Liberia’s ousted regime ‘smuggled arms by air’




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 3 June 2004

A complex arms smuggling operation involving false aircraft identities allowed the former Liberian regime to break sanctions and import weapons on aircraft based in Iran and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a confidential United Nations report into sanctions-busting has revealed.

The report gives details of seven flights that carried illegal arms shipments to Liberia’s Robertsfield airport between March and August 2003, as fighting intensified in the country and led to the downfall of the former president Charles Taylor.

It also reveals that a businessman with close ties to the ousted regime appears to have been allowed entry to France, despite being named on a United Nations list of former Taylor associates who are banned from travel and should be barred from entering or passing through any country.

The businessman, Gus Kouen-Hoven, was in Paris in April, the report said. His presence there will be an embarrassment to France, which last month accused the US and the UK of failing to take strong action against Victor Bout, a Ukrainian arms dealer who was a significant supplier to the Taylor regime.

The report details how pilots flying illegal arms shipments to Liberia fraudulently used the call sign of a Kenyan aircraft company – Astral – when requesting overflight permission from countries such as Sudan, the Czech Republic, and the United Arab Emirates. According to the UN document, two airlines operating out of the emirates of Fujairah and Dubai may have used Astral’s call sign to hide their identity, unbeknown to Astral itself.

All the arms shipments were destined for Mr Taylor’s regime. One flight carried 22 tonnes of arms, the report revealed. Six of the flights originated in Tehran, with three of these passing via Libya, two via Sudan and one via Benin.

On one occasion a shipment arrived in Liberia and the aircraft was immediately sent off to collect a second load that arrived a few hours later from the DRC, the report by a UN panel of experts says. Most of the shipments were of AK-47 assault rifles.

Liberia has been subject to an arms embargo since November 1992, though it was tightened in March 2001 in response to Mr Taylor’s support for rebel forces in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The UN report reveals that the arms embargo and the travel ban were flouted by the Taylor government, which ceded power to an interim administration last August when Mr Taylor went into exile in Nigeria.

A travel ban was imposed on members of Mr Taylor’s government in 2001, and the UN is drawing up a list of Taylor associates and family members whose assets will be frozen, in an effort to prevent them plotting to destabilise the country.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.