Fugitive in poison-gas case with links to Baltimore company was seen in Iraq WAR IN THE GULF

June 28, 1991|By Michael Ollove

As U.S. bombs burst upon Baghdad during the second day of the Persian Gulf war, Dutch magazine reporter Arnold Karskens encountered a middle-aged Westerner scurrying across the lobby of the Al-Rashid Hotel while listening to a hand-held Sony short-wave radio.

The man, whom Mr. Karskens described as tall and well-dressed, introduced himself only as "Frans." He was polite, Mr. Karskens later wrote, but also intensely devoted to the Iraqi cause. Tugging on his beard, the man "vented his hatred against the Americans." The two sat talking for a few minutes and soon parted.

Three days later, Mr. Karskens was expelled from Iraq along with most other Western journalists. Some time after that, he said, he realized who the strange, angry man was.

Last week, in the Dutch magazine Nieuwe Revu, Mr. Karskens identified "Frans" as Frans Van Anraat, a fellow native of the Netherlands and a fugitive from U.S. authorities who allegedly helped Saddam Hussein stock his arsenal of chemical weapons with materials purchased in Baltimore.

Mr. Van Anraat, 48, faces a federal indictment in Baltimore for allegedly arranging the shipment of hundreds of tons of a compound used in the production of the chemical agent mustard gas. Shipped in 1988 from a Baltimore company, Alcolac International, the chemicals eventually landed in Iraq, according to U.S. authorities.

For the last two years, Mr. Van Anraat, who has residences in Milan, Italy, and Switzerland, has eluded capture by U.S. authorities. Mr. Karskens' report confirmed U.S. Customs Service suspicions about Mr. Van Anraat's whereabouts.

"We knew that he had been in Baghdad both before and after his arrest in Milan," said Dennis J. Bass, a senior Customs Service investigator. "This just confirms that."

On behalf of the United States, Mr. Van Anraat had been arrested by the Italians in 1989. However, a Milan judge refused to permit his extradition, ruling that the crime for which he had been charged was a "political offense." The judge ordered him released, and by the time frantic U.S. authorities persuaded an Italian appellate court to reverse the decision, Mr. Van Anraat was gone.

His apparent resurfacing in Iraq, Mr. Bass said, shatters any notion that Mr. Van Anraat might have been an unknowing dupe of Baghdad when he allegedly arranged the chemical deliveries. "The fact that he's there says to me that he was aware of what he was doing and who he was doing it for," Mr. Bass said.

Customs now thinks that Alcolac was a "major" supplier to Iraq of the chemical thiodiglycol, which is used in the manufacture of mustard gas", a blistering substance Iraq used in its war against Iran during the 1980s and against its own Kurdish population in 1988.

U.S. authorities say that in 1988, Mr. Van Anraat arranged for the shipment of 528 tons of thiodiglycol from Alcolac to Iraq. According to chemists, that amount of thiodiglycol would produce about 528 tons of mustard gas.

Last December, a month before the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war, William H. Webster, then the CIA director, said Iraq's stockpile of chemical weapons and nerve agents was about 1,000 tons.

It is not known whether the thiodiglycol supplied by Alcolac contributed to that stockpile. Experts in chemical warfare say it is possible that Iraq exhausted its supply of the Alcolac chemicals before the outbreak of the war. They agree with the assertion of Customs officials that the amount of thiodiglycol supplied by Alcolac far exceeded Iraq's capacity for non-military uses of the chemical.

Customs officials say Mr. Van Anraat went to work for the Iraqis in the mid-1980s, searching for loopholes in the international controls on the movement of thiodiglycol. At first, they say, he used suppliers in Japan. But as Iraq's need for weaponry intensified during its war against Iran, they say, he turned to the United States for cheaper and more plentiful supplies of thiodiglycol.

After enlisting the help of two U.S. businessmen and a Japanese businessmen, Mr. Van Anraat eventually entered into contracts with Alcolac, intending to purchase as much as 4,500 tons of thiodiglycol, according to Customs. If those sales had occurred, Alcolac's sales of thiodiglycol would have more than quadrupled.

According to court documents and proceedings, Alcolac was never told that the shipments were being diverted from Western Europe to Iraq. However, authorities say the company followed Mr. Van Anraat's instructions in completing official paperwork in a way that disguised the ultimate destination of the chemicals and helped avoid detection of the shipments to Iraq.

U.S. authorities also say Alcolac never reacted to "red flags" clearly suggesting that the chemicals were not remaining in Western Europe.

Alcolac pleaded guilty to violating U.S export-control laws in 1989 and was fined nearly $450,000. Alcolac's former export manager also was convicted, along with Mr. Van Anraat's three co-defendants.

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