Belgian-American businessman Michael Desaedeleer, accused of dealing in blood diamonds in West Africa, has died in prison in Belgium, before the start of his war crimes trial, two legal groups which fought to bring him to justice have said.
Mr Desaedeleer, 65, was believed to be the first businessman ever to be arrested in connection with the diamond trade that helped finance Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war.
In a joint statement, legal groups Civitas Maxima and the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law said:
Sadly, the victims of slavery in the diamond mines in Sierra Leone’s Kono district, who were enslaved for months partially for the purpose of enriching Western businessmen, will never fully achieve justice.
Nevertheless, the arrest of Michel Desaedeleer, his imprisonment and the fact that his trial was scheduled to commence in a few months represent a victory for the victims who courageously filed a complaint against him and have never ceased in their fight for justice.
The cause of Mr Desaedeleer’s death is unknown.
He was arrested in Spain last year following an arrest warrant issued by Belgium.
It wanted to put him on trial for allegedly profiting from the illicit trade of “blood diamonds” during Sierra Leone’s civil war, which raged from 1991 to 2002.
He was accused of working with then-Liberian President and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor and Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group to mine diamonds illegally in Sierra Leone’s eastern Korno district.