Ex-minister escapes graft charges, watchdog refuses to disclose details

Ex-minister escapes graft charges, watchdog refuses to disclose details
February 22 17:11 2016

The watchdog Anti-Corruption Commission has decided to close an inquiry against a former cabinet minister, citing lack of evidence and additional “reasons that cannot be disclosed to the press.”

Muaviz Rasheed, the ACC vice president, said the commission – which had previously alleged corruption in former presidential affairs minister Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Hussain Shareef’s awarding of a lucrative catering contract for a state banquet to mark the Maldives’ Golden Jubilee of Independence – had filed the investigation on the advice of the prosecutor general’s office.

He declined to reveal further details.

An investigation into the hire of tables and chairs for the banquet is still ongoing, he added.

The case was returned shortly after Aishath Bisham, Shareef’s former colleague at the president’s office, was appointed Prosecutor General.

Popular daily Haveeru had alleged conflict of interest in the move, but PG officials denied the claim. A spokesman said that Bisham had recused herself from the committee examining charges against Shareef.

The ACC at the time said it would review the case once again.

Anti-graft group Transparency Maldives has urged the watchdog to reveal details of its decision to close the case.

“It is understandable if an investigation could not continue due to lack of evidence. However, a reason must be provided should the ACC decide not pursue a certain case. The public have a right to know details of corruption investigations,” said the NGO’s Thoriq Hamid.

The watchdog is under fire over mounting allegations of turning a blind-eye to corruption under President Abdulla Yameen, notably the embezzlement of some US$80million from state coffers by state officials.

The ACC had initially sought graft charges against Shareef over abuse of authority to confer an undue advantage for a third party.

Shareef was accused of awarding a MVR3.7million (US$240,00) catering contract to a company owned by He of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives.

The ex-minister is also the son of PPM MP Asma Rasheed.

The ACC’s investigation revealed that the hiring of the contractor had taken place without a bidding process and that the state treasury had paid for a sorbet machine, and waiters for the banquet.

Shareef had awarded the contract to Newport by claiming that Yameen had authorised the move. He also cited Yameen’s orders in ordering the the finance ministry to provide the company with a 50 percent advance.

He later admitted he had never sought such permission from the president.

The banquet was criticized as “inauthentic and tasteless.”

Bisham, who was the former legal affairs secretary at the president’s office, was also on the committee that coordinated events for the Golden Jubilee of Independence.

She was appointed PG after her predecessor Muhthaz Muhsin was impeached by People’s Majlis for returning charges of weapon’s smuggling against former vice-president Ahmed Adeeb.

Adeeb was arrested and later impeached amidst suspicions of involvement in an explosion in president Yameen’s speedboat, which the government maintains was an assassination attempt.

Shareef resigned in the fallout.

He was briefly detained in Kuala Lumpur shortly afterwards during a raid by Malaysian police to arrest an influential businessman related to Adeeb.