WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- A Somali official who helped negotiate the release of a Danish-owned ship and its crew went on trial this week in Washington on piracy charges.
Federal prosecutors do not charge that Ali Mohamed Ali was involved in the seizure of the CEC Future, which was held for 71 days, the Los Angeles Times reported. But they say he aided and abetted piracy by his role in obtaining the $1.7 million ransom.
Ali, acting director of education in Somaliland, a semi-autonomous area in Somalia, was arrested in 2011 at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. Federal agents lured him to the United States with an invitation to an education conference in North Carolina.
Ali had previously lived in the United States for 26 years. His lawyer said he began studies at the State University of New York in Old Westbury when he was 19, offered his services to the U.S. government after the 2001 terrorist attacks and returned to Somalia for family reasons in 2007.
During months of hearings, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle has been critical of the prosecution. She ordered him released on bail and dismissed the piracy charge but was overruled by federal appeals courts, Courthouse News Service reported.
In an opening statement Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julieanne Himelstein argued that Ali was the key person in the act of piracy even if he was involved in no violence, the Times said. She suggested he tried to negotiate as large a ransom as possible and got CEC to add a $75,000 fee for his services to the agreed sum.
"He was the most important gun on board because that was the gun that got them the money," Himelstein told jurors.
Ali faces a mandatory life sentence if he is convicted of piracy. In a hearing, Huvelle suggested that is too much.
"This gentleman doesn't merit mandatory life," she said, as reported in a transcript.