JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The former head of Nelson Mandela’s children’s charity has been found not guilty in a “blood diamonds” case.
Jeremy Ractliffe, former chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, had been charged with illegally possessing uncut diamonds, which had been given to him by supermodel Naomi Campbell. It is illegal in South Africa to possess a rough diamond.
Last August, Campbell testified during the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor that she received some “dirty-looking stones” after a charity fundraiser held by Nelson Mandela in 1997, GlobalPost reported.
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The diamonds were believed to have come from Taylor, who is being tried in The Hague for trading in illegal diamonds to secure weapons for Sierra Leone's notoriously brutal rebels during the 1991-2001 civil war — a charge he denies.
Campbell said she gave Ractliffe the diamonds the morning after she received them, as a donation to Mandela's charity. Ractliffe has said he kept the stones in a bid to protect the reputations of Mandela and the charity, and said that he did not know that possession of the rough stones was illegal.
Ractliffe kept the diamonds in a safe for 13 years until he handed them over to South African police following Campbell’s testimony at The Hague.
A judge said the state had “not proved its case” against Ractliffe.
"Mr. Ractliffe, you are not guilty of this charge," the South African Press Association quoted Magistrate Renier Boshoff as saying.
"I did what I did for what I felt were totally valid reasons," Ractliffe told reporters outside the courtroom after the verdict, the Associated Press reports. "I have always thought I was innocent and it was very nice to have this proven."
If Ractliffe had been found guilty of illegally possessing uncut diamonds, he could have faced 10 years in prison or a fine of 250,000 rand ($36,600), or both.