses have included former Taylor deputies and some 50 victims of the terror campaign from Sierra Leone.
Taylor has strongly denied the prosecution's accusations that he "orchestrated" the atrocities in Sierra Leone.
"I resent that characterization of me," he testified. "It is false, it is malicious."
The prosecution has already presented its case, and in order to admit the newly discovered photo in evidence, would have to ask the judges to reopen the case. Hollis said she had not yet decided whether to make the request, or whether to subpoena Campbell as a witness.
However, the judges had previously disallowed Farrow's testimony about what Campbell allegedly told her. According to Hollis, the judges also said that whether or not Campbell had received such a diamond was "central" to the case against Taylor.
"The judges have said that this is very important to our case, so it's something we would consider," said Hollis. "We haven't made any decisions but we certainly are considering options in that regard."
Hollis said that if Campbell were subpoenaed as a witness, enforcing the subpoena would require that her country of residence give assistance to the court. The Special Court for Sierra Leone of the International Criminal Court is in the Netherlands. Campbell lives in Moscow with her boyfriend.
"You always have the option of asking people if they will come voluntarily," said Hollis. "You have the option of subpoena -- you would need the assistance of the state.
Naomi Campbell's attorney and spokesperson did not respond by presstime to a request for comment.