Somali Pirate Kingpin Sentenced to 20 Years

File image courtesy codkamuqdisho.com

Published Mar 14, 2016 9:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

Somali pirate kingpin Mohamed Abdi Hassan, better known as Afwenye ("Big Mouth"), has been sentenced by a Belgian court to twenty years' imprisonment for his leadership role in the 2009 hijacking of the Belgian-flagged rock-dumping vessel Pompei.

He is also required to pay 20,000 euros to the captain of the Pompei and his family. 

Afwenye is in Belgian custody but did not attend the trial. He was convicted in absentia, and it is expected that he will appeal. 

His associate, Mohamed Moalin-Aden (or Tiiceey), received five years for involvement with Afwenye's criminal organization. He was acquitted of charges related to the specific instance of the Pompei. 

Tiiceey has already been in custody for two and a half years, and with time served, he may be released soon following sentencing. 

Tiiceey described his conviction as "collateral damage," the result of prosecutor's desire for a high-profile case against Afwenye. "I'm a political prisoner whose liberty is sacrificed for a career," he said. 

Due to a prosecutorial error, the court did not order the confiscation of the millions of euros the two men gained from the pirate network’s crimes. 

By all accounts the two men have had a long and profitable career. Afwenye, a former civil servant, began recruiting pirates for a commercial-scale criminal enterprise in 2003. He was successful early and often, snagging dozens of vessels before his retirement in 2013. Over that time, he put the money he took in from ransom payments into a diverse range of business enterprises, including investments in the amphetamine-like stimulant khat (a traditional substance in the region) to sell to his pirates. 

His son suggested that he had given Al Qaeda-affiliated militants Al Shaabab a cut of his ransom profits in exchange for protection and non-interference. After retirement, Afwenye secured a pardon from Tiiceey - at that time the president of the autonomous state of Himan and Heeb - and tried to set up a rehabilitation program for former pirates under the moniker of the Somali Anti-Piracy Agency.

According to Foreign Policy, Afwenye’s network still held hostages at the time, and he attempted to ransom them to the newly formed Somali Federal Government in exchange for amnesty and a $2 million payment. 

The two men were arrested by Belgian authorities in a novel sting operation in 2013; an undercover team convinced Afwenye and Tiiceey to travel to Europe as paid consultants on a fictitious movie about their lives, and detained them as soon as they got off the plane.