Convicted Dutch arms dealer Guus Kouwenhoven who supplied arms that fuelled Liberia’s bloody civil war was on Tuesday released by a South African court on bail of $78,000, local media reported.
Kouwenhoven, 75, was arrested at his Cape Town mansion in early December after Dutch prosecutors requested his extradition to serve a 19 year sentence for his role in the west African country’s conflict.
He was reportedly granted bail “under strict conditions” that include reporting to a police station every two hours during the week. “He has also been placed under house arrest (on weekends) and his passport is to be handed in,” the News24 site reported.
Kouwenhoven was found guilty in absentia by a Dutch court in April of delivering weapons to the regime of ousted Liberian strongman Charles Taylor between 2000 and 2003.
In return for the arms, he received preferential treatment and lucrative contracts for his logging business in violation of a UN arms embargo. His bail hearing in Cape Town last week revealed his lavish lifestyle and multi-million dollar homes and luxury vehicles acquired since he arrived in South Africa, reportedly in December 2016.
Kouwenhoven’s legal team argued that he was seriously ill, with a life expectancy of just three years. But Magistrate Vusi Mhlanga nonetheless ruled that Kouwenhoven was a flight risk.
“The applicant has already been convicted, he’s not someone presumed to be innocent,” Mhlanga said. “The court is also mindful of the fact that the borders of this country are poorly guarded.”
After his 1989 rebellion against then-Liberian president Samuel Doe turned into a brutal civil war, Taylor was elected president from 1999 to 2003. He also backed the Revolutionary United Front rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone while in power, fuelling a civil war that claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2002.
After fleeing to Nigeria in 2003, Taylor was arrested in 2006 and sentenced by an international UN-backed court in The Hague to 50 years in prison in May 2012.
The owner of two of the largest lumber companies in Liberia, Kouwenhoven was close to Taylor.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison in June 2006, but was freed on appeal in March 2008. In April 2010, the Dutch Supreme Court overturned his acquittal, ruling that the appeal judges had not given sufficient reasons for not hearing the testimony of two new anonymous prosecution witnesses. He was found guilty in a retrial and in April 2017 sentenced to 19 years behind bars.