TheGuardian, Rescued from 2010
The picture speaks volumes. At the centre of a group of 10 people stands Nelson Mandela and beside him his partner and later wife, Graça Machel. On Mandela’s other flank is a short man dressed in a military-style jacket with his hand held out as though he, and not the great South African leader, was hosting the gathering.
He is Charles Taylor, and the photograph was taken a month after he was elected president of Liberia. Now Taylor is in prison at The Hague, the first African president to face trial for war crimes.
The events that surround the photograph could prove to be a significant part of the case against Taylor, who is charged with 11 counts including murder, rape and turning children into soldiers.
The picture was taken in 1997 at Mandela’s home in Cape Town and the assembled guests, who included Jemima and Imran Khan, the music producer Quincy Jones and Chinese actor Tony Leung, had been invited to mark the opening of South Africa’s luxury passenger rail service, the Blue Train.
To Taylor’s right is Naomi Campbell, the British model, dressed in an elegant white dress and a cross pendant around her neck. Five people to Taylor’s left is Mia Farrow, the actress who starred in Rosemary’s Baby and several of her former husband Woody Allen’s films.
The interaction of Taylor, Campbell and Farrow is likely to come under the spotlight at The Hague next month when both Farrow and Campbell are due to appear as witnesses.
Their testimony goes to the heart of the case against Taylor – that he obtained illegally procured “blood diamonds” from the Revolutionary United Front rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone, smuggled in mayonnaise jars.
The prosecution alleges he used some of the enormous profits from the sale of the diamonds to traffic weapons to the RUF, thus fomenting and prolonging Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
Taylor has always denied the charges. “I’m supposed to be such a scumbag that people bring me diamonds in nothing more than a mayonnaise jar? How much more can you demonise me?” he told the court.
But Farrow has claimed that on that night in 1997 Taylor, struck by Campbell’s beauty, arranged for the model to be given a rough diamond.
Farrow told ABC News that Campbell told her that during the night Taylor’s men “knocked on her door and that they had given her a huge diamond and it was like, Oh my gosh!”
Farrow, who was in South Africa along with some of her children, insists that her memory of the conversation with Campbell is accurate. “You don’t forget when a girlfriend tells you she was given a huge rough diamond in the middle of the night,” she said.
She said Campbell had told her that she was going to donate the diamond to Mandela’s children’s charities. She added she thought no more about it until the Taylor prosecution unfolded.
The prosecution at The Hague says the incident corroborates its case that Taylor was involved in trafficking blood diamonds. But Campbell has denied receiving a diamond and has refused to speak on the subject, attempting to avoid appearing before the court.
When ABC News tried to ask her about it she ended the interview and lashed out at a camera. “I didn’t receive a diamond and I’m not going to speak about that thank you very much, and I’m not here for that,” she snapped.
In May, Campbell told Oprah Winfrey that she had no desire to be involved in the case against Taylor. “He has done some terrible things and I don’t want to put my family in danger,” she said.