The terrors of the East African seas have moved onto dry land with a variety of investments meant to move their ill-gotten gains into more legitimate areas. The Somali pirates' most popular pursuit? Kenyan real estate.
War-torn Somalia, which has essentially been without a cohesive government for over fifteen years, offers the pirates few opportunities to invest their profits. But neighboring Kenya is a different story. Relatively stable, Kenya is also East Africa's largest economy, allowing ample opportunity to launder the over $100 million in ransom money Somali pirates have been paid in the last two years.
This laundering has most recently taken the form of large real estate purchases. Even in the midst of a global real estate crunch, in which American housing prices have dropped precipitously, prices in the Kenyan capital Nairobi have doubled or even tripled in the last five years. Although Kenyan officials cannot prove this is entirely the work of pirates, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence to support this conclusion. The area of Nairobi most affected by the housing explosion is Little Mogadishu, named for Somalia's capital city, which is home to most of the city's Somali expatriates. The now-thriving community has seen huge expansion in large businesses and apartment buildings in the last few years.
According to a recent report by the AP's Tom Odula, pirates see such investment strategies as a way to ultimately leave their criminal life behind them:
A...pirate, who only gave his name as Abdulle, said he's investing in Kenya in preparation for leaving the pirate trade.
"Pirates have money not only in Nairobi but also other places like Dubai, Djibouti and others," said Abdulle. "I have invested through my brother, who is representing me, in Nairobi. He's got a big shop that sells clothes and general merchandise, so my future lies there, not in the piracy industry."
Kenya does not have strict money laundering laws, which leaves the pirates' alleged activities in something of a legal gray area, but that may change. The Kenyan government is currently debating a bill intended to more clearly outlaw the practice, which dovetails with an ongoing investigation into the housing boom by Kenyan law enforcement.
As we reported last year, Somalian pirates have set up their own stock market as well.