Somalia's government has demanded that UN sanctions be lifted from a businessman accused of being a chief financier for al-Qaeda inspired insurgents fighting the internationally-backed authorities, the information minister said on Sunday.
Banker and businessman Ali Ahmed Nur Jimale, who was placed on a UN Security Council sanctions list in February 2012, is accused of being “one of Al-Shabaab's chief financiers”, according to the UN.
But Somali Information Minister Abdulahi Elmoge Hersi said a government committee had investigated the allegations and found no evidence for maintaining the sanctions.
“After long discussions, the Somali government decided that Ahmed Nur Jimale should have his embargo lifted to get his freedom back,” Hersi told AFP. “He is innocent”.
According to UN sanctions, Jimale is “ideologically aligned” with the Al-Shabaab, who remain dedicated to overthrowing Mogadishu's government, which is battling the insurgents with the backing of a 17 700-strong AU force.
“We call on the international community to respect our decision,” Hersi said, adding that a formal request would be submitted to the UN.
Jimale is accused by the UN of the “funding of extremist activities and weapons purchases” specifically targeting self-declared independent Somaliland, as well as allegedly both raising funds for Al-Shabaab fighters and helping them conceal their money transfers.
But Mohamed Gabare, head of Somali Chamber of Commerce, said the charges were “wrongly made”.
“He is a businessman, nothing more, not a man funding Al-Shabaab... the charges against him were not based on accurate evidence,” Gabare said. “It is a good decision of the government.”
Ibrahim Mohamed, a leading Mogadishu businessman, said Jimale was a “man that works for peace to rebuild the country”.
UN sanctions on the 59-year old financier - who holds both Somali and Djiboutian passports - include a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo.
Jimale, whose business interests have included charcoal and sugar dealing as well as key stakes in banks and a mobile telephone company, is reported to have close ties to Al-Shabaab factions now at odds with top commander Ahmed Abdi Godane.
But in the past two years the AU and government forces have clawed back control of a series of key towns, areas where businessmen like Jimale would previously have paid taxes to the fighters.
UN Monitoring Group reports last month estimated that the Al-Shabaab are still 5 000 strong, and remain the “principal threat to peace and security to Somalia”. - Sapa-AFP