Families of Ex-Hostages: Ransom Was Paid to Release Four Malaysians

Hata Wahari
Kuala Lumpur
160615-my-ransom620.jpg Asmizar holds up a mobile phone showing a photograph of her son, Wendy Rahadian, one of 10 members of an Indonesian tugboat crew kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf, March 31, 2016.

The families of four Malaysian sailors released from captivity last week by Abu Sayyaf militants are claiming that 12 million ringgit (U.S. $ 2.94 million) was handed over to the authorities as a ransom payment, a local newspaper reported Wednesday.

Malaysian authorities have denied that any ransom was paid to the southern Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf Group to secure the release of the hostages, identified as brothers Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Wong Chii Teck, 29, their cousin, Johnny Lau Kim Hien, 21, and Wong Hung Sing, 34, who is not related.

Lau Cheng Kiong, a spokesman for the families of the four ex-hostages and who is the uncle of Johnny Lau Kim Hien, said the money was given to the team responsible for handling the case – Special Branch Police in Sandakan, Sabah, on May 24, according to the Star newspaper.

“We have handed over about 12 Hong Leong Bank’s checks, each worth 1 million ringgit ($244,000), to the Special Branch team in Sandakan between 4 and 6 p.m. May 24.

“I want to stress, we did not take a penny of the money collected. It was donated by the public, we are not entitled to it,” Lau told a press conference in Sibu, Sarawak, on Wednesday, the Star reported.

Nine million ringgit ($2.2 million) was donated by people from Malaysia and elsewhere, including Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, China and the Solomon Islands, he said.

“The 1 million ringgit ($244,000) is from mortgages of our two-family residence and the remaining 2 million ringgit ($490,000) is a contribution from the shipping companies,” he added.

At the time of their release last week, Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, claimed that no ransom was paid to the militants. The four sailors, who all hail from Sibu, Sarawak, were kidnapped on April 1.

Khalid could not be reached and Mohamad Fuzi Harun, director of the Royal Malaysia Police’s Special Branch, declined comment when BenarNews contacted him on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, Malaysian newspaper Utusan Malaysia quoted Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as denying claims that Malaysian authorities had paid a ransom. He said there were no negotiations over a payment involving Malaysian and Philippine police and Abu Sayyaf.

“If there are allegations of certain payments made to free all the hostages, it is not the responsibility of authorities such as the Royal Malaysian Police who represent the Malaysian government,” he said.

Previous reports claimed that Abu Sayyaf had demanded 18 million ringgit ($4.46 million) in order to release all four sailors.

Aid sought

Following the kidnapping, the sailors’ kin created a Facebook page appealing for help in freeing them.

Lau said the family members decided to make the announcement on Wednesday because donors wanted to know what had happened to the money.

“Those who want to get detailed about the information can contact the Special Branch and Hong Leong Bank in Sandakan,” the Star quoted him as saying.

Wong Teck Kang, meanwhile, told reporters that the four had feared that they would not survive the kidnapping after they were shown a video of a beheading, according to local media.

During their captivity, Abu Sayyaf beheaded Canadian hostage John Ridsdel, five hours after a ransom deadline passed on April 25. On Monday, Abu Sayyaf executed a second Canadian hostage, Robert Hall.

In November, Abu Sayyaf beheaded Bernard Then, a Malaysian citizen who had been abducted from a seaside restaurant in Sabah in May 2015.

“I am not sure why [they showed us the beheading] – we were really scared,” Wong told reporters Wednesday at his family home in Pulau Li Hua, Sibu. “We didn’t think we’d be freed. Every day we prayed that we would survive.”

He said their feet were chained except for when they were transferred to another location, or if they wanted to use the toilet. Their captors allowed them to communicate with relatives several times.

The four were taken hostage from their tugboat while it sailed to Sarawak, a state that borders Sabah on the island of Borneo, from Manila. Five other crew members on the Malaysian-registered timber-hauling barge – three from Myanmar and two from Indonesia – were left behind.

The hijacking occurred a week after Abu Sayyaf abducted 10 Indonesian sailors in Philippine waters bordering Sabah. The 10 were released on May 1 and Indonesian officials did not comment on whether a ransom had been paid.


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