FLASHBACK: How Naomi Campbell met war criminal Charles Taylor — and received ‘blood diamonds’ from him

There are lots of side attractions and talking points about President Muhammadu Buhari’s just concluded two-day visit to Lagos State, one of which, and perhaps the most controversial, is his meeting with Naomi Campbell, British supermodel and celebrity.

The meeting between the duo has generated heated controversy among Nigerians on the social media, even though the Presidency had explained that Campbell was not in the country on the invitation of the federal government.

“For the sake of clarity, President Buhari didn’t invite Ms. Naomi Campbell to any event during his 2-day visit to Lagos State,” explained Bashir Ahmad, Buhari’s Personal Assistant on New Media. “They only met at the Eko Atlantic City while Mr. President was touring the project, and she requested to take photos with him.”

But Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to the President on Digital/New Media, in his usual manner, took his explanation to a new low, branding the critics “animals” and saying they’re “raving mad”.

“Naomi Campbell met Nelson Mandela more than once. He hugged her, called her his ‘honorary granddaughter’. She visits Nigeria for a fashion festival and meets President Buhari, and some of you animals are slandering her. YOU’RE RAVING MAD WITH NOBODY TO TELL YOU,” the ostensibly angry Ogunlesi tweeted.

Ogunlesi had referred to former President Goodluck Jonathan as a “bloody sadist” for causing serious traffic gridlock during his visit to Lagos State in 2012.

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However, the controversy on the social media over Buhari’s meeting with Campbell stems from the her benefiting from Liberia’s ‘blood diamonds’, used by Charles Taylor, former Liberian President, to finance the six-year civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2012.

In 2010, during the Taylor’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Campbell agreed to receiving “three stones” from an unknown admirer, during a visit to South Africa.

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Those “dirty stones” were actually 24-carat diamonds and Campbell knew it.

Campbell and Taylor sat together during a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela in September 1997 and evidence in court suggested they had been “mildly flirtatious” with each other while the dinner lasted.

Thereafter, Campbell said that she was given three “small, dirty-looking stones” by some mysterious visitors, adding that “I’m used to seeing diamonds shiny and in a box”.

She said she accepted the “dirty-looking stones” when they were presented to her later in the night but insisted she had no idea who sent them.

However, the witness of Mia Farrow, an American Actress, who also was at the dinner in South Africa, suggested Campbell knew the diamonds were from Taylor.

Farrow told the court that the next morning at breakfast, Campbell told her that Taylor had dispatched his men to present her with a “huge diamond” and that she intended to hand it over to Mandela’s charity.

It was not clear whether Campbell handed the diamonds to the charity or not.

The special court was jointly established by the United Nations and the Sierra Leonean Government to “try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone” between November 1996 and January 2002.

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However, while the other actors were tried in Sierra Leone, Taylor’s trial was moved to the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague after the UN Security Council expressed concerns that his presence in Freetown could lead to a breakdown of law and order.

The trial began in January 2008 and more than 115 witnesses were called to testify. Closing arguments were made in March 2011.

In May 2012, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison “for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history”.

He is currently serving his sentence in a prison in the United Kingdom after the rejection of his application to be transferred to a Rwandan prison.

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