Whistleblower protection urged for bank employee detained over MMPRC leak

Whistleblower protection urged for bank employee detained over MMPRC leak
May 23 04:48 2016

Lawyers representing a senior bank official, detained for leaking documents related to the Maldives’ biggest ever corruption scandal, are seeking his release under laws that offer protection for whistleblowers.

Gasim Abdul Kareem, manager at the Bank of Maldives’ Nilandhoo branch, was arrested on February 18 on charges of unlawful acquisition and disclosure of information.

The criminal court on May 19 extended the 50-year-old’s remand detention for a further seven days, the eleventh time it did so.

The police have not sought formal charges despite keeping Gasim in remand detention for three months, a prosecutor general’s office spokesman confirmed.

Gasim had reportedly emailed screen shots of transactions made by SOF Pvt Ltd, a company which had channelled the bulk of some US$80million from public funds obtained through resort leases to private accounts.

The emails were sent to some 500 staff at the national bank and forwarded to another 99 people.

Nazim Sattar, Gasim’s lawyer, said: “We are saying his actions amount to whistle blowing which is not a crime.”

Nazim noted that Section 232 of the penal code exempts cases “where the unauthorized acquisition of information is intended to expose wrongdoing.” Article 44 of the Banking Act also exempts actions to prevent corruption, countering money laundering and financing of terrorism.

The police initially refused to reveal the identity of the BML customer involved in the case, but on May 19 admitted it was SOF.

Gasim’s lawyers have noted he had leaked SOF statements after the audit office issued a report detailing how fees paid for tourism leases were diverted to SOF’s accounts instead of the state-owned tourism promotion firm, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.

The six judges of the criminal court refused to release Gasim on bail, claiming on various occasions that he posed a threat to society, may tamper with evidence, or may abscond from trial, according to lawyers.

The high court has upheld the criminal court’s remand rulings twice.

Human rights campaigners have previously expressed concern over the court’s’ refusal to grant bail for individuals arrested from protests or opposition activities, noting some people accused of more serious crimes, such as drug trafficking and assault, are released after much shorter periods in remand.

Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and two of his associates,  the former Managing Director of MMPRC, Abdulla Ziyath, and Hamid Ismail, an influential businessman, are standing trial on corruption charges relating to the lease of two properties.

The extend of the scandal became known only after Adeeb’s arrest following a blast on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat last September.

The police have issued an interpol red notice for the owner of SOF, Mohamed Allam Latheef ‘Moho.’

Soon after the audit report was issued, SOF claimed that it had provided a “brokerage” service to the MMPRC and distributed the funds as requested to the first couple, the ruling party, and prominent politicians.

The government has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

President Abdulla Yameen has since asked the Maldives Islamic Bank to disclose details of his private bank account to the anti-corruption watchdog, over an inquiry he received US$1million from the stolen funds.