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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Timber trader guilty over Liberia
Guus van Kouwenhoven
Van Kouwenhoven was reportedly in Charles Taylor's 'inner circle'
A Dutch court has found a timber merchant guilty of breaking a UN arms embargo on Liberia.

Guus van Kouwenhoven, 63, was sentenced to eight years in prison but was acquitted of war crimes charges.

The court said it could not prove the Dutchman had any links to any of the many atrocities committed during Liberia's 14-year civil war.

He sold weapons to ex-President Charles Taylor. In return, van Kouwenhoven allegedly received logging concessions.

During the three-week trial, prosecutors demanded a 20-year prison sentence and a fine of 450,000 euros ($575,000; 310,000).

GUUS VAN KOUWENHOVEN
Born: Rotterdam, 1942
Former car salesman
Ran Monrovia's swanky Hotel Africa casino
Exchanged illegal weapons for timber concessions

He denied the charges and his lawyers say prosecution witnesses were paid.

They wanted a fine because of the profits he allegedly made through his companies - the Royal Timber Company and Oriental Timber Corporation.

During Liberia's civil war, lobby group Global Witness successfully campaigned for UN sanctions to be imposed on the country's exports of "blood timber".

'Inner circle'

According to a UN report submitted to The Hague, van Kouwenhoven, known in Liberia as "Mr Gus", formed part of Charles Taylor's "inner circle".

Child soldier in Liberia
Liberia was wracked by civil war for most of the 1990s
"Militias formed by the Dutchman's timber companies are alleged to have participated in massacres of civilians where even babies were not spared," a prosecution statement said.

"The weapons used by the militias to commit these war crimes are alleged to have been supplied by the Dutchman."

But the court ruled that: "The evidence was insufficient to show factual involvement and knowledge" by van Kouwenhoven in the commission of war crimes.

Charles Taylor launched a rebellion in Liberia in 1989, before eventually being elected president in 1997.

He soon faced accusations of diamond smuggling and arms dealing on behalf of rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

From 1999 Liberia descended once more into civil war as rebels mounted a campaign to oust the president, who went into exile in 2003.

Mr Taylor was arrested earlier this year and may also end up on trial in The Hague.


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