KUALA LUMPUR • Questions have been raised about whether a ransom was paid for the release of four Malaysians who were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf terrorists in southern Philippines.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi yesterday insisted that no ransom was paid, saying that RM12 million (S$4 million) raised by families of the victims and from the public was contributed to "certain organisations" in the Philippines.
He declined to name them or explain why the funds were channelled to these groups.
Some family members of those kidnapped said they thought the funds were meant as a ransom, and the cash was handed over to Malaysian police on May 24.
The controversy came as Malaysia and Philippine authorities were investigating reports that another four Malaysians had been kidnapped off southern Philippines.
NO CRIMINAL OR TERROR LINKS
The money raised was from public donation and asset sales, and I can confirm that it was channelled not as ransom, but to a body in the Philippines which assists in an Islamic struggle. The body has no links to terrorists or criminals.
MALAYSIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AHMAD ZAHID HAMIDI
And fears are mounting for the safety of a Norwegian man and a Filipino woman still held hostage.
"I can confirm that the RM12 million that was handed over to the (police) Special Branch was given as a form of contribution to certain organisations in the Philippines," Datuk Seri Zahid said yesterday, as quoted by The Star newspaper.
Berita Harian Malaysia quoted him as saying in Putrajaya: "The money raised was from public donation and asset sales, and I can confirm that it was channelled not as ransom, but to a body in the Philippines which assists in an Islamic struggle. The body has no links to terrorists or criminals."
The Malaysians kidnapped on April 1 were released on June 7 after long-drawn negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf terrorists. The Filipino militant group is known for kidnapping people for ransom.
The hostages were two brothers, Mr Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Mr Wong Teck Chii, 29, their cousin, Mr Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, and Mr Wong Hung Sing, 34, who is not related to them. They were kidnapped while sailing a tugboat between the Philippines and Sarawak.
Where the funds have ended up is a source of anxiety for the families.
Datuk Lau Cheng Kiong, the uncle of one of the released hostages, told a news conference in Sarawak on Wednesday: "This is money from public donation. We have no right to keep it. Those who need further clarification can always ask the police."
He said of the total sum, RM9 million was donated by individuals, RM1 million came from the mortgage of his family's two houses and the remaining RM2 million from the shipping company that the four men worked for.
Malaysia had maintained over the years that it did not pay ransom to the Abu Sayyaf when its nationals were kidnapped.
Meanwhile, Philippine and Malaysian authorities said yesterday that they are trying to verify reports that four Malaysians had been abducted off Sabah and taken to Sulu yesterday morning.
The Philippines' ABS-CBN media network quoted Tawi-Tawi police director Joselito Salido as saying a group of unidentified suspects allegedly took the captives to Sulu Island.
Major Filemon Tan, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said in a text message that there was "no known or reported kidnapping incident" as of 5pm.