Washington - The Somali government has released $9.6 million it seized from a United Arab Emirates plane in Mogadishu four years ago, a step aimed at mending relations that have been stuck at a low point ever since.
"The money has been released and it is on its way to the Emirates," Somali Deputy Information Minister Abdirahman Yusuf Al-Adala told VOA Somali.
Other reliable government sources said Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, leading a delegation, flew to Dubai Wednesday to deliver the money in person.
The money was returned three days after Somali lawmakers elected a new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, replacing Roble's political foe, Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed. The new president has been sworn in but has not yet taken control of the government and it appears Roble acted independently.
A dramatic incident
The money was seized in April 2018, when Somalia's National Intelligence and Security Agency seized three suitcases at Mogadishu's international airport from a Boeing 737/700 operated by the UAE's Royal Jet Airline. The suitcases contained $9.6 million in cash.
Several Somali security officials told VOA at the time they seized the money because it was illegal and was intended to disrupt the country's security.
Ambassador Mohammed Ahmed Othman Al Hammadi, UAE envoy to Mogadishu at the time, denied the accusation. "The money is for the ministry of defense. It's for the salary of the Somali soldiers," he told VOA.
After the incident, diplomatic relations between Somalia and the UAE plunged to their lowest point in history, prompting the UAE to immediately end a military training mission in Somalia. It also closed a military facility and the Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Mogadishu.
Before the incidents, tension between the countries was already rising. In March 2018, Somalia's lower house of parliament banned a UAE state-owned ports operator, DP World, from the Horn of Africa country, declaring it "a threat to Somalia's sovereignty, independence and unity."
Since then, the two countries have frequently exchanged angry political rhetoric.
The tensions were at their highest during the drawn-out process of Somalia's elections, which were marred by disputes at all levels of government and a controversy over the president's legitimacy.
After President Mohamed's four-year term in office expired on February 8, 2021, Somali lawmakers passed a motion to extend his term by another two years.
However, an Emirati Foreign Ministry statement called President Mohamed's government as an interim administration.
The president accused the UAE of interfering in Somalia's internal affairs, instigating political divisions and attempting to upset the nation's stability.
PM Apologized for Seizure
In April of this year, Prime Minister Roble offered a public apology for the 2018 seizure of the UAE money, pledging that the cash, which has been in the Central Bank of Somalia, will be returned.
'We want to accept that we were wrong and seek forgiveness from our brothers [UAE]. We are two brothers and whatever has happened, let us look forward,' Roble said in a video posted on Facebook.
In a statement, Emirati the Foreign Ministry thanked Roble for his "initiative" to settle the dispute over Somalia's seizure of Emirati aircraft and the $9.6 million in cash.
Outgoing President Mohamed ordered the central bank governor not to release the money. But it appears Mohamed's order was ignored.
Days after Roble's apology, the UAE, seeking a turn-around in relations with Somalia, sent tons of aid to Somalia to help the sub-Saharan country as it tries to cope with a severe drought.