According to this article in the New York Times, governments of the European Union have paid at least $125 million to terrorist organizations, mostly Al Qaeda, since 2008 and $66 million of that was paid last year. The US Treasury Department estimates the figure is closer to $165 million and believes that ransom payments are the most significant source of terrorist financing. David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said in 2012 that “each transaction encourages another transaction.”
According to the New York Times article, the price for each hostage has increased from $200,000 to $10 million and has become so lucrative that terrorists wrote a business plan, launched a startup with $5 million seed money and hired organized crime groups to complete the negotiation and human transfers for a 10% commission. Part of the business plan includes how to produce videos of victims begging governments to make payments for their release. According to the article, the US and Britain are the only two targeted countries that have resisted payments to terrorist groups.
According to the article, $1.1 million was paid to free two kidnapped Canadians but it is not known by whom.
There isn’t any law on this issue but there likely isn’t Crown or government immunity for payments made by governments to terrorists that violate national sanctions and counter-terrorist financing laws. It’s unclear how a public official can, or would be protected in respect of decisions to knowingly act contrary to counter-terrorist laws irrespective of the humanitarian purposes behind the payments.
According to the article, in Switzerland the government budget in 2009 contained a new entry for humanitarian aid for “Mali” in reference to the fact that ransom payments to terrorists were routed through Mali.