Ruling coalition MP Mohamed Ismail has stood by his admission of bribing opposition lawmakers, claiming he distributed cash as a favour to detained former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.
The Maldives Development Alliance MP sparked outrage last week by admitting to have carried “sacks of money” to opposition MPs.
“I carried and distributed the money, and they all took it,” he said during a heated debate on a motion calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the embezzlement of nearly US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion company.
Appearing on the pro-government private broadcaster DhiTV on Thursday night, Ismail insisted that he had not committed a crime as he was unaware where the money came from.
“Had I known that the money was an act of corruption, I would not have taken upon it,” he said.
Ismail said he thought the money could have been a loan from the vice president.
“All I know is that Adeeb handed over the money [to me]. I took the money to them. I didn’t know at all that it was state funds or anything else,” he said.
Since the unprecedented scale of the theft was laid bare in a damning audit report in February, President Abdulla Yameen has insisted that his former deputy was solely responsible for siphoning off millions of dollars from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
Ismail meanwhile went on to claim that all opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs with the exception of five accepted the bribes, vowing to reveal their names “when the time comes.”
The MP for Hoarafushi added that “he knew best the integrity of the opposition MPs while they went on questioning the integrity of ruling coalition MPs.”
He also brushed off criticism on social media in the wake of the confession, claiming he did it for the sake of the public and national interest.
“I am waging a big jihad,” he said.
The Anti-Corruption Commission has said it would investigate Ismail’s claims.
The constitution, however, provides MPs immunity from prosecution with regard to statements made during parliament sittings.
An ACC media official told The Maldives Independent that its ongoing investigation into the MMPRC corruption scandal will be broadened to include the MPs’ confession.
But former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim, who first flagged the MMPRC corruption in a 2014 audit report, had cast doubt on the ability of independent state institutions to investigate the scandal.
“The government of Maldives has systematically paralyzed all oversight agencies of the state. Plus, members of ACC are likely to face impeachment if they ever initiate an investigation into Yameen’s alleged involvement in these corruption cases,” he said in January.
Transparency Maldives also expressed outrage over Wednesday’s parliament sitting, which the anti-corruption NGO said “shows the extent to which corruption permeates the Majlis and the state as a whole.”