But Abu Sayyaf got only P100M
Families and friends of four Malaysian sailors abducted in April this year by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) have paid a ransom of P130 million (RM12 million), but only P100 million has reached the bandit group, highly placed sources said.
The missing amount raised suspicions the rebels may be in cahoots with government officials from Malaysia and the Philippines who may have shared the money among themselves.
According to two highly placed senior Philippine government officials, the payment of ransom was confirmed by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Hamidi publicly admitted that RM12 million (roughly $2.9 million) was paid for the freedom of brothers Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Teck Chii, 29; their cousin Johnny, 21; and co-worker Wong Hung Sing, 34.
The four, crew of a tugboat, were abducted off Sabah on April 1 by a group of armed men on a speedboat.
They were released in Jolo, Sulu, on June 7 after long-drawn negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf militants led by sub-commander Apo Mike.
“It’s now a burning issue in Malaysia. The ransom payment is already one of their headlines but, surprisingly, it has yet to reach the Philippine media’s attention. We got information that the ASG was incensed after learning from news reports that the money was actually RM12 million, equivalent to P130 million but that only P100 million reached them,” one of the senior officials, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, told The Manila Times.
“The question is, where did the missing money go?” the source asked.
Rumors flew thick that the money was coursed through a special branch of the Malaysian police and given to local officials in Sulu before ending in the hands of the ASG.
“From what we gathered, a local government official in Sulu was involved in the negotiations. It is common knowledge in Malaysia that usually P30 million is paid as ransom for any number of Malaysian victims in the past. The P130 million by far is the highest,” said the other source.
Malaysian media had reported that the Malaysian police vehemently denied claims that ransom was paid, claiming that the ASG was pressured to release the hostages because of a barter trade ban imposed by Malaysia on southern Philippines.
But late last week, the deputy Prime Minister said the RM12 million was not paid to the kidnappers but to “legally and religiously sanctioned” organizations and agencies in the Philippines.
The Malaysian official, however, did not identify which religious organizations got the money.
“I can confirm that the RM12 million that was handed over to the Special Branch was given as a form of contribution to certain organizations in the Philippines,” he told the media on Thursday last week.
According to The Manila Times source, there is credence to allegations by Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin that some local officials, probably including the military, may have colluded with the ASG, which recently beheaded Canadian Robert Hall.
Another Canadian, John Ridsdel, was executed by the group in April when the group’s ransom demand was ignored.
“Why are they so passive? Obviously, there is complicity here. Much of the answers could be provided by the governor of Sulu [Abdusakur Tan],” the source said.
The families of the four sailors had said they had raised RM12 million through donations and had handed the money to the Special Branch of the Malaysian police in Sandakan on May 24.
It was reported that RM9 million was donated by individuals, RM1 million came from the mortgage made on pieces of property and the remaining RM2 million came from the shipping company where the four kidnap victims worked.
Last Friday, Sabah Police Deputy Commissioner Awang Sahari EM Nadzeer was quoted by the Malaysian media as saying that the police had recorded statements from the victims right after they arrived in Kota Kinabalu from Sandakan last Wednesday.
The Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped a number of Indonesian sailors early this year.
On March 26, the terror group snatched the 10 Indonesian sailors off Borneo island.
The kidnap victims were released on May 1 but it was not known if ransom was paid.
On April 15, the bandit group abducted four Indonesian sailors.
The victims were released on May 11.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding several foreign and local hostages, including Hall’s girlfriend Maritess Flor and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad.