RAPAPORT… While the war crimes trial of former Liberia President Charles Taylor at The Hague is expected to continue through 2009, revelations surfaced during the first two weeks of testimony that link the defendant with Belgium’s diamond trade.
Taylor stands accused of 11 counts of war crimes and is blamed for using diamonds from Sierra Leone to fund arms purchases. Several people reportedly involved in Taylor’s diamond trafficking used to live –and some apparently still live– in Belgium. It sounds as if Antwerp-based diamantaires in particular were directly and indirectly responsible for Taylor’s fortune and his ability to launder diamonds, according to Belgium press reports.
At this early stage no Belgian diamantaire in particular has been identified, but names from Russia’s underground have surfaced.
During the first week the International Court made extensive use of testimony from blood diamond expert Ian Smillie, research coordinator for Partnership Africa Canada. Smillie stated that between 1990 and 1999 Belgium’s imports of Liberia rough would have reached 5 million carats per year. (That is 24 times more than Liberia’s total national output.) Where did the rest come from? The implication was that stones were smuggled in from abroad.
The Court has also reviewed video testimony of those who have suffered the most horrible crimes against humanity under the direction of Taylor’s military. Taylor pleaded innocent to all charges in August 2006.
Antwerp industry organizations are determining how and when to respond to this news.
The story continues to unfold and more extensive coverage of this trial will be published in February’s Rapaport Diamond Report.