Ex-Mandela charity head cleared of diamond charge

Wed Jun 15, 2011 4:12pm GMT

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Nelson Mandela's former aide Jeremy Ractliffe was cleared on Wednesday of illegal ownership of uncut diamonds, a charge that stemmed from a Hague war crimes testimony by supermodel Naomi Campbell.

The SAPA news agency said magistrates in South Africa ruled the state had not proven its case against Ractliffe, who was trustee of Mandela's Children's Fund in 1997 when Campbell gave him rough gems left outside her hotel room after a charity dinner with Mandela and Liberian warlord Charles Taylor.

After Campbell's testimony at Taylor's "blood diamonds" trial in The Hague, Ractliffe admitted to having the uncut gemstones -- a crime in South Africa -- before handing them over to the police.

Hague prosecutors had been trying to prove the gems were "blood diamonds" used by Taylor to fund wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, although the British model said she did not know who had left the "dirty looking pebbles" outside her door.

Ractliffe said he took the stones because he feared Campbell might be breaking the law if she took them out of South Africa. She suggested he sell them and use the money for good causes, although he thought it more prudent simply to keep them.

<p>Jeremy Ractliffe, former head of Nelson Mandela's Children's Fund (NMCF), leaves the Alexandra magistrates court outside Johannesburg, March 2, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer</p>
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