Published on 14 Nov 2010 Sections ,

Somali Briton masterminds Chandlers’ release: inside story

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

EXCLUSIVE: Jonathan Rugman, reporting from Nairobi, meets the former London minicab driver who claims to have masterminded the release of the British yachting couple Paul and Rachel Chandler.

The middleman who masterminded the release of Paul and Rachel Chandler is Dahir Abdullahi Kadiye, a former minicab driver from London who oversaw the transfer of a ransom of more than $450 000 to the Somali pirates and their financial backers.

Mr Kadiye is a 56 year old Somali Briton who divides his time between his wife and children in Leytonstone, East London, and his native Somalia.

Kadiye claims he secured the couple’s release on “humanitarian grounds” without a ransom changing hands.

He told Channel 4 News that he took on the job of hostage negotiator 6 months ago because his children had told him they felt ashamed at school when they saw the Chandlers’ appeals for help, broadcast on television.

The Chandlers – who spent their first night of freedom at the British High Commission in Nairobi – were today given the news of the death of Paul’s father during their captivity.

“We have just learned that Paul’s father died in late July and we obviously need to come to terms with that,” they said in a statement released through the Foreign Office. “We will return to the UK very soon.”

The kidnapping of the Chandlers

The pirates themselves told Channel 4 that a final payment of $300 000 was delivered to them in an electronic money transfer known as “hawala” to the town of Adaado last week.

The pirates agreed to the handover apparently because they wanted to get back to the more lucrative business of stealing commercial ships.

Adaado is a seven hour drive from the remote encampment in the windswept African bush where the Chandlers were most recently held.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr Kadiye led a party of local elders and armed men from Adaado to collect the Britons. The pirates agreed to the handover apparently because they wanted to get back to the more lucrative business of stealing commercial ships.

After almost 13 months holding the retired couple from Tunbridge Wells, it was clear their initial demand for $7m was never going to be realised.

Chandlers' family: 'common sense prevailed'

Paul and Rachel Chandler are in "good spirits" their family said in a statement. "Thankfully, common sense finally prevailed and a solution was obtained for their release in the last few days.

"There will be the inevitable questions of how their release was achieved," the statement said.

Read more: Chandlers' family: 'common sense prevailed'

The negotiator describes himself as a “businessman” and denies making money from piracy himself. Previous multimillion dollar deals he has brokered include the release last year of the “Sirius Star”, a Saudi supertanker and the largest ship ever hijacked by Somali pirates.

A former refugee, Mr Kadiye said he was motivated by “wanting to end the humiliation of Somalis in the UK, because the British government has been good to us and given us refuge.”

“I am excited about standing next to the Chandlers on TV,” he explained. “This will make my sons very happy.”

The bulk of the $300,000 ransom money is believed to have come from Somalia’s UN-backed government, which is confined to a small part of the capital, Mogadishu, where it is regularly shelled by Islamist militants.

Mr Kadiye said he was motivated by “wanting to end the humiliation of Somalis in the UK, because the British government has been good to us and given us refuge.”

“The President’s office helped me immensely,” Mr Kadiye said, paying tribute to the Somali President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

But there is speculation in Mogadishu that the British government funded the deal. On March 10th, Britain announced a new aid programme of £5.8m “to help promote peace and stability” in Somalia, according to a press release from the Department for International Development.

This followed a 15 minute meeting at Downing Street two days earlier between the Somali leader and the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

A Somali official in the President’s entourage claimed part of the British money was always intended to fund Paul and Rachel Chandler’s freedom, in spite of the UK’s often repeated policy of not paying ransoms to kidnappers. The Somali official added that Mr Brown wanted the hostage-taking ended before the general election less than two months later.

But the Department for International Development stressed that none of Britain’s aid is channelled through the Somali government.

A DfID spokesman said: “No part of the UK aid budget has been used to help secure the Chandlers’ release, nor to benefit pirates. The British government does not pay ransoms to hostage takers.

“We channel all our aid through UN agencies and well established and trusted charities. None of it goes through the Somali government.”

There were two occasions when a previous ransom deal brokered by a private British security firm seemed close. On April 9th, the couple were told by the pirates that they would be free within a week, though the money then offered, some $200,000, wasn’t nearly enough.

Then on June 17th, a white Kenyan pilot flew from Nairobi and airdropped between $400,000 and $500,000 to the gang at an agreed spot below. The money had been raised by the Chandlers’ families; but the pirates reneged on the deal, believing that more would come either from the relatives or from their fellow Somalis.

The negotiators were furious and told the pirates that was all they were going to get. Then the pirates angrily put the phone down, and the release was off. With Paul and Rachel Chandler’s relatives out of cash and ideas, it was then that Mr Kadiye stepped in.

Sources close to his team say a further $150,000 to $200,000 is also going to be paid out – money earmarked for a number of Somali businessmen who bankrolled the pirates from the beginning. It is common for Somali pirates to rely on financial backers to fund their 4 x 4 vehicles, petrol and supplies until these backers can be paid off when the ransom arrives.

Last Friday one of the pirates told Channel 4 News that the day was being spent totting up their expenses. He claimed the group had made nothing from the Chandlers, even though the total money they received directly amounts to close to $1m. Another pirate joked that he would soon be visiting the UK, because his wife lives in London. Britain is home to up to 300,000 Somalis, the largest Somali community anywhere in Europe.

Among them is Mr Kadiye. He’s from the Habergidir-Saleban clan, the same Somali clan as the pirates, and began working in London as a minicab driver after arriving in the UK as a refugee in 1997.

Mr Kadiye says he ran a taxi cab firm in the Marble Arch area but he sold it 2 years ago. He has been travelling regularly between the UK and Somalia since an upsurge in pirate attacks began in 2008. It was then that he founded a private security firm called “Task Force International Somalia” which also negotiated the release of the “Sirius Star”. The massive Saudi tanker was released on January 9th last year for an estimated $3m ransom.

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