THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Dutch timber trader Guus Kouwenhoven was convicted on Friday as an accessory to war crimes for selling weapons to Liberia’s then-President Charles Taylor between 2000 and 2003 in violation of a U.N. embargo.
The 74-year-old Kouwenhoven, who denied wrongdoing, was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
The businessman, known in Liberia as “Mister Gus,” ran two timber companies in Liberia between 2000 and 2003 and used them to smuggle weapons into the country, judges at the Den Bosch appeals court found.
At the time, the country was in the grip of a civil war between Charles Taylor’s government forces and several rebel groups.
“These weapons were used by Taylor in an armed conflict with rebels, in which over a period of many years countless civilians were victimized,” judges said in a written summary of their ruling.
Kouwenhoven “has right up to the present day denied the facts and not given any clarity about his motives”.
Judges said they hoped that his case would serve as an example to others that do business with government’s like Taylor’s “that they can thereby become involved in serious war crimes”.
Liberia’s string of conflicts since the 1990s left an estimated 250,000 people dead. Thousands more were mutilated and raped and all sides in the conflict used child soldiers.
Taylor stepped down in 2003. In 2012 he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Kouwenhoven was initially sentenced to eight years by the Dutch district court for Den Bosch in 2008 on weapons smuggling charges, but was acquitted on appeal. The Dutch Supreme Court ordered a retrial on war crimes charges that led to Friday’s appeals court decision.
Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg and Toby Sterling, Editing by Angus MacSwan