The “blood timber” trader, Guus Kouwenhoven, 75, arrived in Cape Town last December, ostensibly for medical treatment.
This was during a lengthy appeals process in the Dutch courts which finally came to a head in April this year when Kouwenhoven was sentenced in absentia to 19 years in jail for selling weapons to ex-Liberian president and warlord Charles Taylor.
Kouwenhoven refused to return to the Netherlands to serve his sentence, citing medical reasons, and an Interpol red notice was issued. Since December he has lived in Camps Bay but was arrested yesterday at his new home in Fresnaye.
Kouwenhoven appeared briefly in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court at about 2pm yesterday, where the State opposed bail. The magistrate ordered that he be held in the Sea Point Police cells until Tuesday – when a bail application could be heard.
Kouwenhoven’s lawyers have indicated that in the interim they would approach the High Court for an urgent review of the decision in order to secure his release today.
Following Kouwenhoven’s provisional arrest, the Dutch authorities have 30 days to issue an extradition request which the State expects to be vigorously opposed.
Kouwenhoven’s legal team includes Anton Katz SC – who was one of the advocates who successfully defeated Equatorial Guinea’s request to extradite Sir Mark Thatcher to face charges relating to a botched coup.
Kouwenhoven was known in Liberia as “Mister Gus”. He ran two timber companies in the early 2000s and used them as a cover to smuggle arms, according to the Dutch court. At the time, Liberia was in the grip of a civil war between then-president Taylor’s government and several rebel factions.
The country’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. He was arrested in 2006 and in 2012 sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Kouwenhoven’s arrest was hailed yesterday by International NGO Global Witness which first documented his involvement in illegal logging and arms trafficking in its 2001 report “Taylor Made”.
The NGO works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption.
Citing the detention after months of surveillance as “a hugely significant step” Global Witness director Patrick Alley said: “The arrest of Guus Kouwenhoven marks a banner day for the people of Liberia and those around the world who suffer at the hands of companies that trade in conflict timber and minerals.
“The message to those that trade guns for resources and profit from international crimes is that the rules of the game are changing. You will be found and you will go to jail.”
According to details supplied by Global Witness, Kouwenhoven was head of the Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC) during Liberia’s bloody civil war, which lasted from 1989 to 2003.
The war was funded largely through the sale of diamonds and timber plundered from Liberia’s rainforests. OTC was the dominant logging company in Liberia during this time.
The Dutch courts found Kouwenhoven guilty of delivering weapons to Taylor’s regime in return for special treatment for his timber company.