High Court releases former official jailed on corruption charges

High Court releases former official jailed on corruption charges
September 16 09:30 2015

The High Court yesterday overturned the conviction of an official at the state-owned Thilafushi Corporation, who was sentenced to three years in prison on corruption charges.

Ibrahim Riyaz, ex-managing director, was found guilty of abuse of authority in awarding a US$21 million land reclamation project in 2010 to Heavy Load Maldives – a company owned by the family of Deputy Speaker of Parliament ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik. He was sentenced in October 2014.

Riyaz was accused of issuing a mobilisation fee of US$2.52 million to Heavy Load despite lacking the authority to approve the payment.

However, a three-judge panel at the appellate court ruled unanimously that the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient to prove that Riyaz had misused his position for the unlawful gain of a third party.

Riyaz’s release follows the High Court’s clearing of corruption charges against Abdulla Algeen, brother of President Abdulla Yameen. He was accused of embezzling US$177,460 of Japanese funding from the Department of Meteorology.

Very few cases against government officials forwarded for prosecution by the anti-corruption watchdog result in convictions. A 2014 survey found that a majority of civil servants were unlikely to report corruption over lack of justice.

The criminal court, in sentencing Riyaz, had ruled that he was unable to prove that the decision to award the project to Heavy Load was made by the company’s board of directors. Riyaz had claimed he was not responsible for authorising the project.

But the High Court ruling stated that the board had awarded the project, referring to a board decision to contest an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) order in February 2011 to halt the reclamation work.

The Thilafushi Corporation Ltd (TCL) sued the ACC in April 2011, contending that the independent institution did not have the authority to order a government-owned company to scrap a project.

Two TCL board members were also charged with corruption over the Heavy Load contract, but the criminal court acquitted the pair.

The then-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government was accused of corruption in the US$21 million contract with Heavy Load as MP Moosa Manik was the party’s parliamentary group leader at the time.

Following the ACC’s order to halt the project, Moosa told The Maldives Independent that the commission was subject to political manipulation by the then-opposition.

“I am a strong part of this government and I think this is a political trick. I haven’t even been into the Heavy Load office in one and a half months because of my campaigning [in the local council elections]. It is run by my family, my children,” he said.

Moosa was expelled from the MDP in December 2014 for repeatedly voting against the party’s three-line whip. The current administration meanwhile awarded Heavy Load three islands for resort development as part of a settlement agreement after terminating the land reclamation contract.

Moosa told The Maldives Independent that the three islands were leased to Heavy Load after the company threatened to sue the government over unfair termination of its contract.

The MP for Hulhu-Henveiru contended that he was expelled from the main opposition party to prevent him from challenging former President Mohamed Nasheed in the MDP’s 2018 presidential primary.