S. Korea prosecutors say Briton involved in pirate talks

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A British broker was involved in two separate ransom negotiations for South Korean-operated ships hijacked off Somalia, prosecutors told a trial of four pirates in South Korea on Thursday.

The Briton brokered a multi-million dollar deal to release the Samho Dream and also approached the shipping company when a second vessel, the Samho Jewelry, was seized, Yonhap news agency quoted a member of the prosecution team as saying.

The Samho Dream was hijacked in April last year and its crew were released in November after seven months of negotiations. Busan-based Samho Shipping reportedly handed over more than US$9 million as ransom.

In January this year, its sister ship Samho Jewelry was seized in the Arabian Sea but was retaken in a dramatic raid by South Korean commandos six days later.

Eight pirates were killed while five were arrested and taken to the southern South Korean port of Busan to stand trial on charges of maritime robbery, attempted murder and ship hijacking.

The charges are punishable by life imprisonment. Four are on trial this week while a fifth who pleaded guilty will be sentenced separately.

Prosecutors quoted Samho Shipping director Chun Bok-woo as saying that a pirate phoned the firm on January 15 when the Samho Jewelry was captured to find out whether it was owned by the same company as the Samho Dream.

Chun also reportedly said that a 41-year-old British broker, identified only as Peter, called his company the next day.

Peter works in the British insurance industry and led the negotiations with the shipping company last year for the release of the Samho Dream, prosecutors quoted Chun as saying.

Samho Shipping officials could not be reached for comment on the report.

All 21 crew were rescued when navy SEALs stormed the Samho Jewelry, but Captain Seok Hae-Kyun, 58, was shot several times and remains in hospital after multiple operations.

Prosecutors said a pirate identified as Araye Mahomed shot the captain.

The trial marks the first attempt by South Korea, a major seafaring nation, to punish foreign pirates. A verdict in the case of the four is expected on either Friday or Monday, while the fifth will be sentenced next Wednesday.

© 2011 AFP

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