Transparency calls for ‘broad investigation’ after corruption exposé

Transparency calls for ‘broad investigation’ after corruption exposé
September 13 16:28 2016

Anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives has called for a broad and independent investigation into allegations raised by Al Jazeera about systemic corruption, abuse of power and criminal activity at the highest level of government.

The allegations made in the ‘Stealing Paradise’ documentary were based on new evidence gathered from three mobile phones of President Abdulla Yameen’s jailed former deputy. It also featured secretly filmed confessions by three associates of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb about delivering stolen cash to the president.

“Transparency Maldives believes that the widespread impunity in cases of corruption and the abuse of power is a consequence of the powers of the state being held in the firm grip of a few powerful people,” the local chapter of the global anti-corruption organisation said in a statement.

“As a result, fundamental rights are curtailed and the developmental pace of the country is also greatly decelerated.”

The NGO urged the Auditor General’s office, the Anti-Corruption Commission as well as the Prosecutor General’s office to “act in a timely manner to investigate and take necessary action against the cases of grand corruption being revealed with adequate evidence.”

But former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim, who lost his job in 2014 after uncovering corruption leading to Adeeb, has previously questioned the ability of “systematically paralysed” watchdog institutions to investigate grand corruption in the Maldives.

The documentary used data from Adeeb’s phones to show how the proceeds from illegally leasing islands for resort development were pocketed; the bribery of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed; and an attempt by Yameen to undermine the investigation into the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

Text messages between Adeeb and former Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed also suggested that the pair were behind the torching of the opposition-aligned Raajje TV’s studios in October 2013.

But the government has dismissed the documentary as “defamatory and biased”. Yameen has also previously denied any role in the theft of US$80 million from the state-owned tourism company, claiming the unprecedented corruption scandal did not reach higher than his former right-hand man.

The Qatari broadcaster’s award-winning investigative unit also uncovered a plot to launder US$1.5 billion in cash through the Maldives Monetary Authority.

The documentary showed a conversation between Adeeb and Dr Azeema Adam, governor of the Maldives central bank, who expressed misgivings but suggested that it could be done with evidence showing the source of the funds and legitimacy of earnings.

A day after the exposé was aired, the central bank rejected the allegations as lacking “any credible foundation” and denied being contacted for comment.

The MMA insisted that cash cannot be stored in the state vault without the presence and approval of senior officials from four government institutions.

The alleged money laundering scheme is “palpably untrue and cannot be substantiated,” it added, urging the media to refrain from “spreading baseless allegations which can damage public trust that is crucial in maintaining confidence in the country’s financial sector.”

The government also characterised the allegations as “an attempt to diminish investor confidence at a time of growing interest on the part of local and foreign businesses to invest in the Maldives”.

“We strongly condemn all actions to disrepute the Maldives with false information and the continuing efforts to destabilise the Maldivian economy,” reads a statement by the economic development ministry.

The ministry sought to assure investors of “robust systems and mechanisms to support businesses and investments.”

Transparency Maldives meanwhile made a series of recommendations to the government: establish a system for mandatory disclosure of financial statements by senior officials of the state, provide adequate protection to whistleblowers, launch a transparent investigation free of political influence, and ensure “concrete steps to reacquire the faith and trust in state institutions.”

“We also call on the political parties to insist on integrity at all levels in order to rid the country of this systemic corruption and to do everything possible to save state property by closing all possible avenues leading towards corruption,” the NGO said.

“It is a collective as well as an individual responsibility to hold elected representatives to account in order salvage the country from the bleakness that is corruption.”