Spanish police arrest American-Belgian man on ‘blood diamond’ charges

Spanish police arrest American-Belgian man on ‘blood diamond’ charges

The diamond-mining Kono district was once dominated by rebels who used civilians as slaves. (Image from WikiMedia Commons)

An American-Belgian citizen has become the first businessman ever arrested for suspected involvement in the illegal trade of “blood” diamonds during Sierra Leone's civil war.

Michael Desaedeleer was detained on Friday in Spain, following years of criminal complaints against him filed by residents of Sierra Leone, whose internal conflict in the 1990s left over 50,000 people dead.

According to Civitas Maxima, an aid organization that offers legal representation to war crimes victims, Desaedeleer is accused of partnering with former Liberian President Charles Taylor and rebel groups in Sierra Leone in the district of Kono, where civilians were used as slaves to mine in diamond pits.

"This is another significant step forward in our collective efforts at ensuring accountability for the crimes that occurred during the conflict in Sierra Leone," Center for Accountability and Rule of Law Executive Director Ibrahim Tommy said in a statement. "No one should be allowed to get away with participating in serious offenses such as enslaving people and forcing them to mine for diamonds."

"This is a landmark case, the first of its kind, and it will help to raise awareness of the pivotal role played by financial actors in the trade of mineral resources that fuel armed conflicts in Africa and elsewhere," Director of Civitas Maxima Alain Werner said in a statement.

The 64-year-old, who will be handed to Belgian authorities shortly to face trial, is also accused of trafficking such gems to neighbouring Liberia, from where Taylor sold them in order to finance the rebellion in Sierra Leone that led to the 1991-2002 war.

In 2012, the International Criminal Court in The Netherlands jailed Taylor for 50 years, after found guilty of arming his country’s rebels in return for blood diamonds.

Desaedeleer’s arrest comes after years of campaigning by those that were enslaved during the civil war. A criminal complaint was first filed in 2011 against him by Sierra Leoneans in Brussels, which led earlier this year to the issuing of the EAW, and ultimately his detention on Friday.