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Dutch Iraq war crimes case opens


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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands -- A Dutch court has opened hearings in the case of a businessman accused of helping former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein commit genocide by selling materials for chemical weapons to Baghdad.

Frans Van Anraat, 62, appeared in a Rotterdam court Friday to face charges of complicity in war crimes and genocide.

"It was known since the mid-1980s that the Iraqi government was using poison gas in the war against Iran and against its own population," Reuters quoted prosecutor Fred Teeven as saying as he outlined the charges at a pre-trial hearing.

Van Anraat faces up to life in prison if convicted.

The Dutch chemicals dealer is accused of supplying thousands of tons of raw materials for chemical weapons used in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Baghdad also used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds, including a 1988 attack on the town of Halabja in which an estimated 5,000 people were killed.

The United Nations has described Van Anraat as "one of the most important middlemen in Iraq's acquisition of chemical material," Reuters reported prosecutors as saying.

Van Anraat has said in the past that he sold chemicals to Saddam's regime but that his actions were neither wrong nor illegal.

"The images of the gas attack on the Kurdish city Halabja were a shock. But I did not give the order to do that. How many products, such as bullets do we make in the Netherlands?" Van Anraat told Dutch magazine Revu in 2003, according to Reuters.

He made similar statements in a 2003 interview with Dutch television program Netwerk, The Associated Press said.

"This was not my main business, this was something I did in passing," he was quoted as saying.

"Somewhere once back then, I got the request whether I could deliver certain products to them, which they needed," he said. "And because I had a very good relationship with the (Iraqi) Oil Ministry, and that's where the request came from, I tried to see if I could do it. And that was successful and we did deliver some materials."

Among the chemicals he is alleged to have shipped is thiodyglycol, which can be used in the production of mustard gas. It is alleged to be the lethal chemical that was used in the Halabja attack.

Prosecutors said Anraat "knew the destination and ultimate purpose of the materials he was shipping."

Van Anraat is alleged to have shipped the chemicals on a route via the United States and Europe to Iraq. Authorities in the United States, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Switzerland contributed to the investigation.

Dutch officials arrested van Anraat at his Amsterdam home in December.

"The man is suspected of delivering thousands of tons of raw materials for chemical weapons to the former regime in Baghdad between 1984 and 1988," a December prosecution statement said.

Prosecutors say evidence against Van Anraat includes "official Iraqi documents" -- material which may also be used against Saddam when he goes before an Iraqi tribunal on war crimes charges, AP reported.

Van Anraat had been arrested in 1989 in Milan, Italy at the request of the U.S. government, prosecutors said. He fled to Iraq after being released and remained there until 2003.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, van Anraat returned to the Netherlands via Syria.

The case is seen as a landmark because it would be the first time a businessman has been prosecuted for war crimes by a national court, AP reported. His trial starts in November.



Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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