The scale of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation corruption scandal was bigger than estimated in a damning February 2016 audit report that exposed the theft of nearly US$80 million.
At least MVR1.4 billion (US$91 million) was funnelled through a private company into the bank accounts of 155 individuals, the Anti-Corruption Commission revealed in a statement Tuesday, the first time the watchdog has disclosed findings of a probe launched in late 2015.
The bulk of the stolen funds was paid to the MMPRC as acquisition fees for islands and lagoons leased for resort development. Of US$77.5 million worth of checks collected by the state-owned firm, only US$12.5 million ended up in state coffers, the ACC found.
The rest was transferred to private bank accounts with the permission of the MMPRC’s managing director Abdulla Ziyath.
Ziyath is currently serving an eight-year sentence for the theft of US$5 million from a resort lease payment. He was convicted in 2016 along with then-tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who was sentenced to 33 years on multiple counts of corruption and terrorism.
According to new details shared by the watchdog, US$22 million was transferred to a Bank of Maldives bank account owned by Ziyath through cheques endorsed by him.
A total of 57 islands and lagoons were leased through the MMPRC, the ACC noted. There were financial transactions for seven properties without agreements.
In separate probes, the ACC is investigating whether bank employees were complicit in the scam as well as the failure of the central bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit to flag suspicious transactions .
The transfer of large sums of money to lawmakers is under investigation along with US$1 million deposited into the private account of former president Abdulla Yameen, who denies any involvement in the scandal.
Yameen insisted the theft “did not reach higher than Adeeb” and pleaded ignorance.
Adeeb was first implicated in embezzlement from state funds in October 2014 — more than a year before the second MMPRC corruption scandal came to light in the wake of his arrest on charges of plotting to assassinate the president.