UN New Task: Handling Agents of Horrors

The Perspective
February 9, 2001

Even as the United Nations battles with solutions to West Africa's rapid disintegration, there is one vital question missing in this difficult task: how to deal with international criminals now in league with hyper-corrupt governments such as the one in Liberia? In the absence of dealing with this question, we are afraid that any solution, such as sanctions, will affect the symptoms, but not this killer disease.

The truth now emerging is that many of Africa's wars paralysing socio-economic development, producing limitless numbers of refugees, and building the foundations for chronic poverty, would have been difficult to wage or sustain without the participation of international criminals and arms dealers. Now, in articles re-published by an Abidjan paper Le Jour from major European papers Le Soir of Belgium and Le Corrierre de Serra of Italy, we learn that:

"The Russian mafia has opened lanes for arms trafficking between Eastern Europe and Charles Taylor's Liberia. The mafia has also furnished arms to the Ivoirian regime of General Guei when he had doubts of a favorable outcome to the September elections. The Sales Certificate of the arms bears the date of May 26, and has the authenticated signature of General Robert Guei, Defense Minister, President of the Republic of La Cote d'Ivoire - millions of bullets and grenades, mortars, grenade-launchers, night-vision and heat-seeking systems, AK-47 assault rifles. The certificate was addressed to La Societe de Moscou Aviatrend Ltd, whose director is a certain Valery Tcherny, better known to Interpol (Lyon) as Victor Vasillevich Dudenkov. More importantly, this document (certificate), whose existence was revealed by a collaboration between Le Soir and Corriere della Serra, was seized among other documents in possession of a first-rate, high-level mafiosi, the key man in this transaction: Leonid Efimovich Minin. We now enter a nightmarish scenario that rivals the best of James Bonds". The papers further state that:

"Minin, 53 years old, product of the Odessa gangs linked to oil, is a pure Mafiosi. For two years now, he is a haunted man, undesirable in the Schengen countries, Switzerland or Ukraine. In Belgium three separate prosecutors are looking at his record in detail. Despite his huge fortune, he is often reduced to sleeping in his private airplane since he cannot enter the territories of the countries he transits. And this is why, when he was arrested (in gallant company) by the Police in Milan the night of August 4-5 (Story carried by Le Soir on 30 August), a gold mine was discovered. Besides 12 grams of cocaine and 1 billion liras in diamonds, all his correspondence covering different transactions was seized. These documents established that in the Spring of 2000, General Robert Guei, then President of Ivory Coast and fearful of the elections results programmed for September, ordered, via Aviatrend of Moscow, 113 tons of arms from the Ukrainian State Company "Spetsehnoexport". The goods were delivered on July 12 in an Antonov airplane belonging to another Ukrainian company, Antonov Design. Plane registration number: UR82008". The papers asked:

"But why all these details? Because the investigators would find, among the mass of documents, proof of other arms trafficking operated by Minin in December 1998 and March 1999 to Liberia (then, to Sierra Leone), utilizing the same routes, the same companies, the same airplane. A UN Panel of Experts- on the basis of completely different documents and eye witness reports had just published details of arms trafficking utilizing the same Antonov UR82008 to deliver other arms and munitions from Ukraine. The beneficiary this time was Charles Taylor who benefited on this particular occasion from the complicity of the Burkinabe President, Blaise Campaore". The papers conclude:

"We now enter the nightmarish world of 007! Not only is the Odessa Mafia interested in the mineral resources, port infrastructure, and telephone networks in West Africa, but it also participates in providing arms to different actors in the region and is now beginning to enter the missile market! Worse, Minin and his men have now succeeded in putting their hands on intercontinental ballistic missiles, type SS-18, capable of launching commercial satellites. The mafia can even envisage direct firing from submarines, and was contemplating selling their systems to China. James Bond may still be alive".

This is a nightmare scenario for West Africa. There are reports that Guei is freelancing between Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire in preparation for a comeback. The Gambia is accusing Liberia of training dissidents to invade the country and topple the Government. Senegal has warned that Liberian and Sierra Leone rebels are joining its separatist group in the Casamance. Sierra Leone and Guinea are withering under combined RUF/NPFL assaults. Yet, with all these developments, crooked West African leaders believe the world community should do nothing but believe promises that criminals will be transformed into saints. The West African regional organization, ECOWAS, unable to pay its own bills nor implement its many lofty decisions such as small arms control within the region, is now trying to convince the UN that Taylor's Liberia, with men like Minin, Gus Kouwenhoven, and the Lebanese businessman Talal El-Ndine listed as paymaster of Taylor's rebels and the RUF as key operatives, must be left to it for monitoring in exchange for no sanctions.

But the nightmare that Liberia presents, in terms of criminalizing the state in the coming years, may be escaping even Taylor's cheerleaders within ECOWAS. For instance, documents in the possession of The Perspective indicate that on November 24, 1999, Minin, owner of EXOTIC TROPICAL TIMBERS ENTERPRISES, signed an "Agreement" titled, "Purchase-Sale Agreement for Certain Assets, Equipment and Machinery" with another European operative Jose Maria Munouz Suarez, owner of another Liberian registered company Forum Liberian Corporation. Minin, according to the Agreement, sold his timber company to Suarez for US2m. What was not clear was the meaning of "certain assets, equipment and machinery." Were they guns and bombs used to ensure misery within the region?

There is yet another two million dollar Agreement between the Liberian government and Minin's company, Exotic Tropical Timber Enterprise. In the agreement signed by the then Finance Minister John Bestman and Minister of Justice Eddington Varmah for the Liberian government, the Liberian government "desires to confirm its indebtedness to party of the Second part [Exotic Timber Enterprise] in the aggregate amount of US$2,000000.00 (Two Million United States Dollars) as well as to provide a mechanism for repayment of the said amount by party of the First part [the Liberian government] to party of the Second part [Exotic Timber Enterprise]." The agreement did not state the services that were rendered for the Liberian government for which Liberia owed the two million dollars.

Bestman once served as Liberia's Governor of the National Bank and Finance Minister respectively in the Samuel Doe regime in which he, Taylor and Gus Kowenhoven, (also listed in the UN report as a key member of Taylor's inner circle) were key actors as now. Sources close to Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia say Bestman served as purchasing and logistics man for the rebels from 1990 onwards while he lived in The Netherlands, returning immediately after Taylor's 1997 election.

In a letter to Minin dated May 17, 2000, the criminal standing of these corporations within the Liberian economy, and therefore politics, became vivid. The internal letter to Minin stated:

"We agree to buy two trucks for Bob [Taylor, President Taylor's brother in charge of depleting the forests] in exchange for the 100% discount in taxes Bob [Taylor] has been out of Liberia during last month Bob Taylor will be back in these days." The letter was making reference to the $60,000.00 that Minin's company owed the Forestry Development Authority in taxes. The Perspective will analyze these documents in future articles and Editorials.

The UN Panel of Experts Report, which key West African leaders, including the Presidents of Mali and Niger have condemned, details Minin's weapons imports into the region. The Panel noted that:

"The weapons in question (one of the shipments), however, were not retained in Burkina Faso. They were temporarily off-loaded in Ouagadougou and some were trucked to Bobo Dioulasso. The bulk of them were then trans-shipped within a matter of days to Liberia. Most were flown aboard a BAC-111 owned by an Israeli businessman of Ukrainian origin, Leonid Minin. The aircraft bore the Cayman registration VP-CLM and was operated by a company named LIMAD, registered in Monaco. Minin was, and may remain, a business partner and confidant of Liberian President Charles Taylor. He is identified in the police records of several countries and has a history of involvement in criminal activities ranging from east European organised crime, trafficking in stolen works of art, illegal possession of fire arms, arms trafficking and money laundering. Minin uses several aliases. He has been refused entry into many countries, including Ukraine, and travels with many different passports. Minin offered the aircraft mentioned above for sale to Charles Taylor as a Presidential jet, and for a period between 1998 and 1999, it was used for this purpose. It was also used to transport arms".

Thus, here we are with a scenario far deadlier than most are prepared to admit or imagine. The empowerment of international criminals in reducing weak states to rubbles for wealth is one of the effects of "Globalisation" that most may have overlooked. The "Evil Empire" (Soviet Russia) may have withered. But West Africa is now battling with its abandoned children - ex-KGB officers, arms dealer prepared to do anything for money, condemning weak countries to perpetual conflicts.

Without concerted international efforts to deal with this new threat, Western powers can expect to be inundated with more refugees and accompanying security, and political problems. Relief organizations, peacekeeping forces will become permanent features of life around Africa. More billboards depicting poverty, produced by the new, ever-increasing numbers of "Good Samaritans" (relief groups), will cover the faces of European cities, TV screens, begging for money to help Africa's poor whose billions are squandered by European criminals and their new African "comrades", men like Taylor, with insatiable taste for wealth and no vision or concern for the future.

The degenerate nature of political leadership on a continent no longer capable of producing men of integrity such as Nkrumah, Nyerere, Monibo Keita, etc., and the unconditional sanctity given to the concept of one man, one vote is the executioner's knife awaiting helpless people caught in the middle of the crusade for wealth and political power. If men like Minin can arm whole armies of destruction, they are capable of producing ballots for "democratically elected" presidents such as Taylor.

This is a new scourge that constitutes a greater danger now downplayed or ignored. As the UNHCR High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers recently warned, the world will pay a higher price for ignoring this scourge. We hope not. This is why swift and comprehensive sanctions are needed to make the "businesses" of the Minins, the Kouwenhovens and the Taylors unacceptable and repugnant.

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