The Pompeii case’s ransom is in Dubai

  • A team of investigators is on the trail of the Somali pirates’ treasure.
  • The Pompeii case seems to be the norm in pirate economics.

According to a joint report by the World Bank, the Interpol counter-piracy force and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “Belgian authorities have discovered that the pirate who was leading negotiations had links with Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. They have also bank accounts and identification numbers uncovered in these countries (…). In addition, Belgian authorities think that in the wake of the ransom payment, the money was transported to Djibouti where it was sent to Dubai by (transfer)” (1). This was discovered while investigating the case of the hijacking of the Belgian ship in 2009 off the coast of Somalia.

The ransom, assembled by the ship’s owners, is calculated to be between 1.5 and 2 million EUR. The sum of €1.94 million (2.5 million dollars) was floated in June 2011 by the Brussels criminal court at the time of one of the pirates’ conviction.  Mohamed Abdi Hassan was trapped and arrested at Zaventem in mid-October because of these same acts of piracy toward the Pompeii says “Afweyne,” the head of one of the oldest and most powerful Somali pirate networks, the Hobyo-Xarardheere. 

Where does the ransom go?  According to the World Bank international investigation team, which includes some Belgians, about 107 cases of piracy with ransoms paid have been documented between April 2005 and December 2012 for a total sum between 250 and 305 million EUR. This has allowed a worldwide analysis of the flow of the money.  

These ransoms usually leave for foreign countries through three transit countries, Kenya, Djibouti and the Emirates and the Pompeii case proves it. The piracy operations financiers (who take between 30 and 75% of the net ransom revenue) invest abroad, especially in Europe.  The World Bank investigation reveals that the idea that the majority of the money does not return to Somalia is a fallacy.  During the first few years of piracy, cash leaving Somalia by land or by plane arrived in the Emirates. Why Dubai? The Emirates are an important opaque financial base as well as being at the heart of Somalia’s primary legal transactions, including the livestock market. Since Somalia’s instability does not allow any banks to operate on its soil, Somalis open accounts in Dubai where they buy and sell livestock. 

In this context, when a large sum of piracy-linked cash arrives in Somalia, it’s either laundered through institutions with lax money transfer policies (at least one ransom was laundered by declaring it as zakat, Muslim alms) or it’s hidden within a legal livestock import-export transaction. 

Emirate bank accounts are then credited.  These same accounts are debited when the beneficiary wants to invest their money in Somalia, the majority of cases. 

What do pirates invest in? First they purchase “armed militias and political influence,” then “hotels, restaurants and buildings,” and last, companies bearing the innocent label of “transportation.” As a matter of fact, these are fast boats used to commit other piracy operations. Most pirate-investors also put money into different businesses, corporations and agricultural activities as well as in khat traffic, which is a common narcotic plant in the Horn of Africa. 

Where the investigation becomes more politically disturbing is when it reveals that this money does not only profit the cities where organized gangs of pirates have set up shop, but all of Somalia, from Kismayo to Bosaso.  The investigators fear a total takeover of the country by the criminal economy.   

ALAIN LALLEMAND

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