An investigation by international news network Aljazeera has revealed for the first time how a ransom was paid for Italian-South African hostage Bruno Pelizzari and his South African girlfriend, Debbie Calitz, who were captured by Somali pirates in 2010.
The film by Aljazeera Media Network’s investigative journalism directorate, which was screened for the first time in London on Monday, revealed that after the South African government refused to help Pelizzari’s family negotiate with the Somali pirates, the Italian Intelligence Service (AISE) paid a ransom of more than $500,000 (R6.6 million) for the couple.
When Pelizzari and Calitz returned to South Africa in June 2012, they received a warm welcome from International relations and cooperation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
The documentary, called The Hostage Business, has now exposed a lie by the South African government which said the couple was freed after a successful operation by Western-backed Somali security forces. But this story was told to cover up the involvement of an Italian intelligence agent who approached Pelizzari’s sister, Vera Hecht, on Facebook.
The document on which the film is based comes from the cache of Spy Cables, a tranche of top secret documents leaked to the news network and broadcast in February.
The document, a State Security Agency memo, reveals that the AISE paid a ransom of $525,000 to the “pirate militia group that kept the hostages in custody for more than 20 months in South Central Somalia”.
“The family of the hostages did not contribute to the ransom,” the document says.
“To conceal the payment of the ransom, AISE, the Somalia National Security Agency and the hostages agreed to inform the media and public that the release of the hostages was the result of a successful rescue operation by the Somali Security Forces,” the memo states.
After they were released, the couple was flown to Italy where they were met by Hecht, the intelligence agent, “Italian government officials and the Charge Affairs of the South African Embassy in Italy”.
“Hecht and the hostages were instructed by the Italian officials not to disclose that a ransom was paid, but to rather inform the media that the …forces of Somalia rescued them,” the memo states.
Department of international relations and cooperation spokesperson Nelson Kgwete said on Friday that he knew nothing of the document and referred City Press to State Security spokesperson Brian Dube.
Dube declined to comment on the document, saying his department would not be drawn into discussing the Spy Cables until their investigation into them was completed. The investigation has not been concluded, he said.