Somalia jails Britons, American over pirate ransom

Sun Jun 19, 2011 10:58am GMT

By Mohamed Ahmed

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A Somali court has jailed three Britons and an American for illegally bringing in millions of dollars in ransom for pirates, but the judge suggested the convicts could buy their freedom.

The Somali government says it is illegal to pay off armed gangs plaguing the strategic shipping lanes linking Europe and Asia, though the practice is common. The three Westerners were among six foreigners to face prison in a precedent-setting case.

The Horn of Africa country, where piracy has boomed amid a lack of effective central government, seized two aircraft carrying $3.6 million (2.2 million pounds) in the capital Mogadishu late last month.

"We sentenced the two pilots, who are American and British nationals, to 15 years' imprisonment and a $15,000 fine each," the Mogadishu court's judge, Hashi Elmi, told Reuters late on Saturday.

The charges were illegally bringing money into the country, carrying cash intended to pay ransoms for hijacked ships and landing in Mogadishu without proper papers. The cash and planes were now the property of Somalia's government, Elmi said.

The four other foreign convicts, among them two Kenyans, got 10-year jail terms and fines of $10,000.

All six, Elmi said, "can appeal, and if they ask to pay more instead of (remaining in) prison then we shall see and take our decision."

In London, the Foreign Office said it had received word that Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed had ordered the group not be moved from the relative safety of the capital's airport.   Continued...

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