Guus Van Kouwenhoven

02.05.2016 ( Last modified: 11.01.2018 )
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Guus Van Kouwenhoven is a Dutch businessman, born in 1943. Van Kouwenhoven was close to the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor.

Throughout the civil war which raged on for seven years in Liberia and caused the death of 250’000 people, the parties to the conflict financed their war activities through overly exploiting and exporting the natural resources of the country. In particular, Charles Taylor used the funds generated by the excessive exploitation of timber and diamonds to illegally acquire large quantities of arms.

In his position as Director of Operations of the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) and of the Royal Timber Company (RTC) in Liberia, Van Kouwenhoven managed the biggest timber operations in Liberia. Having very close relations with Charles Taylor, Van Kouwenhoven facilitated the import of arms for the latter thereby infringing resolutions of the UN Security Council.

The United Nations Organisation consequently issued an order in 2001 banning Guus Van Kouwenhoven from travelling, qualifying him as “an arms trafficker in breach of Resolution 1343 of the Security Council” in addition to being “ someone who supported the efforts of ex-President Taylor in destabilising Sierra Leone to gain illegal access to its diamonds”.

According to the prosecution “the militias hired by the former timber companies belonging to this Dutchman, are accused of participating in the massacre of civilians not even sparing the life of babies. Guus Van Kouwenhoven is accused of having supplied the arms to the militias to enable them to carry out these crimes”.

legal procedure

Guus Van Kouwenhoven was arrested in the Netherlands on 18 March 2005. He was accused of having delivered arms to Liberia and to be involved in war crimes committed in that country. The prosecution also charged him with having breached the embargo decreed by the United Nations with respect to Liberia.

It was alleged that the militias employed by Van Kouwenhoven’s companies were responsible for the massacre of countless civilians. He was also accused of supplying the arms used during these killings.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) has supported the Dutch investigators due to the fact that Guus Van Kouwenhoven was known to be close to Charles Taylor, the ex-President of Liberia, indicted by the SCSL.

His trial began on 24 April 2006 in the Hague. On 7 June 2006, the Dutch court acquitted Van Kouwenhoven of war crimes charges for lack of evidence. He was sentenced to an 8-year prison term, for breaking the UN arms embargo against Liberia.

Both sides filed an appeal. The Dutch public prosecution service demanded a conviction for war crimes and a 20 year sentence plus a 450,000 Euro fine for Kouwenhoven.

On 19 March 2007, he was conditionally released pending his appeals trial.

Appeal hearings began in February 2008. On 1 February 2008, Charles Taylor was heard as a witness.

On 10 March 2008 a Dutch appeals court overturned the conviction of Van Kouwenhoven and acquitted him. The appeals court cited insufficient evidence and found that some witness testimony was contradictory.

In mid-March 2008 Dutch prosecutors announced their intention to appeal against the Appeals court decision before the Supreme Court on the grounds that the appeals judges improperly dismissed a request to hear two key witnesses.

On 20 April 2010 the Supreme Court of the Netherlands (de Hoge Raad) overturned the decision of the Court of Appeals.. The Dutch Supreme Court considered that appeals judges had been wrong to reject a prosecution request to hear the evidence of two new witnesses.

The new appellate trial began on 6 February 2017 before the Court of Appeal in Den Bosch. There had been a significant delay in investigations and witness interviews due to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most notably, the two key witnesses whose testimonies were the subject of the Supreme Court ruling could not be located and have thus not been heard by the appeals court. On 10 February 2017, the Prosecution re-stated its original demand of a 20-year prison sentence for Van Kouwenhoven.

On 21 April 2017, Van Kouwenhoven was sentenced by the Den Bosch court of Appeal to 19 years of prison for his complicity in war crimes and for his involvement in arms trafficking for Charles Taylor. He had fled the Netherland in 2007.

On 8 December 2017, Guus Van Kouwenhoven was arrested in South Africa. The Netherlands requested his extradition.