Mandela charity ex-chief innocent in diamond case

AP News
Posted: Jun 15, 2011 12:30 PM
Mandela charity ex-chief innocent in diamond case

A prominent South African businessman to whom supermodel Naomi Campbell testified she gave gems was found not guilty Wednesday in a "blood diamonds" case.

Jeremy Ractliffe, former chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, had been charged with violating laws against possessing uncut diamonds. It is illegal in South Africa to possess a rough diamond because of its possible links to funding fighters in African civil wars, money laundering and other crimes.

"Mr. Ractliffe, you are not guilty and discharged," Magistrate Renier Boshoff said after hearing just a half day of testimony. Ractliffe had been accompanied to court Wednesday by his wife and five daughters, who embraced after hearing the verdict.

Ractliffe 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.

"I did what I did for what I felt were totally valid reasons," Ractliffe told reporters outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. "I have always thought I was innocent and it was very nice to have this proven."

Ractliffe was chief executive in 1997 of the Mandela charity when Campbell said she received uncut diamonds after a fundraiser also attended by Liberia's then President Charles Taylor. Taylor was believed to be the source of the diamonds. He is being tried in The Hague for trading in illegal diamonds.

Campbell testified during Taylor's war crimes trial at the Hague she received the diamonds from three men who came to her hotel room after the fundraising dinner. 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 2010 testimony.

Ractliffe had already stepped down as chief executive by last August. He resigned as a trustee after the diamond scandal broke.