Insufficient evidence to prosecute ex minister over independence day banquet scandal

Insufficient evidence to prosecute ex minister over independence day banquet scandal
December 06 18:58 2015

The Prosecutor General’s office has decided not to press charges against Mohamed Hussain Shareef, former presidential affairs minister, over alleged corruption in the selection of a caterer for the official independence day banquet. 

The anti-corruption watchdog had found that Shareef – who resigned in late October after being asked to stay home – awarded the MVR3.7 million catering contract to a restaurant owned by activists of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives despite their lack of experience.

The Anti-Corruption Commission forwarded the case for prosecution last week under charges of abuse of power to unlawfully benefit a third party.

However, a spokesperson at the PG office said there was not enough evidence to prosecute the former minister.

“The decision was made today. We’ve sent back the case. There isn’t enough evidence to charge Shareef over abuse of power,” he said.

Muaviz Rasheed, vice president of the ACC, said the commission will look into the reason why the PG decided not to charge Shareef.

“The ACC will send a case to the PG only when the commission thinks the accused can and should be charged. We haven’t received the case yet so I can only comment on the matter after analysing PG’s decision not to charge in this case,” he said.

In awarding the contract, the former minister had claimed that it was President Abdulla Yameen who had chosen Newport. Shareef later admitted that he had lied, the ACC said.

Newport had submitted a proposal to serve 300 VIPs and a buffet for 500 dignitaries. The agreed cost was US$285 per head. It is not clear on whose orders Newport had submitted the proposal, the ACC said.

The president’s office had communicated with two other caterers, but they were not asked to submit complete quotations. According to the ACC, the price per head would have been much lower if quotations had been obtained from others.

Newport did not have the experience to cater for such an event, and the minister never checked if they had the capacity, the ACC said. Other employees of the president’s office complained to the ACC of the poor quality of the food and said it did not live up to the price.

Shareef had told the ACC that a coordination committee at the president’s office had advised Newport’s hire, but committee members have denied the claim.

Shareef, citing Yameen’s orders, went on to order the finance ministry to provide a 50 percent advance. He later admitted he had never sought such permission from the president.

According to the ACC, Shareef had also assisted the Newport Restaurant in hiring waiters for the banquet through the president’s office and used state funds to buy a sorbet machine for the restaurant.

A total of MVR7.9 million was spent on the banquet, of which MVR3.9 million has been disbursed already, the ACC said.

At the time, the poor quality of the food prompted several reporters to allege corruption. A diplomat told the The Maldives Independent that the food was “inauthentic and tasteless.”

But a senior manager at Newport had said that they had operated at a loss. “The dinner cost half a million more than the price we asked for,” he said.

Shareef quit the government in mid-October in the wake of an explosion on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat, which led to a purge of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s supporters from the government.

Adeeb is under custody on suspicion of plotting to assassinate the president.

 

Although bribery was alleged in the awarding of the contract, the ACC said it had found no evidence to back the claim. The commission is also investigating other complaints over the banquet, including the hire of tables and chairs.

According to the finance ministry, a budget of MVR150 million was allocated for the celebrations to mark the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence. The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party says expenses were much higher than the allocated amount.