The president’s office has hit back at allegations of President Abdulla Yameen’s involvement in the misappropriation of state funds from tourism leases, insisting that rumors of payments being deposited in the president’s personal bank accounts were baseless.
Photos of several cheques made out to the state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation have been circulating online, with opposition supporters claiming the cheques were deposited in Yameen’s bank accounts.
The scandal, possibly the biggest-ever case of graft in Maldivian history, has already embroiled the former vice president, ministers and MPs of the ruling and opposition parties.
Up to to US$100 million may be missing. Yameen’s former deputy Ahmed Adeeb and the former head of the MMPRC are now standing trial for corruption. The two were charged with graft only after their arrest on suspicion of links to a mysterious blast on Yameen’s speedboat in September.
Opposition-aligned Raajje TV carried today an article with the headline “Cheque of US$500,000 said to be deposited in President Yameen’s accounts!”
The report said leaflets with a photo of a cheque had been found at the military barracks. The leaflet reportedly said: “This US$500,000 cheque was deposited in President Yameen’s accounts… The moment has come to stand up and save the Maldives from corruption.”
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s spokesman, reacted furiously: “An investigation is ongoing over the MMPRC case. Some suspects have been detained and trials are ongoing. I assure you that President Abdulla Yameen will not involve himself in any unlawful activities.
“The question here is whether there is any evidence linking these cheques to President Yameen? They clearly show the funds were deposited in MMPRC’s accounts.”
Condemning Raajje TV’s report, he said the president’s office will seek legal action against the station through the relevant authorities. The Maldives National Defence Forces has also issued a statement today threatening action over false reports.
Muaz said Yameen has not been questioned by the Auditor General’s Office or the Anti-Corruption Commission yet. The two independent offices have launched separate investigations into the MMPRC’s accounts.
The Auditor General’s Office has now completed and forwarded a first draft of the report to the police and the ACC. The tourism promotion firm had not been audited since Yameen assumed power.
Former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim, who lost his job in 2014 after flagging the misuse of funds from MMPRC, has said that Yameen must take responsibility.
“Money that should have gone into the state’s accounts were transferred to Adeeb and his aides’ accounts. Islands and projects were sold to the party that proposed the highest bribes. All of that has been documented in the audit report.
“Had the president intervened and taken corrective measures back then I am sure the public purse would not have suffered this loss,” he has said.
Adeeb has meanwhile denied any wrongdoing, noting the government has promised to honour all contracts over the leases.
Parliamentarians under fire include ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MPs Mohamed Musthafa, Hussain Manik Dhon Manik and Riyaz Rasheed, MP and Leader of the Maldives Development Alliance’s Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam and main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s Ahmed ‘ADK’ Nashid.
A submarine tour company affiliated with Home Minister Umar Naseer was also reportedly awarded a lagoon without due process.
Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee and Attorney General Mohamed Anil were questioned over the scandal earlier this month.
Niyaz has raised doubts over the possibility of an independent investigation, saying that the PPM had systematically paralysed watchdog institutions.