14 August 2010

Sierra Leone: Mia Farrow And Carole White Contradict Naomi Campbell's Testimony, Issa Sesay's Cross-Examination Begins

Photo: White House/Pete Souza
U.S. President Barack Obama discusses the situation in Sudan with actor George Clooney in 2010.

The much anticipated testimonies of three celebrity witnesses were concluded this week with Hollywood actress Mia Farrow and modeling agent Carole White both contradicting the evidence of supermodel Naomi Campbell about allegations that Charles Taylor gave the supermodel rough diamonds in South Africa in 1997.

This week also saw the conclusion of the direct examination and the commencement of the cross-examination of Mr. Taylor's 19th witness, Issa Hassan Sesay.

Last week, Ms. Campbell herself testified about the incident that happened in South Africa, telling the judges in The Hague that two men had knocked on her door in the middle of the night, gave her a pouch, and said, "a gift for you." When she opened the pouch the following morning, she discovered that it contained "dirty-looking stones," which she later gave to Jeremy Ratcliffe, the head on the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. When she told Ms. Farrow and Ms. White about the incident at breakfast, one of the two ladies suggested that the diamonds must have come from Mr. Taylor, an assumption that she also came to make, she said.

On Monday, both Ms. Farrow and Ms. White testified that Ms. Campbell's account of the incident was not correct.

First to testify was Ms. Farrow, who explained that the morning after they had all attended the star-studded dinner that was hosted by Nelson Mandela, she was at breakfast when Ms. Campbell approached her with excitement and told her that Mr. Taylor had sent her "a huge diamond" while she was asleep the previous night. Ms. Farrow said Ms. Campbell went on to say she was going to donate the diamond to the Nelson Mandela Children's Charity Fund.

"She [Ms. Campbell] said at night, some men had knocked at her door and there were two men that were sent by Charles Taylor, and they had given her a huge diamond and that she was going to donate it to Mr. Mandela's charity," Ms. Farrow told the court.

"As I recall it, she was quite excited," she added.

Ms. Farrow said she was never shown the diamond. When asked a direct question as to whether she was the one who had told Ms. Campbell that the diamonds must have been from Mr. Taylor, Ms. Farrow said, "Absolutely not...Naomi Campbell said that diamonds were from Charles Taylor."

Under cross-examination, defense lawyers tried to establish that Ms. Farrow had difficulty recollecting different things, that her testimony did not only contradict that of Ms. Campbell but also contradicts the statements made by Ms. White to prosecutors, and that as an activist involved in issues relating to Africa, such as Darfur, she had a motive of working against African leaders she perceived to be oppressing their people.

Defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Morris Anyah, in cross-examining Ms. Farrow pointed out that while she was testifying that the gift given to Ms. Campbell was a "huge diamond," Ms. Campbell herself who received the said gift had testified that there were "two to three small dirty-looking stones," and that Ms. White in her statement to prosecutors had said there were about five pieces of diamonds.

In her response to these points, Ms. Farrow said, "I didn't see the diamond or diamonds, I can only tell you what Naomi Campbell said."

Mr. Anyah also read a BBC Africa news article that quoted Mr. Jeremy Ractcliffe, the former head of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund to whom Ms. Campbell had handed the diamonds, stating "three small uncut diamonds were given to me by Naomi Campbell."

"Three persons referring to diamonds in the plural...they were small in size," Mr. Anyah told Ms. Farrow.

"Do you stand by your recollection that what you heard Naomi Campbell say was that this was a huge size diamond?" Mr. Anyah asked Ms. Farrow.

"That is what I recall. The other persons saw the diamonds...I can only recall what Ms. Campbell said," Ms. Farrow responded.

"What Naomi Campbell said that morning, to the best of my recollection, she said a large diamond," she added.

As Ms. Farrow concluded her testimony, Ms. Campbell's former agent Mr. White commenced her evidence during which she not only contradicted Ms. Campbell's account, but also contradicted several portions of Ms. Farrow's testimony.

According to Ms. White, while they were all having dinner at Mr. Mandela's residence in September 1997, Mr. Taylor and Ms. Campbell "were being charming to each other...mildly flirting...they were just being affable."

Ms. White told the court that during the said company between Mr. Taylor and Ms. Campbell, the supermodel informed her (White) with excitement that Mr. Taylor had promised to send her diamonds.

"Naomi was very excited and said ,'Oh he is going to give me some diamonds'," Ms. White said.

Ms. White also explained how Mr. Taylor and Ms. Campbell discussed that two men would enter the guesthouse with the diamonds and hand them over to Ms. Campbell. At night, she said that herself and Ms. Campbell were anxiously waiting for the two men to show up with the diamonds, but when they waited longer than expected, they decided to go to bed.

According to Ms. White, when the men eventually arrived, she was the one who first woke up to receive them before she woke Ms. Campbell up.

"[I] heard some clinking noises on my window...I opened the window and there were two guys standing on the ground...'we [the two men] have something for Ms. Campbell'...and I told them to wait. I went to Ms. Campbell's room and told her that the men were here," she explained.

When the men came into the house, Ms. White said, "they took out a scruffy piece of paper and gave it to Ms. Campbell...she opened it and showed them to me. They were quite disappointing because they were not shiny."

Contrary to Ms. Campbell's testimony that there were three pieces of diamonds in the pouch and Ms. Farrow's account that she had been informed of a "huge diamond," Ms. White told the court that she believed there were five to six pieces of diamonds in the piece of paper.

Under cross-examination by lead counsel for Mr. Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths, he pointed out that Ms. White had a breach of contract lawsuit against Ms. Campbell, and she wanted to use this story to destroy her (Ms. Campbell).

"You have a very powerful motive for lying about Ms. Campbell," Mr. Griffiths put to Ms. White.

"I suggest...that you don't come to this court with clean hands...your motive for lying...is to provide yourself with ammunition for use against her in the lawsuit," Mr. Griffiths said.

Ms. White responded that this was not the case and that the issue of blood diamonds had nothing to do with a civil matter that she had to settle in court with Ms. Campbell.

Ms. White was also confronted with materials printed from the social networking site Facebook under the page of one Annie Wilshaw, who is an employee of Ms. White's modeling agency. On this Facebook page, Ms. Wilshaw displayed photographs of a party that was hosted by Ms. White on the Thursday that Mr. Campbell testified and then titled the pictures "blood diamond night." Subsequent comments which followed the photograph included "this is a big inconvenience for me" (a line stated by Ms. Campbell in her testimony). It was followed by "it will be when Carole arrives at The Hague and ruins your tale on Monday."

Ms. White responded that the pictures were from a party to open a new modeling house, and she was not aware that her employees had made such comments about the event.

On Tuesday, defense lawyers concluded the cross-examination of Ms. White, during which she said that she has not told lies about this incident.

"I have known this story since 1997 and it's, you know, quite an amazing story...however, when I was told by my lawyer that Charles Taylor had been in The Hague in a war crimes trial, I realized it was very serious and the blood diamond issue had a big bearing on the case and it was my duty to tell my story, it happened 13 years ago, I haven't lied and it is a true story," Ms. White told the court.

As Mr. Griffiths cross-examined Ms. White, he questioned Ms. White's account that while at the dinner table with Mr. Mandela and his guests, Mr. Taylor and Ms. Campbell had been "mildly flirting" with each other.

"This flirtation between Mr. Taylor and Naomi Campbell is a figment of your imagination. You've made that up," Mr. Griffiths put to Ms. White.

In her response, Ms. White said, "I haven't made it up."

Mr. Griffiths also read portions of Ms. White's statement that was made to prosecutors prior to her testimony in court. According to Mr. Griffiths, there were several inconsistencies between Ms. White's written statement and that of her oral testimony and that Ms. White had embellished her account with several lies.

"I suggest you've embellished this account with a number of blatant lies," Mr. Griffiths said.

The witness denied Mr. Griffith's assertion.

Mr. Griffiths also pointed out that in her written statement to prosecutors, Ms. White had stated that she "heard Mr. Taylor tell Ms. Campbell that he was going to send her diamonds."

When asked whether she indeed heard Mr. Taylor say so, Ms. White told the court that it was Ms. Campbell who said so. When Mr. Taylor overheard Ms. Campbell, the former president nodded in agreement.

"When Naomi Campbell leaned back to tell me that Mr. Taylor was going to send her diamonds...he [Taylor] was definitely acquiescing," Ms. White said.

"He [Taylor] nodded that he was going to send her diamonds. I didn't hear the words..I don't recall..he was nodding in agreement," she added.

White also told the court that the diamonds were delivered in a scruffy piece of paper and that it was Ms. Campbell who put them in a pouch the following morning. She said that she was present when Ms. Campbell gave the diamonds to Mr. Ratcliffe saying that the diamonds had been given to her by Mr. Taylor.

On Wednesday, the court returned to normal hearings with a continuation of the testimony of Mr. Sesay, the former interim leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group.

Mr. Sesay told the court on Wednesday that allegations of the RUF capturing materials from United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone and sending such materials to Mr. Taylor are false.

In May 2000, as Sierra Leone was getting ready to disarm thousands of rebel fighters, RUF rebels took hundreds of UN peacekeepers hostage and seized several materials including arms, ammunition, vehicles, and communication equipment from the peacekeepers. RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, was arrested by the government of Sierra Leone and Issa Hassan Sesay, after a meeting with Mr. Taylor in Liberia, facilitated the release of the peacekeepers. Mr. Sesay eventually became interim leader of the RUF.

In 2008, a witness who claimed to have been working within Mr. Taylor's security apparatus in Liberia, testified for the prosecution and told the court that on Mr. Taylor's instructions, the heavy artillery weapons that were seized from the UN peacekeepers were taken to Liberia by Mr. Sesay, and the weapons were used to provide security for Mr. Taylor. Mr. Sesay described this account as false. According to Mr. Sesay, all materials that were seized from the peacekeepers were given back to the UN in Sierra Leone.

"That did not happen...I did not send any artillery pieces to Mr. Taylor in Liberia," Mr. Sesay told the court.

"I did not give any instruction to take any UNAMSIL [United Nations Missions in Sierra Leone] weapon to Mr. Taylor in Liberia. The weapons that were captured from them were handed back to the UN before disarmament," he added.

Mr. Sesay further denied prosecution evidence that he provided some help through the transfer of weapons from Sierra Leone to Liberia's Special Security Services (SSS) Director, Benjamin Yeaten, who was mobilizing forces to attack Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels. At the time LURD rebels were threatening to unseat Mr. Taylor's government in Liberia. TFI-375, the witness who testified about this incident claimed that he was present and saw the weapons being handed from Mr. Sesay to Mr. Yeaten.

When talking about the support that Mr. Taylor and his forces allegedly gave to the RUF in Sierra Leone, TFI-375 told the court in 2008 that he was very close to Mr. Yeaten and that he was personally involved in transporting arms and ammunition for rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Sesay denied this claim, telling the court that he only had contact with Mr. Yeaten in 2000 and at that time, RUF forces were no longer fighting in Sierra Leone.

"During this time when I was in contact with Benjamin Yeaten, the war was not continuing in Sierra Leone, and I did not have any arms dealings with Benjamin Yeaten," Mr. Sesay said.

"I did not have anybody that was bringing arms and ammunition for me from Benjamin Yeaten, that is not true," he added.

Witness TFI-375 also told the court that when the RUF arrested the peacekeepers in 2000, it was Mr. Sesay who first contacted Mr. Yeaten to seek advise from Mr. Taylor on how to handle the situation. Mr. Sesay said that this never happened.

"That's a lie, I did not talk to Benjamin Yeaten on satellite phone, and I did not send a radio message to Benjamin Yeaten after the capture of the UN peacekeepers," Mr. Sesay said.

According to Mr. Sesay, after the capture of the UN peacekeepers, Mr. Taylor sent Mr. Yeaten to invite him to Liberia where they discussed the release of the peacekeepers. If he had communicated with Mr. Yeaten by satellite phone or radio, there would have been no need for Mr. Taylor to send Mr. Yeaten to fetch him with a helicopter, he said.

On Thursday, Mr. Griffiths concluded the direct-examination of Mr. Sesay, paving the way for prosecutors to commence the cross-examination of the witness.

As he concluded the direct examination of Mr. Sesay, Mr. Griffiths, asked the witness whether he has anything to gain by coming to The Hague to testify for Mr. Taylor.

"I don't have anything to gain," Mr. Sesay told the court.

"My decision to come here is because I was sitting in my detention and listening to the radio and hearing people say lies about me just because I disarmed the RUF, so I decided to come here and testify. I have nothing to gain," he added.

As his cross-examination started, prosecution counsel conducting Mr. Sesay's cross-examination, Nicholas Koumjian, immediately went to the testimony that Mr. Sesay gave as a witness in his own defense during his trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown. Mr. Koumjian focused on the arms and ammunition that were bought and used by the RUF to attack the diamond rich town of Kono in December 1998.

The issue of who provided arms for the December 1998 attack on Kono has been widely discussed in this trial. According to prosecution witnesses, with Mr. Taylor's assistance, RUF rebels travelled to Burkina Faso, where they obtained the arms and ammunition needed for the attack. The aircraft that transported the arms and ammunition for the mission landed at Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Liberia before they were transported to Sierra Leone. A particular RUF member, who claimed to have been involved in transporting these materials from Burkina Faso, testified for the prosecution in 2008 and told the court that they met with Mr. Taylor at his Executive Mansion in Liberia. During this meeting, they discussed the operation to obtain the arms in Burkian Faso.

Mr. Sesay in his testimony this month has told the court that these pieces of evidence are false. According to Mr. Sesay, the arms and ammunition used for the attack on Kono were purchased from United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) rebels in Lofa County, Liberia.

However, under cross-examination today, Mr. Koumjian pointed out that Mr. Sesay's account in his testimony for Mr. Taylor differs from what he said when he testified on behalf of himself before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown in 2007. During his 2007 trial, Mr. Sesay gave testimony that supported the evidence of prosecution witnesses. In 2007, he testified that the ammunition used for the attack on Kono was obtained from Burkina Faso by Mr. Bockarie. When confronted with the contradiction, Mr. Sesay said that at the time he testified on behalf himself in 2007, he could not recall all these issues. He has only now been able to recall what happened, he said. Mr. Koumjian put to him that he was lying because he wanted to protect Mr. Taylor.

"Because you yourself testified in 2007...that the ammunition came from Burkina Faso and you are lying to this Trial Chamber about it, trying to protect Charles Taylor for his responsibility for the terrible things that happened in 1998 and 1999 in Sierra Leone, isn't that true...you testified under oath in 2007 the ammunition came from Burkina Faso. That was the truth. Were you telling the truth in 2007 or were you lying?" Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Sesay.

"I said when after I had testified, when I was reading the transcript, I realized that the account I had given was not the right account," Mr. Sesay responded.

On Friday, Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Sesay to account to the people of Sierra Leone what the RUF did with the country's diamonds and whether the war in Sierra Leone was about diamonds.

When asked whether "the war in Sierra Leone was a war about diamonds," Mr. Sesay said, "No."

"It was not a war about diamonds because from 1991 to 1997, the RUF was not occupying diamond areas," Mr. Sesay said.

When asked whether this situation changed after 1997, Mr. Sesay again said, "No."

"If it was a war about diamonds, I wouldn't have disarmed in the diamond areas..." he added.

Mr. Koumjian read a portion of a November 2000 newspaper, which quoted Mr. Taylor as saying, "Yes, I think that the war in Sierra Leone is a war about diamonds but not for Liberia to take those diamonds."

In response to this statement, Mr. Sesay said, "I wouldn't agree because the war in Sierra Leone was not about diamonds."

When Mr. Sesay was asked to account to the people of Sierra Leone what he did with the country's diamonds, Mr. Sesay explained that he sold the diamonds and the proceeds were used to take care of RUF members, who were also Sierra Leoneans.

"The diamonds that I got I used to sell and used the money to take care of the RUF...The RUF soldiers that I took care of, they were Sierra Leoneans," he said.

In response to a question as to the number of "stones" [diamonds] that he received while he was in control of the RUF, Mr. Sesay said, "I can't remember the exact number of stones I received."

He also said that he cannot recall the exact amount of money that he obtained from the sale of the diamonds that were mined by the RUF.

"You can't account because the bulk of the diamonds went to Charles Taylor, isn't it," Mr. Koumjian put to Mr. Sesay.

"Well, as far as money was concerned, the diamonds I used to receive I used to sell, I did not give diamonds to Mr. Taylor," Mr. Sesay responded.

Prosecutors allege that the RUF subjected civilians in diamond mining towns to forced labor in order to work as miners. Some of these civilians were killed when they could not work as miners, prosecutors allege. It is further alleged that the diamonds, once mined, were taken to Mr. Taylor in Liberia by RUF commanders, including Mr. Sesay. Mr. Taylor has denied receiving diamonds from RUF rebels, and in his testimony as a defense witness for Mr. Taylor, Mr. Sesay has also denied taking diamonds to Mr. Taylor in Liberia.

Prosecutors also noted today that Mr. Sesay himself and RUF commander Sam Bockarie looked at Mr. Taylor as a father figure in their lives, and Mr. Taylor took them to be his sons. Prosecutors highlighted the crimes committed by Mr. Bockarie in Sierra Leone and his public pronouncements about being a "ruthless commander." Even with, such pronouncements and reports of Mr. Bockarie's atrocities in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor still took him to be his son, Mr. Koumjian said in court.

Mr. Koumjian read a portion of Mr. Taylor's testimony in which the former Liberian president told the court how he liked Mr. Bockarie after he was confronted with evidence that he ordered the execution of Mr. Bockarie.

"I never wanted that boy dead, I liked him like a son. I never wanted him dead. I never would have handed him to Kabbah [former Sierra Leonean president]...I loved that boy," Mr. Taylor said in 2009.

"That's what Charles Taylor said about Sam Bockarie, the man who did all this evil and threatened a campaign of evil to kill all living things," Mr. Koumjian said after reading the statement.

"Well, I don't know, that is what Charles Taylor said, that was his opinion," Mr. Sesay responded.

Mr. Koumjian also pointed out that when Mr. Bockarie left the RUF and relocated to Liberia, Mr. Taylor gave him a huge salary because of the relationship that existed between them.

"Sam Bockarie had a salary of 1000 USD a month when the average Liberian is living on less than one USD a day...that's how a father treats a son," Mr. Koumjian said.

Mr. Sesay responded that he never knew that Mr. Bockarie was receiving 1000 USD per month while in Liberia.

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