Prosecutors can reopen their case against former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, paving the way for them to try to bring star-studded witnesses – including supermodel Naomi Campbell and Hollywood actress Mia Farrow — to testify at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Last month, prosecutors had asked the judges if they could re-open their case to focus on allegations that Mr. Taylor gave Ms. Campbell rough cut diamonds during a trip to South Africa in September 1997 – diamonds which prosecutors say were given to Mr. Taylor by Sierra Leonean rebels to exchange for weapons to help fuel the country’s brutal 11-year conflict in the 1990s. Prosecutors also want to bring in the supermodel’s former agent, Carol White, along with Ms. Farrow, to testify for one day about the allegations, which were said to have occurred after a celebrity-filled charity dinner hosted by former South African president, Nelson Mandela. In their motion to the judges, prosecutors argued that the evidence the three women can provide “was unknown to the prosecution when it formally closed its case on 27 February 2009″ and relates to “a ‘central issue’ to the prosecution’s case: The Accused’s possession of rough diamonds.”
Mr. Taylor’s lawyers had opposed the request, telling judges that “no reasonable Court could find that the anticipated evidence is relevant to the charges against Mr. Taylor.” Defense lawyers also argued that the prosecutors should have made greater efforts to seek evidence before their case was over about Mr. Taylor’s trips outside Liberia and his alleged possession of rough diamonds. “Thus the prosecution Motion must be denied,” defense lawyers said.
Today, the judges ruled in favor of the prosecution, allowing them to re-open their case and bring new evidence against the former Liberian president. In delivering their ruling, the judges relied on Rule 85(A) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which describes the sequence in which evidence could be presented as “(i) evidence for the prosecution, (ii) evidence for the defense, (iii) prosecution evidence in rebuttal, with leave of the Trial Chamber, and (iv) evidence ordered by the Trial Chamber.” The judges also relied on international jurisprudence that the prosecution “may further be granted leave to re-open its case in order to present new evidence not previously available to it.”
According to the judges, the requirements for a party to reopen its case in such a situation are twofold:
1. “The party must meet the threshold test of establishing that the evidence could not, with reasonable diligence, have been obtained and presented during its case in chief”; and if this test is met:
2. “The Trial Chamber must be of the view that the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the need to ensure a fair trial.”
The judges held that prosecutors only received information about the alleged diamond gift in June 2009 — “well after [the prosecution] had closed its case” and had since been unable to contact Ms. Campbell.
“Accordingly, the Trial Chamber is satisfied not only that the Prosecution has shown that it could not, with reasonable diligence, have obtained and presented the fresh evidence during its case in chief, but that it subsequently acted with reasonable diligence to obtain such evidence,” the judges stated.
The judges also thought the three high profile witnesses may offer valuable information.
“The Trial Chamber, having perused the declaration of Mia Farrow and the interview notes of Carole White, is satisfied that the proposed fresh evidence is highly probative and material to the indictment,” according to today’s decision.
Judges were also not concerned that testimony of the three extra witnesses would be unfair to Mr. Taylor. His defense team had known about Ms. Farrow’s statement since December 2009 and about Ms. White’s evidence before prosecutors did. Since the prosecutors were asking for one day to complete their examination of the three witnesses, it would not cause any undue delay.
“The Trial Chamber is also satisfied that no injustice would be caused to the Defense by such re-opening in that it will be entitled to test the evidence of the proposed witnesses by cross-examination and may apply for time to make further investigations and call further evidence if necessary,” the judges said.
“Accordingly, the Trial Chamber finds that this is an appropriate case for the Trial Chamber to exercise its discretion to allow the Motion, in that the proposed fresh evidence is not substantially outweighed by the need to ensure a fair trial,” the judges concluded in their ruling.
The judges directed prosecutors to call the “proposed additional witnesses as soon as practicable and in any event before the close of the defense case.”
Judges still need to decide on the prosecutors’ request to issue a subpoena for Ms. Campbell.