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Mandela charity official ‘received Campbell diamonds’

Mandela charity official ‘received Campbell diamonds’

Jeremy Ractliffe, the former head of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, said he handed three small stones to the police.

He said Miss Campbell gave him “three small uncut diamonds” on the Blue Train as they travelled from Pretoria to Cape Town the morning after a dinner hosted by Mr Mandela.

The existence of the diamonds has been a closely guarded secret for 13 years. Mr Ractliffe said he was attempting to protect the reputations of Mr Mandela, the fund and Miss Campbell.

The stones were only handed to police yesterday when she revealed his role in court.

She was giving evidence at the war crimes tribunal at the Hague of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, who also attended the dinner and is alleged to have given Miss Campbell the diamonds.

Miss Campbell told the court she was given a few “dirty-looking pebbles” following the dinner in September 1997 by two men who knocked on her bedroom door late at night.

Prosecutors claim that the stones were so-called blood diamonds – illegally mined gems used to raise money for arms. Miss Campbell has been accused of accepting them as a gift from Taylor, who is accused of backing a bloody civil war in Sierra Leone in which thousands were mutilated and 120,000 people died.

Mr Ractliffe, who sits on the board of several charities and remains a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, broke his silence to confirm Miss Campbell’s account in a statement sent to this morning.

He said he had taken the diamonds from Miss Campbell – who said she was a close friend of Mr Ractliffe – to protect her from any possible comeback.

“I thought it might well be illegal for her to take uncut diamonds out of the country,” he said.

“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.”

He said he had kept the diamonds hidden away until Miss Campbell uncovered him in her evidence as the man she gave them to following the dinner.

His comments back up the claim by the fund that it knew nothing about the diamonds and had received no proceeds from their sale.

“In the end I decided I should just keep them. A factor that influenced me not to report the matter to anyone was to protect the reputation of the NMCF, Mr Mandela himself and Naomi Campbell, none of whom were benefitting in any way,” he said.

“I did not inform the NMCF or anyone else. I have now handed the alleged diamonds to the South African Authorities.”

He said he would be happy to attend the court in the Hague to give evidence about his involvement, but until then, would not comment further on the matter since it was “sub-judice.”

The South African Police Service has confirmed that it has the diamonds in its possession.

Taylor, 62, is being tried on 11 counts of committing war crimes in Sierra Leone, which borders Liberia, including charges of murder, rape and sexual slavery.

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