Ministers questioned over tourism corruption scandal

Ministers questioned over tourism corruption scandal
January 20 14:46 2016

The anti-corruption watchdog has questioned two ministers in President Abdulla Yameen’s cabinet over missing funds from several islands leased for resort development by the government-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.

According to local media, the Anti-Corruption Commission questioned Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee and Attorney General Mohamed Anil for its ongoing inquiry into the corruption scandal.

Shainee has confirmed to The Maldives Independent that he was summoned for questioning.

“I was asked to reveal information regarding the islands that had been leased as the islands are under the mandate of the tourism ministry,” Shainee said.

He stressed that the ACC does not consider him a suspect.

Anil is currently out of the country and was not available for comment.

ACC President Hassan Luthfee refused to confirm if the ministers were questioned. The commission does not reveal details of ongoing investigations, he said.

However, the MMPRC investigation is in its final stages now and “soon to be completed,” he said.

The missing funds from MMPRC has become the biggest corruption scandal in recent history, one that has embroiled the home minister and MPs from both the ruling and opposition parties.

Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and his associates, including Abdulla Ziyath, ex-managing director of the tourism promotion company, have been charged over the missing resort lease payments.

Between US$60 to US$100 million paid for more than 50 properties are thought to be missing. Adeeb and Ziyath are accused of siphoning funds paid to the state as acquisition fees.

Hamid Ismail, an influential businessman related to Adeeb, has also been charged with money laundering

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.

All three were arrested in October in connection to the September 28 blast on the president’s speedboat, which the government says was an attempt to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen.

The police said last month that the investigation into the alleged bombing is still ongoing. Adeeb claims the incident was “staged” to frame him.

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 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.