Kidnap & Ransom – Is Paying Ransoms Legal
I have also been approached many times over the years by those selling kidnap & ransom insurance, for if in the scenario the client gets kidnapped. Well, our aim with our clients is that they don’t get kidnapped in the first place! From what I understand, from those that have attended the overpriced kidnap and ransom seminars run by the insurance companies, is that all the attendees are told to do is call them if they have a problem. No one seems particularly concerned with preventing the kidnapping in the first place.
If you understand the actual implications of kidnappings you should understand that being kidnapped is not a pleasurable experience, unless you’re a pervert. The victims run the risk of beatings, torture, sexual assault and lifelong psychological problems if they survive. But do you think the insurance salespeople care as long as you make the policy payments? If you’re kidnapped, they will be looking for every reason to void the policy due to your negligence.
Also considering a lot of countries now have strict laws on dealing with kidnapping and ransom situations, the insurance policies are best taken with a pinch of salt and left for Hollywood to make movies about! In reality, there is very little these insurance salespeople can do to save you!
Most people who are unfortunate enough to be caught up in a kidnapping situation are not going to consider whether it is legal or not to pay the ransom, and if they could be breaking the law themselves by doing so. The fact is they could well be breaking the law in several ways. Also, do you think an insurance company would risk breaking the law to save you?
So, Is Paying Ransoms Legal? There have been numerous cases of Iraqis who worked for U.S. forces in Iraq and have been actively targeted by terrorists being denied visas and re-settlement in the U.S. because they admitted to paying a ransom for a kidnapped family member. By paying a ransom for the release of a family member they provided “material support” to a terrorist group.
The most publicized example of a corporation being fined for paying protection money to terrorists is that of Chiquita Bananas, who in 2007 were fined twenty-five million dollars by the U.S. Government. Chiquita Bananas had at one point several plantations in Columbia that were in areas controlled by left and right-wing guerrilla groups, so they ended up paying these groups for security. In reality, if they had refused to pay the guerrillas or brought in their own security contractors I strongly suspect the plantations would have gone out of business pretty quickly.
Most governments have laws on their books that prevent the material support and even in some places meeting and negotiating with terrorist’s groups. What complicates things more is that most countries do not recognize the same groups as terrorist organizations. For example, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC is a U.S. recognize terrorist group but is not classed as a terrorist group by Russia. So, if a Russian citizen paid protection money to the FARC while doing business in Columbia, he could go on with his life in Russian with no problems, but he could be arrested if he visited the U.S. for providing material support to a terrorist organization.
Also I 2022 the French Cement company Lafarge paid the U.S. Justice Department $778 Million USD as part of a plea-deal when it was charged with paying terrorist groups in Syria to provide protection and facilitate the companies operations in terrorist held areas. US prosecutors said that Lafarge’s Syrian subsidiary had paid Islamic State and another terror group, al Nusra Front, the equivalent of $5.92m to protect staff at the plant as the country’s civil war intensified. Executives likened the arrangements to paying “taxes”.
The United Nations legal definition for funding terrorism is as follows; a person commits the crime of financing of terrorism “if that person by any means, directly or indirectly, unlawfully and willfully, provides or collects funds with the intention that they should be used or in the knowledge that they are to be used, in full or in part, in order to carry out”, an offense within the scope of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. There is also the issue of international money laundering and tax laws; will your tax inspector believe you when you tell them the thirty thousand dollars cash you withdrew from your account went to pay a ransom in Mexico?
One area where there have been large ransoms being paid and it’s without doubt that percentages are going to Islamic terrorist’s groups is Somalia. Maritime piracy was one of Somalia’s main sources of income, with ransom’s reportedly averaging between one to three million U.S. dollars per ship and crew. One terrorist group that is recognized by the U.S. and UK, reportedly link to Al-Qaeda and was actively involved in the piracy business is Al-Shabab. So, if you’re paying a ransom for a vessel that’s being held in Somalia, we can say your funding terrorism.
In 2011 three British citizens, an American and two Kenyans were arrested in Somalia when they landed in two unmarked planes at Mogadishu airport with $3 Million USD in cash to pay a ransom for a hijacked ship. For their foolhardy adventure they received prison terms of 15 years, which were commuted after several moths due to the intervention of their governments. The Somali government did not want cash being give to pirates’ and terrorists which would be used to buy arms and fund operations against them. Paying ransoms to pirates’ and terrorists is funding terrorism!
I came across one insurance broker that was adamant that by paying ransoms for ships they were not funding terrorism. So, who were they giving the money to? Salvation Army? Piracy was a booming in Somalia because the pirates knew ransoms would be paid for ships and crews. It was big business for all involved, including the insurance companies. Policy payments went up right?
In 2010 The British government blocked the United Nations from sanctioning known players in the Somali piracy industry as it could hurt the “British Shipping Industry”. The British government asked for a “technical hold” to be placed on a U.S. proposal to sanction two Somali pirate commanders “Abshir Abdillahi” and “Mohamed Abdi Garaad” under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1844.
The British Foreign Office said that Britain does not condone the payment of ransoms and supports strong action against known pirates. However, it is not illegal under British law to pay ransom and if the two alleged pirate commanders were added to the list, it could create a legal conflict for British-based companies by outlawing ransom payments that ended up in the hands of the two suspects. The sanctions could leave “UK companies open to prosecution, due to a difficult balancing act of cracking down on piracy and considering the shipping industry’s commercial interests”. The Financial Times reported that the proposed sanctions would affect law firms, insurers and private security companies in London that arrange ransoms to release kidnapped ships and crews. In simple terms all of those involved in the payment of ransoms for hijacked ships would be liable for financially supporting terrorism.
While the British Foreign Office and government were protecting those paying the ransoms, they were also helping to fuel a piracy epidemic that cost many lives. While they will say that paying ransoms saved the lives of those kidnapped, but they are not mentioning how many others were killed by the weapons that were bought by the pirates and terrorists with the ransom payments. But as long as the “British Shipping Industry” and their insurance companies made money who cares right?
Piracy has decreased drastically off Somalia; some say it’s because of armed guards on ships and foreign naval vessels patrolling the high-risk areas. But it also declined because the Somalis invested the hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments they received into legitimate business. Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab still control large areas of Somalia and profited greatly from piracy operations, now they rely on other means of extortion to fund their terrorist operations.
The policy of most governments is to never pay ransoms because it encourages more kidnappings, funds crime and terrorism, but if ransoms are paid for kidnapped individuals, they tend to look the other way or issue a reprimand, not criminal charges. I think the reaction would be a lot different though if it was established that a ransom paid to Al-Shabab or the like, was used to fund terrorist attacks on U.S., Western or Eastern European targets. Another issue with paying ransoms is ensuring that the payment is going to the right people, there are cases where reportedly paid to scammers and other terrorist groups, which of course means the hostages were ever released.
The kidnapping business can be a very intricate business, where the stakes are extremely high for all involved. I cannot stress enough that if you believe you are at risk of being kidnapped you need to make sensible plans and take active precautions to prevent an incident. It is a far better strategy to try and prevent a kidnapping than to have to deal with a hostage and ransom situation, which can always become very messy, very quickly.
Books on Amazon
Kidnap & Ransom: The Essentials of Kidnapping Prevention
This book will show you the realities of the kidnap and ransom business!
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