President ‘halted’ central bank inquiry into money laundering

President ‘halted’ central bank inquiry into money laundering
June 21 00:51 2016

The opposition has renewed calls for President Abdulla Yameen’s arrest, claiming it has new evidence he instructed the central bank to halt an inquiry into the Maldives’ biggest ever corruption scandal.

The Maldives United Opposition’s spokesman, MP Ahmed Mahloof, alleged today that the Maldives Monetary Authority alerted Yameen on the theft of public funds from tourism leases long before the scandal broke out last year.

But the president scuttled the inquiry, he told the press outside the police headquarters.

Some US$80million paid as acquisition fees for tourism leases had been siphoned off since Yameen assumed power, according to an audit report issued in February. The president has denied involvement, claiming his former deputy alone was to blame.

Mahloof said: “The Financial Intelligence Unit at the MMA is supposed to look into the matter. From what we know, they had received these alerts [about money laundering].

“But when MMA’s governor brought this issue up, President Yameen asked them not to bother about the transactions of his account and those of his close associates.”

A spokesman for the MMA however dismissed the claim: “The governor and the MMA never received any instructions to halt investigations against President Yameen and his close associates.”

Anti-money laundering laws require the FIU to look into unusually large transactions and all unusual patterns of transactions. But the theft went unreported until former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s arrest on charges of plotting to assassinate Yameen last October.

Adeeb, jailed on a terror charge, and two of his associates are now on trial on graft charges.

Mahloof meanwhile called on the police to speed up an inquiry into the alleged transfer of some US$500,000 from stolen funds to Yameen’s personal bank account at the Maldives Islamic Bank in October.

“No action has been taken on the matter yet. I have called for an inquiry because the deposit of such a large amount of money amounts to money laundering or attempt at money-laundering,” Mahloof said.

“This is a serious matter and we have the proof. There are laws criminalizing this. Even if it is the president, this needs to be looked into.”

Local newspaper Mihaaru, in an analysis of the bank records of SOF Pvt Ltd., the company that channelled the bulk of the stolen money to private accounts, said some US$1million had been deposited in Yameen’s accounts.

The Anti-Corruption Commission has launched an inquiry into the transfer, but is yet to publish its findings.

The president’s office was not responding to calls for comment.

A previous attempt to arrest Yameen led to the jailing of a judge and the former chief prosecutor on terror charges. The pair were given 17 years each.

The police are now investigating the leader of the MUO, former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, on suspicion of links to the alleged conspiracy to kidnap the president.

Jameel is living in self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom.

The MUO wants to oust Yameen and establish a transitional government.