March 2, 2009 / 3:41 PM / in 9 years

Ukrainian magnate says he paid pirate ransom

KIEV (Reuters) - A Ukrainian business magnate paid a ransom to secure the release of 20 crewmen held on their ship by Somali pirates for five months, his office said on Monday.

Pirates on a speed boat near the enclave of Eyl in Somalia in a framegrab, November 24, 2008. REUTERS/Reuters TV

The office of Viktor Pinchuk, who runs a variety of businesses from industrial pipes to media and engages in a wide range of philanthropic activities, did not disclose how much was paid in exchange for the release this month of the crew of the Faina.

It gave no details of conditions attached to the deal to free the vessel and its cargo of 33 Soviet-era T-72 tanks and other weapons after long negotiations off Africa’s east coast.

“Viktor Pinchuk did, in fact, provide the sum required to secure the release of the sailors being held hostage aboard the Faina,” his press office said in a statement.

It quoted Pinchuk as saying: “No one in Ukraine was indifferent to the fate of our sailors. The hijacking of the Faina was a challenge to the whole country.”

The pirates released the ship after receiving a ransom initially estimated at $3.2 million from the ship’s owners. Ukrainian media later said the sum was about $4 million.

Pinchuk, the son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma, owns Interpipe, Ukraine’s largest producer of pipes, as well as television channels and other businesses.

He engages in high-profile charitable works, running a modern art gallery in Kiev and bringing to Ukraine well-known artists to perform at free open-air concerts.

Earlier on Monday, President Viktor Yushchenko’s chief of staff said Pinchuk had provided the “lion’s share” of the money paid to secure the ship’s release.

Viktor Baloga, writing on the president’s website, said authorities had sought the help of businessmen as there was “no section of the state budget allocated to liberating hostages”.

Ukraine and Kenya say the arms cargo was intended for the Kenyan armed forces. Kenyan officials condemned the payment of ransoms to secure the release of hostages seized by hijackers off the coast of east Africa.

A regional maritime group based in Kenya and diplomats in the region say it was destined for south Sudan via Kenya — a possible embarrassment for Kenya, which helped broker a 2005 peace deal there.

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