The attorney for a Somali man accused of being the highest-ranking pirate the U.S. has ever captured wants all charges against him dismissed, saying that the U.S. doesn't have the proper jurisdiction to prosecute and that even if it did, Somalia is far too dangerous a country to travel to and mount an adequate defense.
Mohammad Saali Shibin faces a litany of charges in the February hijacking of the yacht Quest, which resulted in the deaths of all four Americans on board. They were the first Americans killed in a wave of piracy that has plagued the Indian Ocean in recent years.
Unlike the other 14 men charged in the case, Shibin never set foot aboard the yacht. Instead, prosecutors say he acted as a land-based negotiator who researched how much ransom to seek for the Americans.
He also faces a series of charges in securing ransom of a German merchant vessel. An indictment alleges Shibin received $30,000 to $50,000 for negotiating a ransom for the Marida Marguerite estimated in the millions.
If convicted of piracy of either vessel, he faces a mandatory life sentence. He also faces hostage taking, kidnapping and weapons charges, among others.
Shibin attorney James Broccoletti wrote in a federal court filing Tuesday that the piracy charges should be dismissed because Shibin didn't engage in robbery at sea. He also wrote that the U.S. needed to extradite Shibin if it wanted to prosecute him. Shibin was apprehended in Somalia.
"Additionally, the United States cannot establish jurisdiction over someone who is `found' in the U.S. solely through our government action of seizing and bringing him here _ especially when there is no connection of the U.S. government to the offender, the victims, or the victim ship," he wrote.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment. It has not yet filed a response.
Broccoletti writes that Somalia has a functioning judicial system that could prosecute Shibin for the crimes he's been charged with. However, he also acknowledged the chaotic nature of Somalia _ which has become a pirate haven _ in a detailed filing that lays out all the reasons it is unsafe for him to travel there.
He contends that his inability to travel to Somalia, gather evidence and interview witnesses would result in an unfair trial.
"The historical setting to Somalia's state of chaos, its continued corruption and violence, make it clear shy Somalia is one of the poorest and most volatile countries in the world. Travel to any region of Somalia is clearly not a viable option for any American citizen, much less anyone associated with the American government, at this time or the foreseeable future," he wrote.
Online: Brock Vergakis can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis
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