The former head of Nelson Mandela’s charity has been found not guilty of possessing uncut “blood diamonds” in a case that involves supermodel Naomi Campbell and former Liberian president Charles Taylor.
Jeremy Ractliffe, a South African businessman and the ex-chief executive of Mandela’s Children’s Fund, was charged with possessing the conflict diamonds after Campbell testified that she gave him the jewels after receiving them as a gift in 1997.
The charges were part of a larger, three-year U.N. investigation into war crime allegations against Taylor.
Campbell told The Hague court that three unfamiliar men had handed her “dirty-looking stones” after a fundraising dinner. She claimed she didn’t know who sent them, but other witnesses who attended the event said Campbell boasted that Taylor sent them. Campbell reportedly gave Ractliffe the diamonds the following morning as a donation to the charity.
Ractliffe said he took the stones from Campbell and hid them in a safe for 13 years in order to protect the reputation of the model, Mandela and the foundation. He gave them to authorities after Campbell’s testimony in August. He resigned as the charity’s leader that same month.
The stones were illegal “blood diamonds,” which are linked to African war crimes, exploitation and money laundering. According to his lawyers, Ractliffe didn’t know that holding on to the jewels was against the law, BBC reported.
“I did what I did for what I felt were totally valid reasons,” he told reporters outside the courtroom after his verdict, according to Irish news Web site The Journal. “I have always thought I was innocent and it was very nice to have this proven.”