Scandal-ridden ports company under investigation over boat deal

Scandal-ridden ports company under investigation over boat deal
January 16 17:43 2017

The state-owned Maldives Ports Limited is under investigation by the anti-graft watchdog over alleged wrongdoing in the procurement of a small boat in need of repairs for MVR5 million (US$325,000).

The Anti-Corruption Commission launched the probe after a member of the public lodged a complaint concerning the suspicious deal.

According to newspaper Mihaaru, the 40-foot dhoni remains docked at the harbour. Photos show that the wooden structure of the boat is badly damaged with rot.

However, the under-fire head of the MPL has vehemently denied allegations that the transaction was designed to provide illicit gain for a third party.

MPL CEO Mohamed Junaid told Sun Online that contrary to media reports the boat is in fact 65-feet-long.

“What five million? Even if I have to buy a dhoni for ten million rufiyaa I will do it. I am going to say that it is all lies,” he was quoted as saying.

He also insisted that the price of the boat was MVR3 million (US$194,500).

According to MPL, the boat was purchased to transfer goods and staff from Malé to the nearby industrial island of Thilafushi. The dhoni remains dry-docked in Thilafushi to make specified modifications, the company said in a statement last Thursday.

The MPL also accused unnamed businessmen of a carrying out a smear campaign against the company.

“We are not going to give the chance for a few businessmen who wants to control this company to do it,” the MPL said.

“We call on the people who are deliberately trying to discredit this company as well as the government to stop this immediately. This company will continue to procure what is needed to develop the company and to ensure a consistent service to the Maldivian people.”

Junaid also told VFP that he was being unfairly targeted by people unhappy with his leadership.

“I haven’t done anything to make money for me,” he said.

Over the past two months, Junaid has been engaged in a war of words with ruling party MP Riyaz Rasheed over a disputed fuel supply contract.

Last month, the civil court ruled that MPL was buying diesel from other suppliers in breach of its contract with the lawmaker’s Meridiam Services.

Junaidh had publicly accused Meridiam of selling oil at a price far above the market rate, causing MPL a loss of MVR1.2 million (US$78,000) a month.

The allegations prompted Riyaz to file defamation complaints against six media outlets that covered the MPL CEO’s press conference in October.

The ACC has since launched an investigation into the fuel supply deal.

The MPL also attracted media attention recently after it emerged that the company paid MVR2.9 million (US$188,000) as legal fees to a ruling party lawmaker’s firm.

MP Ibrahim Riza, a member of the judicial oversight body, was hired after MPL was sued by a local company over non-payment for a tugboat.

The MPL refused to pay MVR13million (US$84600) for the tugboat, complaining that it was not built according to its specifications.

However, the civil court ordered MPL in December to pay MVR160 million (US$10 million) as compensation to Center Enterprises. The payout includes MVR138 million (US$8.9 million) as accrued fines.

Following the leak of documents showing the high fee paid to Riza’s firm, Junaid told local media that the fee was not excessive as the MPL stood to lose such a large amount with the payout.

An internal inquiry is meanwhile underway to identify the source of the leak.

On Sunday, the MPL denied rumours that its senior in-house lawyer has been suspended on suspicion of leaking the documents. The attorney, Ahmed Hamid, has also denied that he was asked to stay home last week.