A Dutch appeal court sentenced businessman Guus Kouwenhoven to 19 years in prison on April 21, for being an accessory to war crimes and arms trafficking in Liberia. The court found Kouwenhoven complicit in the deaths of 250,000 people, primarily in Liberia but also in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.
This decision was in fact the second time Kouwenhoven has been sentenced. The first time, in June 2006, a Dutch court sentenced him for eight years for arms smuggling, but was later acquitted due to unreliable testimony where witnesses may have been under threat , bribed, or drugged.
Under the cover of a legitimate business, the Oriental Timber Company, Kouwenhoven hid weapons caches within shipments of timber to Liberia between 2001 and 2003. It was reported that Kouwenhoven imported, stored, and distributed weapons to then-president Charles Taylor in defiance of a UN arms embargo. Taylor, whose administration was notorious for mass atrocities, child soldiers, and sexual slavery, used the weapons in armed conflicts with anti-government rebels during the Second Liberian Civil War. Taylor’s forces subsequently targeted not only rebel combatants, but also frequently killed innocent civilians in the bloody conflict.
Patrick Alley, the Director of Global Witness, remarked that, “…there’s only a checkbook between [the]company and the murder of thousands of people.” In Kouwenhoven’s case, the Oriental Timber Company was deeply entangled with Charles Taylor’s political and financial interests, and he granted the company lucrative trading concessions. The sentencing may be the first time buying conflict resources has resulted in a war crimes conviction. It is hoped that the sentencing sets an example discouraging businessmen from profiting from war.
Kouwenhoven, was deported from the United States during the 1970s for attempting to sell stolen Rembrandt paintings. He was not present for the ruling due to medical reasons and denied all accusations.