A Dutch court on Monday denied a request for dismissal by a Dutchman accused of supplying the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein with chemicals, as his trial opened on charges of complicity in genocide for the deaths of thousands of people in Iran and among Iraq's own Kurds in the 1980s.
Frans van Anraat, 63, allegedly shipped more than 1,100 tons of chemicals to Iraq from 1986 to 1988 that were used to manufacture deadly mustard and nerve gas.
Prosecutors charged that Van Anraat not only knew the chemicals would be used for weapons, but that he supplied material and technology to produce them.
Van Anraat "delivered chemical components to Saddam Hussein's regime that led to the deaths of thousands in Iran and Iraq, and therefore is complicit in committing the crime of all crimes," lead prosecutor Fred Teeven said.
Van Anraat's lawyer argued the Dutch court had no jurisdiction in the case and asked for his client's release. The court rejected the motion.
In his opening remarks, defense counsel Peter van Schaik made no reference to the specific allegations of supplying chemical weapons components. Van Anraat previously acknowledged selling chemicals to Saddam's Iraq, but claimed his actions were legitimate business deals.
His indictment says the lethal gas was used in attacks on the villages of Halabja, Goptata, Birjinni and Zewa with the intention of wiping out the ethnic Kurdish population in whole or in part, constituting genocide.
It names Saddam and his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, who also is known as "Chemical Ali," as among those directly responsible for the alleged crimes.
Van Schaik argued that it was up to the Iraq courts, not the Dutch, to determine whether genocide had occurred. He also cautioned that the proceedings in The Hague could be used in the Saddam trial and contribute to a death sentence, which would violate European legal standards.
Teeven argued the case had gone too far through the Dutch legal process to be thrown out. He told the court that Van Anraat had his suitcases packed and was ready to flee when he was arrested.
The prosecutor said more than 800 tons of thiodiglycol supplied by Van Anraat "ended up in the battlefield in Iran and Iraq." But the Van Schaik countered that "it cannot be proven even one liter of the TDG made it to the battlefield."
Saddam's regime is accused of killing some 180,000 Kurds. The poison gas attack on Halabja alone killed 5,000 Kurdish guerrillas and civilians on March 16, 1988.
The attacks are among war crimes allegations being prepared against Saddam, but are not part of his first trial that is limited to a 1982 massacre of Shiites in the village of Dujail. That trial is due to resume later this month in Baghdad.
The Halabja poison attack was launched during the Iraq-Iran war as part of a crackdown on Kurdish guerrillas allied with Iranians in the border town, thus threatening to open a breech in the Iraqi front line. Saddam's army later reoccupied the town.
Survivors of the gas attacks filled the public gallery of The Hague District Court, and lawyers representing 16 victims of the attacks seeking damages — many of whom were interviewed by the prosecution to prepare its case — attended the session. Several were expected to testify during the three-week trial.
A verdict is expected in late December.
The prosecution said the transactions involved in the illicit shipments spanned the globe, from the Netherlands to Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland, Japan, Singapore and Jordan.
Van Anraat eluded justice for years, even though at one point he topped the CIA's most wanted list, and was detained at the request of U.S. authorities in Italy in 1989. He was released by an Italian judge who ruled the charges were politically motivated.
He returned to the Netherlands after years in Iraq following the collapse of Saddam's regime with the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
It was the third time a Dutch court was trying a case of war crimes or crimes against humanity committed in other countries by Dutch residents. Last year a former Congolese officer was convicted of torture, and last month another court convicted two former Afghan intelligence officers on similar charges.