Second hearing in top tourism official’s graft charges postponed

Second hearing in top tourism official’s graft charges postponed
January 11 13:32 2016

A second hearing in graft charges against Abdulla Ziyath, a tourism official and close associate of former vice president Ahmed Adeeb, was cancelled today because the presiding judge is on leave.

Abdulla Mohamed, the chief judge of the criminal court, is overseeing the case. He is expected back at work this week, a spokesman said.

Ziyath, who heads the state owned tourism promotion firm, the Maldives Marketing and Promotion Corporation, is accused of embezzling public funds from resort leases.

He was arrested in October in the wake of a mysterious blast on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat. 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 company.

Now the state is prosecuting Ziyath and Adeeb over missing state funds from tourism leases, thought to run into tens of millions of dollars. The prosecutor general’s office says the pair face 53 counts of corruption. Some 50 have been forwarded to the criminal court so far, and trial began in just one count so far.

The court has ordered the state to keep the pair in custody until the end of the trial.

An unannounced first hearing in the corruption case took place on December 17 via teleconference at the police detention centre on the island of Dhoonidhoo. Adeeb was granted 30 days to appoint a lawyer.

The PG office spokesperson previously explained that lagoons and uninhabited islands are under the authority of the tourism ministry, which leases them to the MMPRC.

The 100 percent government-owned corporation then subleases the properties to developers and collects acquisition fees. Ziyath is accused of embezzling portions of the acquisition fees paid to the state.

“We suspect that Adeeb had facilitated the embezzlement through his influence, power and authority as the vice president and the minister in charge at the tourism ministry while Ziyath is suspected of embezzling the acquisition fees,” he said.

Adeeb is meanwhile facing additional charges of terrorism and bribery. He is also likely to be prosecuted over the September 28 blast.

The government says a bomb targeting the president caused the September 28 explosion on the president’s speedboat, but Adeeb claims the incident was “staged” to frame him.

The police said last month that the investigation into the alleged bombing is still ongoing.

In October 2014, former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim had flagged fraud in MMPRC’s resort leases. He 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.