A Dutch court has found a businessman guilty of arms smuggling and aiding war crimes in Liberia and neighboring countries. Guus Kouwenhoven was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
Dutch timber trader Guus Kouwenhoven was found guilty of delivering weapons to former Liberian leader Charles Taylor's regime between 2000 and 2003 in return for preferential treatment and lucrative contracts for his logging business, in violation of a UN arms embargo.
Judges at the Den Bosch appeals court determined that Kouwenhoven had run two timber companies in Liberia at the time of the Second Liberian Civil War, which were used to smuggle weapons into the country.
The 74-year-old businessman, who denied any wrongdoing throughout the trial, was sentenced to a total of 19 years in prison.
"It has been proven that he is an accessory to war crimes, committed by the armed forces of Charles Taylor in Liberia and the Republic of Guinea," the court said.
"These are serious war crimes which have strongly shocked legal order. Therefore - in accordance with the demand of the prosecution - the court orders the imprisonment" of Kouwenhoven, the verdict continued.
Kouwenhoven "has always denied the facts and has not provided any clarity about his motives. He does not seem to have acted for political or ideological reasons, but for profit," the court further clarified.
The owner of two of the biggest lumber companies in Liberia, Kouwenhoven was known to be close to Taylor.
Helping rebels in Sierra Leone
The judges in Den Bosch said that the arms were directed to former President Taylor's forces involved in "armed conflict in northern Liberia and just across the border in Gueckedou, Guinea."
Taylor had sparked a 13-year civil war in his country after leading a rebellion in 1989 to oust President Samuel Doe. The situation in the country and its neighbors escalated into one of Africa's bloodiest conflicts once Taylor started supporting Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone.
The court in Den Bosch found that Kouwenhoven had helped to supply these rebels with guns and ammunition, while "for several years defenseless civilians became victims." The Sierra Leone civil war claimed an estimated total of 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2002.
Trial and retrial
In an initial case, Guus Kouwenhoven was sentenced to eight years in prison on weapons smuggling charges in June 2006. He was freed on appeal in March 2008.
Then in April 2010, the Dutch Supreme Court overturned the acquittal, ruling that the appeal judges had not heard two new anonymous prosecution witnesses nor given sufficient reason for this, and ordered a retrial on war crimes charges that led to the appeals court's decision.
Judges said they hoped that the final verdict would serve as an example to others who may do business with governments like Taylor's "that they can thereby become involved in serious war crimes."
ss/msh (AFP, Reuters)