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Piracy. Spanish Officials Backtrack

A Spanish judge today ordered seven of the 14 pirate suspects arrested in the Gulf of Aden to be freed. 

Spain’s Audiencia Nacional high court Judge Fernando Andreu issued the order after Spain’s public prosecutor withdrew a motion seeking to get seven of the suspect imprisoned in Spain for questioning about crimes in international waters.

The high court prosecutor instead asked for seven of the pirates to be handed over to Kenya, which has an accord with the EU to handle suspected pirates. Spanish officials thereby have backtracked on plans to bring seven suspected young Somali pirates 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) to Madrid for questioning after they were picked up by the Spanish navy in the Gulf of Aden.

The Spanish attorney general's office said it would be "disproportionate" to bring in "15-year-old boys who are 2,000 kilometers away" for questioning after a suspected thwarted hijacking. A Spanish navy oil tanker participating in an EU anti-piracy flotilla off Somalia rescued the seven after their boat capsized while they were allegedly trying to hijack a Panamanian-flagged freighter on Wednesday. Attorney general spokesman Fernando Noya said Friday that officials changed their minds after originally considering possible prosecution in Spain.

Prosecutor Blanca Rodriguez initially said the suspects should be investigated under Spain's observance of the principle of universal justice, which allows serious crimes committed abroad to be prosecuted here. Judge Andreu agreed, ordered the seven Somalis held on the supply ship and brought to Madrid for questioning.
However, Rodriguez changed her mind Friday. She said suspects should instead be handed over to Kenya under a March accord with European Union countries to accept and prosecute piracy suspects amid a surge in hijackings off the coast of the lawless Horn of Africa country.

The judge said that even though he was ordering the men freed _ he did not say in which country _ he was keeping the case open, albeit symbolically. Andreu refused to order the suspects surrendered to Kenya, saying it bypassed all Spanish laws on extradition and arguing that the EU accord cannot be applied to people with legal proceedings pending in Spain.

The Defense Ministry said Friday afternoon the suspects were still in custody aboard the Spanish ship, but it did not immediately know where the men would be taken.

Source: Ecoterra Intl, May 9, 2009

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