Notorious 'blood-timber' trader found guilty

Feature story - 7 June, 2006
In a verdict that will have far reaching implications for the international timber trade, a judge in The Hague has found a former timber trader and arms dealer guilty of breaking the UN arms embargo in Liberia and sentenced him to a maximum of 8 years in prison.

Timber trader Gus Kouwenhoven has been found guilty of arms smuggling in war-torn Liberia.

Dutchman Gus Kouwenhoven was at the centre of the timber-for-arms trade in Liberia between 2000 and 2003. This 'blood-timber' funded the purchase of weapons for former Liberian President and warlord Charles Taylor and used in a war that claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people.

The West African country of Liberia had been embroiled in a civil war for much of the past 15 years and during the period of 2000-2003, Kouwenhoven's two logging companies sold large amounts of Liberia's forests to Europe and China.

The money from the trade in Liberian timber funded the purchase and smuggling of arms that helped prop-up Taylor's regime and prolong the civil war. In court Kouwenhoven was described by prosecutors as one of the 'inner circle' of former president Taylor, himself now facing charges of war crimes.

The Liberian 'blood-timber' was bought by some of Europe's biggest timber traders who refused to stop buying timber from Kouwenhoven despite increasing evidence of the link between the timber and the smuggling of weapons in violation of an international arms embargo.

Between 2000 and 2003, we uncovered that European timber traders including Swiss-German Danzer, Danish DLH Nordisk, Dutch Wijma, Greece-based Shelman, German Feldmeyer-Group and the Italian Tecnoalp were all involved in buying timber from Kouwenhoven's two companies in Liberia.

Only after 7 July 2003, when the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberian timber exports, were the ties between Kouwenhoven and the European timber trade finally terminated. France and China had previously blocked the sanctions for three years. A month after the ban in timber exports came into effect, the civil war ended and Charles Taylor fled to Nigeria.

"This case illustrates that the international timber trade is still unable to regulate itself. The lack of legislation at international level on imports of illegal or conflict timber contributed to this horrible example of destructive exploitation of a natural resource, fuelling civil war and related crimes against humanity. Governments must take up their responsibility to stop illegal and blood-timber trade right now", said Greenpeace International Africa forest campaigner Stephan van Praet.

We are calling on governments and timber traders to ban the importing of timber from illegal and destructive logging. Timber from conflict-prone countries like Burma, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be freely traded on the international market.

A ban on the importation of illegal and destructive timber would ensure that companies and consumers do not fuel crimes against humanity and the environment. 

Sign Up

Sign Up and receive information about Greenpeace campaigns and how you can help save the ancient forests.

Support Us

Greenpeace doesn't accept donations from companies or governments, we rely on support from individuals like you to keep our campaigns running.