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British broker involved in negotiations for release of pirated S. Korean ships

A British broker was involved in two separate negotiations to release South Korean ships hijacked by Somali pirates, South Korean prosecutors said Thursday, an indication that the British negotiator was working for the pirates.

"We have confirmed that the pirates have employed professional brokers, given that the same British arbitrator, who brokered the Samho Dream deal, approached the shipping company regarding the Samho Jewelry case," said a prosecutor from the Busan District Prosecutors' Office in a court hearing for four Somali pirates charged with hijacking the Samho Jewelry.

The Samho Dream was hijacked by Somali pirates in April last year and its crew members were released in November after a seven-month-long negotiation. Its owner, the Busan-based Samho Shipping Co., reportedly handed over more than US$9 million in ransom.

In January this year, its sister freighter, the Samho Jewelry, was hijacked in waters off Somalia but was rescued in a naval operation a few days later.

According to the prosecution, Chun Bok-woo, a board director of the shipping company, said that a pirate telephoned the firm on Jan. 15 when the Samho Jewelry was captured to determine whether it belonged to the same shipping company as the Samho Dream.

Chun also said that the 41-year-old British broker, identified by only his first name Peter, called the company the next day, according to the prosecutors. Peter led the negotiations on behalf of the pirates with the shipping company last year for release of the Samho Dream and is engaged in the British insurance industry, Chun said.

South Korea began the five-day jury trial on four of the five Somali pirates captured alive during the Jan. 21 rescue operation by South Korean Navy commandos in the Arabian Sea and accused of maritime piracy. The trial is set to reach a verdict on Friday.

The fifth pirate, who pleaded guilty, however, faced a separate trial and will be sentenced on June 1.

(Yonhap)

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