Ewen MacAskill / The Guardian – 2004-12-09 09:01:31
(December 8, 2004) — A businessman wanted by the US for allegedly shipping thousands of tonnes of chemicals to Saddam Hussein has been detained by police in Holland and accused of complicity in the poison gas attacks that killed thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s.
Frans van Anraat, 62, who has been sought by the Americans for a decade, was arrested in Amsterdam on Monday, officials said yesterday, and is due to appear in court in Arnhem tomorrow.
A statement issued by the Dutch public prosecution service said: “According to the United Nations, the Dutchman is one of the most important middlemen in Iraq’s acquisition of chemical material.”
Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s headquarters in Rotterdam, said Mr van Anraat was still being interrogated by police yesterday. He said: “He is accused of [complicity in] war crimes and involvement in genocide related to the use of chemical weapons in the war against Iran and the use of these weapons against the Kurds.”
Mr van Anraat, who the prosecution service believes enjoyed sanctuary in Iraq throughout the 1990s, left Baghdad last year after the US-led invasion.
He returned to Amsterdam via Syria late last year, and had until Monday lived there openly using his own name. He faces a life sentence if found guilty on the genocide charge and a maximum of 20 years on the war crimes charge.
There have been a string of prosecutions of businessmen in Europe and the US in relation to illegal exports to Iraq in the 1980s, but this is the most serious yet. More than 5,000 Kurds were killed when Saddam’s forces attacked the town of Halabja in 1988 with bombs and shells containing mustard gas.
Mr van Arnatt is alleged to have been involved in a network of companies that saw the chemical, thiodigycol — used in the manufacture of mustard gas — shipped from Baltimore, in the US, to Belgium and Holland and onto the Jordanian port of Aqaba. From there it was transported overland to Iraq in 1987 and 1988.
A US customs investigation into illegal trafficking in the late 1980s led to a request to the Italian authorities for the arrest and extradition of Mr van Anraat in 1989. But when his two-month pre-extradition detention period expired, he was released and headed to Iraq.