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The Affair of the Diamonds

One should keep an eye out for the provenance of precious stones.  At least, that’s the message that has been cropping up in recent times with the war crimes trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor in The Hague.  The model Naomi Campbell is a feature of this gruesome affair.  She was recently in the witness stand, doing her level best to lessen the gravity of her possession of three uncut diamonds that are now in police custody.  That, in many ways, will be the nub of the matter, at least as far as Campbell is concerned.  Possession of an uncut diamond in South Africa is an offence warranting a range of severe punishments.

Campbell continues to insist that her contact with these objects, courtesy of Taylor, was as fleeting as her involvement with the former leader, as she passed them on to Jeremy Ratliffe, one time head of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in September 1997.  Taylor was in the business of using the diamond trade to fund the insurgent conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Campbell’s behaviour has been deemed acceptable by such spiky commentators as Brendan O’Neill, who simply think that beautiful people should accept gifts with a certain blissful ignorance. ‘She didn’t even look in the bag until she’d got her beauty sleep’ (First Post, Aug 6).  Then, the stinging remark, the attempt to find the true culprit: Mia Farrow, that ‘celebrity imperialist’ who has a fetish for saving the Dark Continent with military panaceas against evil ‘black’ leaders.  O’Neill’s verdict: Campbell is merely naïve, if not stupid; Farrow, a creature labouring under the White Woman’s Burden she tries to alleviate with persistent fanaticism.  While Campbell found it a great inconvenience to turn up to the trial, Farrow was eagerly compiling an affidavit on those fateful events in 1997, to which she was apparently privy.

The uncut diamonds affair demonstrates a grotesque comedy behind these stones.  One should hardly be surprised.  Efforts are being made on the one hand to minimize the significance of having been involved in their transfer; on the other to personalise the encounter as a morality tale masquerading as soap opera.  The uncut diamonds were, as Campbell claimed, not that impressive.  As she described at the trial, they were mere ‘dirty looking pebbles’ to her eyes.

Dirty as they might have looked, she evidently hoped that Ratcliffe would ‘make sure children benefit from them’.  And thus, we are made aware of Campbell’s stunning maturity on the subject, made even more stark by her presence with Leonardo Di Caprio in Sardinia, where she is also holidaying with her billionaire companion Vladimir Doronin.  Di Caprio was, as readers might well remember, the protagonist in a film on the subject, titled Blood Diamond.

Much is still murky in this affair.  Whether the diamonds can be genuinely identified as having their origin in the blood diamond trade, specifically connected with Sierra Leone, remains to be seen.  Campbell’s defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths QC has been vigorously defending his client, insisting that the testimony of the super model’s former agent Carole White was a ‘pack of lies’.   But a night of flirting with Taylor might well prove costly to the super model.  Jewellers will have second thoughts about dealing with her.  An industry battling a poor reputation in how it obtains its precious stash will only be handling Campbell with a pair of silver tongs from hereon in.  If they dare.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

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