The accusation against Desaedeleer, who also holds U.S. citizenship, is that he profited from the illicit trade of "blood diamonds" during the civil war that ravaged Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002. But it's only in recent years that a case against him has been put together by Belgian authorities, and it's largely based on eyewitness testimony.
Desaedeleer is suspected of having participated with former Liberian President Charles Taylor and the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) led by Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone in a scheme to mine diamonds illegally in the district of Kono in eastern Sierra Leone.
The warrant for Desaedeleer's arrest was based on testimony gathered by a Swiss-based NGO, Civitas Maxima from witnesses who were in Kono between 1999 and 2001. According to a statement from Spanish police, the allegation is that Desaedeleer "would have been one of the supervisors in charge of overseeing the extraction works on site" at the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000.
Previous trials in international courts have established that the RUF ran an horrific regime of enslavement and brutality at mines it controlled in Kono and elsewhere, including amputation, rape and forced conscription of civilians and suspected rebels, according to Human Rights Watch. But also according to hundreds of pages of judgments issued in the Special Court.
Alain Werner, the lawyer who helped prepare the victims' case, was previously one of the prosecuting attorneys in the Special Court that tried Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and was also involved in the trial of prominent RUF members. He told CNN he had first come across Desaedeleer's name in 2006.
Werner told CNN that Sankoh and others needed "external actors to market the diamonds they were smuggling out to the Liberian capital, Monrovia." He said the critical element in the complaint presented against Desaedeleer, which runs to some 50 pages, was that former members of the RUF had sworn that he was in Kono.
Werner said there was no suggestion that Desaedeleer had been personally involved in any abuses. But the complaint held that Desaedeleer was complicit in pillage as a war crime and enslavement through his involvement in the Kono diamond mining.
Money used for weapons
A U.N. panel of experts that investigated the trade in blood diamonds reported in 2000 that Desaedeleer first made contact with the RUF while in Togo during the summer of 1999. Within months, according to the U.N. panel, he and an associate had "worked up an arrangement with Foday Sankoh which would give them authority to broker rights to all of Sierra Leone's diamond and gold resources for a 10-year period."
The U.N. report also said
that a letter, signed by a "Michel," "proposed that his Belgian partner 'Charles' could hire a private jet to take the diamonds out directly from Kono" without having to pass through the capital, Freetown.
In October 1999, a deal was reached between Desaedeleer's company, BECA, and Sankoh. At the time Sankoh had been given the position of Chairman of the Commission for the Management of Strategic Mineral Resources as part of an ill-fated attempt to broker a peace deal in Sierra Leone. He was in essence Minister of Mines.