Diamond Expert Called as First Prosecution Witness

The Hague

January 7, 2008

The evidentiary phase of the trial of Charles Taylor began today, after a six-month delay.  The Prosecution called its first witness, Ian Smillie, a Research Coordinator with Partnership Africa Canada’s “Diamonds and Human Security Project” and a diamond expert.  Throughout the day, Taylor sat dressed in a dark suit wearing gold rimmed sunglasses looking relaxed as he took notes, some of which he passed to his Defense Counsel.  In front of Taylor sat two of members of his defense team, Lead Counsel Courtenay Griffiths and Co-counsel Terry Munyard.

Smillie testified at length on his background and knowledge of the diamond industry through his involvement in the Kimberley Process and various professional engagements, including an appointment to a United Nations panel of experts in relation to Sierra Leone that issued a report (found here) in December 2000.  He also drafted a report for the Trial Chamber titled “Diamonds, the RUF and the Liberia Connection” and discussed visits to Sierra Leone and Liberia. 

Early in the session, Presiding Judge Sebutinde questioned the Prosecution about how certain aspects of Smillie’s testimony related to the charges in the indictment.  The Prosecution explained that it would demonstrate a “campaign of terror” in certain diamond producing districts of Sierra Leone where diamonds were located through Smillie’s expertise.  Smillie described the presence of diamonds in both Kono District and Tongo Field in the Kenema region of Sierra Leone and confirmed that the RUF transformed diamond fields into labor camps.

As often occurs at the commencement of evidentiary proceedings, the testimony began somewhat haltingly with technical difficulties and confusion by the Prosecution on the procedure for marking and admitting exhibits.  Thereafter, the Prosecution presented several video clips from the History Channel’s documentary film, “Blood Diamonds”, as background of the country and the diamond mining process.  Defense Counsel repeatedly objected to the presentation of these clips through Smillie on the grounds that such evidence lacked proper foundation.  Initially, the Trial Chamber ruled that these clips could be marked for identification purposes but the Defense could challenge their introduction as exhibits when they would be introduced.  Later, however, Defense Counsel objected to a video clip containing an amputee’s story about RUF atrocities and sought to preclude Smillie’s testimony concerning a former student’s experiences during the war.  Griffiths argued that there was nothing to show Smillie knew the witness in the video personally and he was now repeating comments heard from others, and urged the court to “stop using the witness as a conduit of prejudicial material about which he has no experience.”  Presiding Judge Sebutinde agreed, ruling that there was no foundation for this witness to testify on these matters, but continued to permit the Prosecution’s use of video clips.  At the conclusion of the Prosecutor’s questioning, the Defense again argued that while the materials within the expertise of the witness was admissible, other excerpts displaying various atrocities by the RUF should be inadmissible as they were outside the witness’s expertise.   The Trial Chamber deferred a ruling on admissibility until the defense has completed its cross-examination.

Evidence Concerning Taylor and Liberia

The Prosecution elicited some testimony relating to Taylor or Liberia, including:

  • Liberian diamonds were generally low quality diamonds and valued at $25-30/carat as opposed to Sierra Leone diamonds valued at $200/carat.
  • Belgian import figures showing much higher imports of diamonds from Liberia than Liberia’s export figures.
  • Eight sets of invoices recording names of Liberian exporters were checked by Smillie’s UN panel traced to a Monrovia street address that did not exist or had perhaps just a name plate on the door, with couriers instructed to redirect deliveries to the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR).
  • Deliveries of arms into Liberia in an aircraft owned by Leonid Minin, a notorious arms dealer.  Taylor told Smillie’s UN panel that Minin came to Liberia with the aircraft with the intent to sell it to Taylor as a presidential jet, but he declined as it was too expensive.
  • The UN panel had been informed by the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia that U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering had confronted Taylor about trafficking in blood diamonds.  When questioned about this by the panel, Taylor said it was untrue. 
  • Taylor also purportedly said that Liberia’s diamond production was greater than Sierra Leone and new kimberlite pipes had been discovered, but there were no workers at the mine site visited by the UN panel.
  • The UN panel’s report expressed deep concerns regarding the Liberian government’s support for the RUF, and the flow of diamonds from Sierra Leone through Liberia, and Smillie said this still reflected his views.

Cross Examination

Defense Counsel Terry Munyard began cross-examination of Smillie, attacking various statements from his testimony and developing themes the Defense may seek to emphasize throughout the course of the trial.  He sought to establish that:

  • Smillie has no formal training in geology, statistics, or subsequent formal training in economics following his bachelor’s degree. 
  • The witness’s only trip to Liberia, apart from a brief stop in-transit, was in October 2000 as a member of the UN expert panel. 
  • Before the Kimberley Process (a joint governments, industry and civil society effort to stem the flow of conflict diamonds), 20-25% of diamond exports were illicit, and that process was not established until mid-2003.
  • The value of Liberian diamonds used by Smillie (the $25-30/carat figure) was the price in the 1960s and 70s.
  • Belgian report statistics and diamond certificates were unreliable before the Kimberley Process, demonstrating confusion in the diamond industry concerning origin of diamonds.
  • Russia played a significant role in the international diamond trade.
  • Smillie did not know a lot about diamond production in Liberia.
  • The LISCR was completely contracted out by the 1990s and was in practice completely run by an American company.

Cross-examination of Smillie will continue tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.