Timber Trader for re-trial
Just Forests welcomes Dutch court decision to retry timber baron Guus Kouwenhoven of charges of involvement in illegal arms deals and war crimes during the civil war in Liberia
21st April 2010
The Dutch Supreme Court has overturned a 2008 ruling by the Court of Appeal which cleared businessman Guus Kouwenhoven of charges of involvement in illegal arms deals and war crimes during the civil war in Liberia between 2000 and 2003. The Court of Appeal will now have to re-examine the case and bring a new judgment.
Global Witness, which first documented the involvement of Kouwenhoven in illegal logging and arms trafficking in its 2001 report, Taylor Made, welcomed the court’s decision.
The 2008 ruling by the Court of Appeal had overturned an 8 year prison sentence for arms trafficking handed down by the Court of First Instance in 2006. Global Witness testified on both occasions, after securing a groundbreaking right to keep their sources confidential. Evidence from Global Witness investigations and reports was used by the Dutch prosecutors.
Kouwenhoven was head of the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) during the regime of President Charles Taylor, who waged a brutal war against the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone, funded largely through the sale of diamonds and illegal logging.
OTC, also known also as ‘Old Taylor’s Children’ or ‘Only Taylor Chops’, was the most notorious logging company in the country and dominated the Liberian timber industry with 1.6 million hectares of concessions.
UN experts and eyewitnesses interviewed by Global Witness reported that it was active in organising weapons shipments, and that its own security personnel blurred with Taylor's armed forces and took part in military activities for the Liberian government. OTC money facilitated arms purchases.
In April 2003, President Taylor’s spokesperson, Vaani Paasewe, confirmed this in a media interview: “It is true that, as Global Witness has said in its report, revenues from Liberia’s logging industry had been used to import weapons recently despite the UN arms embargo…”
A 2000 UN Expert Panel Report on Sierra Leone referred to Kouwenhoven as a “…member of President [Charles] Taylor’s inner circle” and “responsible for the logistical aspects of many of the arms deals [with the RUF].” In 2001 the UN Expert Panel Report on Liberia referred to him as “…one of the most influential businessmen in Liberia”.
Kouwenhoven was placed on UN travel ban list in 2001 and in July 2003 sanctions on timber were put in place, on the grounds that timber was being traded by rebel and government forces in exchange for arms.
Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness, said: “Charles Taylor's regime depended on revenues from the timber industry. OTC's operations in Liberia were illegal and under Kouwenhoven they paid large sums both directly to known arms dealers and into Charles Taylor’s personal bank account, thereby supporting his brutal regime. The war in Liberia cost over 250,000 lives. No one who played a role in perpetuating this conflict should go unpunished.”
For more information contact: Amy Barry on +44 7980 664397
Tom Roche on +353 (0) 86 8049389
Assistant Campaigner, Ending Impunity
Direct phone: +44 (0)20 7492 5846
Fax: +44 (0)20 7492 5821
“Global Witness investigates and campaigns to prevent natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses."
Irish Woodworkers for Africa - Just Forests
Tel: ++353 (0)46 9737545
“Just Forests highlights the need for Irish society to source its timber needs from responsibly-managed forests worldwide”
The following letter was published in The Irish Examiner
Letter to the Editor - Sunday, 22 November 2009
Daylight robbery played out in Paris
Letters to the editor
I was there in Paris on Wednesday 18November 2009. It’s a day I will never forget.
What I saw and heard was scandalous, it sickened me. I sat in awe as one by one the players painted a picture of human rights abuse on a grand scale. And no, I am not referring to the World Cup play-off between Ireland and France. Beside this, the football controversy pales into insignificance.
I was there to witness and support the press announcement of the lodgement of a complaint by Global Witness before a French Public Prosecutor against one of the world's leading timber and wood products wholesalers. The complaint graphically spelled out that, during the civil war in Liberia from 2000-2003, Dalhoff, Larsen and Horneman (DLH), knowingly bought vast quantities of ‘conflict’ timber from unscrupulous Liberian companies that provided support to Charles Taylor’s brutal regime and sold it on to other timber traders across Europe.
By importing timber from forest concessions operated by unscrupulous and corrupt logging companies, the French arm of DLH stands accused of the handling of and profiting from goods obtained from logging concessions operating illegally and in an environmentally destructive manner.
EU countries still imports large quantities of illegally logged timber and wood-based products with complete impunity. European states need to implement legislation in order to stop this scandal and judges need to come down hard on any proven illegal behaviour.
Ireland is a significant player in this field as an estimated 60% of all tropical timber used in this country is deemed to be of illegal origin. Just Forests are calling for a National Timber Procurement Policy to be put in place immediately in order to stop this destructive practice. We want the selling and profiting from illegal timber to be an offence and severely punished under Irish law.
It’s an astonishing fact that an area of rainforest the size of Croke Park disappears every second. That’s 86,400 Croke Park pitches of rainforest destroyed every day, or over 31 million Croke Park pitches of rainforest lost every year. Illegal logging is often seen as one of the driving forces. It’s time to play fair and give people in developing countries a fair deal and fair price for their forest resources.
Just like football, there are certain ‘rules’, ‘caps’ and ‘goals’ we must abide by and obey if we are to deal effectively with biodiversity decline and abject poverty and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Ensuring our timber needs comes from responsibly-managed forests is part of the solution. I urge your readers to be as passionate about affording people in developing countries ‘fair play’ as they are about the outcome of last week’s football match in Paris.
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