"The Inner Circle of the Taylor Regime"
Jan 1, 2001

The UN Panel of Experts Report on the horrors in West Africa provide detailed accounts of how a country has been criminalized to transform the West African region into a greater living hell for millions, leaving tens of thousands of children with amputated limbs to ensure the fast buck for non-Africans. The document is a detailed portrayal of the hell that is awaiting West Africans and others if nothing is done against the criminal nature of politics within a region that has become a giant refugee and displaced camp. In its sub title "The Inner Circle of the Taylor Regime", the Panel listed some members of the criminal "High Command sowing the seeds of anarchy and terror that would finally send citizens of the sub region into misery never imagined. Here are the men in the graphic words of the Panel:

"President Charles Taylor is actively involved in fuelling the violence in Sierra Leone. He and a small coterie of officials and private businessmen around him are in control of a covert sanctions-busting apparatus that includes international criminal activity and the arming of the RUF in Sierra Leone. Over the years - before President Taylor's inauguration and after - this group has contracted foreign businessmen for the financing, sourcing or facilitating of these covert operations. The sanctions-busting is fed by the smuggling of diamonds and the extraction of natural resources in both Liberia and areas under rebel control in Sierra Leone. In addition, the sovereign right of Liberia to register planes and ships, and to issue diplomatic passports, is being misused in order to further the operations of this group.

"The role of Liberia as a transhipment platform for arms to the RUF is crucial. However, arms are brought into the region from elsewhere. Many businessmen close to the inner-circle of the Liberian presidency operate on an international scale, sourcing their weaponry in Eastern Europe. The Panel focussed on a limited number of individuals, but there are many more examples of the significant presence of criminal organisations in the region.

"A key individual is a wealthy Lebanese businessman named Talal El-Ndine. El-Ndine is the inner-circle's paymaster. Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone alongside the RUF, and those bringing diamonds out of Sierra Leone are paid by him personally. Arms shippers and brokers negotiate their payments in his office in Old Road, Monrovia. El-Ndine also brings foreign businessmen and investors to Liberia, individuals who are willing to cooperate with the regime in legitimate business activities as well as in weapons and illicit diamonds. The pilots and crew of the aircraft used for clandestine shipments into or out of Liberia are also paid by El-Ndine. They are mostly of Russian or Ukrainian nationality and they invariably stay at the Hotel Africa in Monrovia.

"The manager of this hotel is a Dutch national named Gus Van Kouwenhoven. Van Kouwenhoven started his hotel and a gambling business in Liberia in the 1980s. He is also a member of President Taylor's inner circle, through his contacts with Taylor's economic advisor, Emmanuel Shaw. Shaw, a former Liberian finance minister, owns a number of facilities at Robertsfield, including all the hangars. Van Kouwenhoven is responsible for the logistical aspects of many of the arms deals. Through his interests in a Malaysian timber project in Liberia, he organises the transfer of weaponry from Monrovia into Sierra Leone. Roads built and maintained for timber extraction are also conveniently used for weapons movement within Liberia, and for the onward shipment of weapons to Sierra Leone.

"Simon Rosenblum, an Israeli businessman based in Abidjan, has logging and road construction interests in Liberia. He too, is very close to the Liberian President and carries a Liberian diplomatic passport. His trucks have been used to carry weapons from Robertsfield to the border with Sierra Leone.

" Minin and Van Kouwenhoven are linked to Liberia's timber industry, which provides a large amount of unrecorded extra-budgetary income to President Taylor for unspecified purposes. Three companies are involved: Exotic and Tropical Timber Enterprise (ETTE), Forum Liberia and the Indonesian-owned Oriental Timber Company".

As the report indicates, there are many new comers in this circle of horrors that commenced in 1989 when Taylor, imprisoned for stealing about a million dollars from Liberia's military junta, escaped from an American prison to begin the process of West African destabilization. But a number of them are old hands in the horror and theft. One is the Dutchman Gus Van Kouwenhoven. Gus Van Kouwenhoven's attachment to Liberia began during the reign of Samuel Doe. With Doe butchered, Kouwehoven began to scout for new partners. He landed in the orbit of Dr. Amos Sawyer's Interim Government of National Unity. Although the Government had won a case against the Dutchman about the ownership of a state hotel built during the 70s for housing delegates at the Organization of African Unity summit in Monrovia, Sawyer and his team asked the judge to alter the decision in Kouwenhoven's favor and grant him (Kouwenhoven) the hotel.

But Kouwenhoven had many business partners during the reign of the Doe junta. Among them was Emmanuel Shaw and Dew Mayson, all key officials in the junta. Shaw fled the country as Taylor was arriving. In a detailed letter to Kouwenhoven published later in Monrovia, Shaw rebuked Kouwenhoven for betrayal in sharing the spoils of their "business partnership. Shaw tried his luck in South Africa but was discovered. Criminal charges were filed against him by the South African National Congress government.

On the other hand, Liberia's Lebanese, accustomed to underground business have reached their heights in glory. For this, they have decided to build a "modern hospital" to honour glory of their benefactor Charles Taylor even if there are only 25 doctors for the entire health service and the only hospital shutdown. That a Lebanese is the paymaster of the RUF and Taylor's forces is therefore not a surprise. So here is our team!