South Africa: Mandela charity’s ex-chief faces criminal charges for possessing uncut diamonds

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mandela charity ex-chief faces criminal charges

JOHANNESBURG — The South African man whom supermodel Naomi Campbell testified she gave diamonds to is now facing criminal charges, an official said Friday.

National Director of Public Prosecutions spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said Friday that Jeremy Ractliffe appeared in a Johannesburg court on Tuesday. Mhaga said that Ractliffe’s next court appearance on charges of possessing uncut diamonds is scheduled for Oct. 27.

Mhaga said Ractliffe has been changed for violating the Diamonds Act of 1956 which makes an offense to possess uncut diamonds. Mhaga said the hearing postponement is meant to give Ractliffe’s attorneys time to make representation to the prosecution body.

“He is out on warning,” Mhaga, told The Associated Press.

Ractliffe was chief executive in 1997 of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund when Campbell said she received uncut diamonds after a charity fundraiser also attended by Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor is being tried in The Hague for trading in illegal diamonds, referred to during his trial as “blood diamonds,” to arm rebels in Sierra Leone.

Campbell testified during Taylor’s war crimes trial at the Hague she received the diamonds from three men who came to her hotel room. Campbell said that she did not know the source of the diamonds, but other witnesses said she bragged about getting them from Taylor.

Campbell said she gave Ractliffe the diamonds the morning after she received them, as a donation to Mandela’s charity. Ractliffe said he didn’t tell the foundation about the diamonds, and kept the stones in a safe for 13 years until he handed them over to police after Campbell’s August testimony.

Ractliffe, a respected businessman, has said he kept the stones and did not report them to authorities in a bid to protect the reputations of Mandela, Campbell and the charity, of which he was a founder.

Ractliffe, then a trustee of the fund, announced in August he would leave the organization after the scandal broke.

It is illegal in South Africa to possess a rough diamond because of possible links to conflict zones, money-laundering and other crimes.

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