Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Gus Kouwenhoven’s Conviction; Extradition Pending

The Hague, Netherlands December 18, 2018 – The AP is reporting that the Supreme Court in the Netherlands has upheld the conviction of the notorious Dutch arms smuggler Gus Kouwenhoven – a long-time associate of former rebel turned ex-President of Liberia Charles Taylor.

Former Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor
Former Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor

Kouwenhoven who operated the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) in Liberia was convicted in 2006 of international arms and timber smuggling including supply of cars, weapons,  and ammunitions to the main rebel group National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in exchange for access to timber, diamond and natural resources of the poor West African country during its devastating civil war in 1990s. He appealed that conviction and was cleared.

However, new evidence surfaced on which the Dutch national was convicted again early 2017 and sentenced to 19 years  in prison.

In his 2016 book on conflict diamonds entitled, “ The Lion That Didn’t Roar: Can The Kimberly Process Stop the Blood Diamonds Trade?”, author Nigel Davidson wrote that, “…The Netherlands utilised its national war crimes legislation to initiate a prosecution about the related issue of so-called ‘conflict timber’. Although not a conflict diamonds prosecution as such, the war crimes legislation was used to prosecute timber trader and Dutch national Gus Kouwehoven. Reminiscent of the conflict diamonds problem, Kouwehoven allegedly provided financial assistance through is logging activities to human rights violators. Kouwenhoven was charged with war crimes for his role in the conflict in Liberia, as well as breaching United Nations sanctions. The indictment alleged that in at least four locations, Kouwenhoven committed, directly or indirectly, the killing, inhuman treatment, looting, rape, severe bodily harm, and offences against dead, sick or wounded persons. Machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were used in an attack that made no distinction between active combatants and civilians…”

A Dutch Magisterial Court in 2006, however, did not find Kouwenhoven criminally liable for the alleged crimes. An Appeals court in 2008 overturned the decision and ordered him re-tried and he was subsequently convicted.

Charles Taylor Fighters
Charles Taylor Fighters

At the time of Mr. Kouwenhoven’s arrest last December in South Africa, the Executive Director of Global Witness, in a press statement said, “The arrest of Gus Kouwenhoven marks a banner day for the people of Liberia and those around the world who suffer at the hands of companies that trade in conflict timber and minerals. The message to those that trade guns for resources and profit from international crimes is that the rules of the game are changing. You will be found and you will go to jail…”

“Gus” as he was known in Liberia, was a business fixture at the once famed Hotel Africa Hotel in the northern western Liberian suburb of Virginia.

“Years of dogged work by the Dutch government, and now the South African authorities, are paying off and are finally bringing an infamous criminal to justice. Global Witness applauds their efforts. Charles Taylor has already been sentenced and imprisoned. Kouwenhoven now faces a similar fate,” the Global Witness official said last December.

Mr. Kouwenhoven, now residing in South Africa who was appealing his second conviction but with the Dutch Supreme Court’s decision, he is now awaiting extradition to the Netherlands.

Political Map of Liberia
Political Map of Liberia

His lawyers argued before the Dutch Supreme Court that the Kouwenhoven could not be prosecuted because of am amnesty granted to him by former President Taylor in 2003. That argument was rejected by the Court and his conviction upheld.

Over 250,000 Liberians were killed in the country’s civil war and another 1 million others were displaced internally and externally by the bloody conflict. Charles Taylor himself was convicted of charges by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in the Hague in May, 2012. He is currently serving a 50 year prison sentence in the UK.

In Liberia, the Administration f President George M. Weah is facing international and domestic pressure to establish a war crimes court to prosecute those accused of gross human rights abuses and economic crimes.

But the Weah government has said that the establishment of such a court is not a priority.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal