Former Vice President, top tourism official face fresh corruption charges

Former Vice President, top tourism official face fresh corruption charges
January 04 15:23 2016

Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb is facing fresh charges over missing funds from 24 islands leased for resort development by the government-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.

The Prosecutor General’s office’s spokesperson told The Maldives Independent today that the police forwarded cases against Adeeb and former MMPRC Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath yesterday.

“We will be done with checking today or tomorrow, only then will the case be accepted,” the spokesperson said.

“The cases are about lease agreements in general. It includes leasing of lagoons and islands along with the leasing of local hotel Nasandhura Palace,” he said.

The Nasandhura Palace Hotel, located in Malé’s waterfront near the airport ferry, was leased to Kinam Holdings – a company partly owned by President Abdulla Yameen’s brother-in-law Mohamed Manik – to be redeveloped as a 15-storey five-star hotel.

The PG office has meanwhile filed money laundering charges against Hamid Ismail – an influential businessman related to Adeeb – at the criminal court this morning. According to the police, acquisition fees paid to the MMPRC for a resort lease were deposited into the accounts of a company linked to Hamid, instead of the state treasury.

Along with 17 cases forwarded for prosecution last month, Adeeb and Ziyath are now accused of misappropriating funds from more than 40 resort leases.

Nearly US$100 million embezzled from fees paid for 53 islands leased for resort development is thought to be missing.

Adeeb was arrested on October 24 on suspicion of plotting to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen. The government says a bomb targeting the president caused the September 28 explosion on the president’s speedboat, but Adeeb claims the incident was “staged” to frame him.

The police said last month that the investigation into the alleged bombing is still ongoing.

The MMPRC has been at the centre of the boat blast probe. The government says bomb-making material may have been smuggled on a fireworks shipment imported by the MMPRC.

In early December, the PG office filed abuse of power charges against Adeeb over the lease of a lagoon in Malé atoll to a foreign company.

An unannounced first hearing in the corruption case took place on December 17 via teleconference at the police detention centre on the island of Dhoonidhoo. Adeeb was granted 30 days to appoint a lawyer.

The PG office spokesperson previously explained that lagoons and uninhabited islands are under the authority of the tourism ministry, which leases them to the MMPRC.

The 100 percent government-owned corporation then subleases the properties to developers and collects acquisition fees.

Ziyath is accused of embezzling portions of the acquisition fees paid to the state.

“We suspect that Adeeb had facilitated the embezzlement through his influence, power and authority as the vice president and the minister in charge at the tourism ministry while Ziyath is suspected of embezzling the acquisition fees,” he said.

Adeeb is also facing terrorism charges on suspicion of carrying a pistol. The charges were filed at the criminal court last month, but the trial has not started yet.

In October 2014, former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim had flagged the transfer of millions of dollars from the MMPRC to Hamid’s Millennium Capital Management.

A special audit found that Adeeb had arranged for the transfer of MVR77 million (US$4.9 million) from the state-owned Maldives Ports Limited to Millenium, which was to be paid back in dollars. Only US$3 million of the pledged US$5 million had been paid back as of October 2014.

Niyaz was contentiously removed from his post a day after the audit report was published. He was replaced with Hassan Ziyath, the brother of the MMPRC’s Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath.