The government has dismissed an explosive Al Jazeera corruption exposé aired on Wednesday as defamatory and biased, accusing the Qatari broadcaster of advancing the opposition’s agenda of ousting President Abdulla Yameen.
Based on evidence gathered from three mobile phones of Yameen’s jailed former deputy, the ‘Stealing Paradise’ documentary exposed rampant corruption, bribery, abuse of power, and a US$1.5 billion money laundering scheme.
It featured secretly filmed confessions by three associates of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb about delivering stolen cash to the president and others as well as interviews with exiled opposition leaders such as former President Mohamed Nasheed.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, the government said Adeeb’s associates are on the run after Interpol red notices were issued for their arrest whilst the opposition figures interviewed for the film have “publically announced that they seek the removal of the legitimate government before the end of its constitutional term”.
“Further, the fact that the government was denied the opportunity to present a balanced, fair and true version of events, makes ‘Stealing Paradise’ nothing but defamatory and falls short of accepted international and legal norms of reporting,” it added.
“It cannot be said therefore that the accounts given are anything other than biased, and in pursuance of an already declared agenda.”
According to Al Jazeera’s award-winning investigative unit, the government failed to provide a substantive response despite a request in early August.
The Maldives United Opposition – a broad coalition of opposition parties and Yameen’s former allies led by Nasheed and ex-Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – has meanwhile renewed calls for the president’s arrest on charges of corruption and abuse of power.
In the wake of Stealing Paradise, the MUO also called on Yameen to resign and hand over power to an interim national unity government.
Despite a warning by the broadcasting regulator of punitive action under the draconian anti-defamation law, the cable service provider Medianet did not block Al Jazeera when the programme aired after 5pm local time yesterday.
Ahead of the broadcast, the documentary was also posted on YouTube around 10am local time. It was viewed more than 112,000 times in 24 hours.
Following the long-awaited release, many Maldivians took to social media to express outrage and call for the president’s arrest.
But ruling party lawmakers and Yameen’s supporters dismissed the allegations as “nothing new” and mocked the notion that it could trigger the government’s fall.
Echoing the sentiment, pro-government outlet Avas posted an article with the headline,”Watched the film! No new images, no new stories!” and questioned the strength of the evidence.
“Report released to destabilise government blew up in their face,” read a headline on Vaguthu.
Branding it a “camel fart,” MP Ahmed Nihan, the majority leader of parliament, said in a tweet that the documentary was inferior to a false report produced by the opposition-aligned Raajje TV.
MP Abdulla Khaleel said it was “based on hearsay.”
The president’s spokesman told newspaper Mihaaru that it lacked evidence directly linking Yameen to any wrongdoing.
Former Home Minister Umar Naseer meanwhile denied that Yameen had asked him not to be “overwhelmed” by the investigation into the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August 2014.
The documentary showed an alleged message from Yameen to the then-home minister, who replied, “Ok NOTED Sir.”
Naseer, who has announced his intention to challenge Yameen for the ruling party’s ticket, said in a tweet: “I did not receive any text message from [Yameen] on Rilwan case. I am 100% sure that aljazeera will NOT have such a text.”
According to the documentary’s producer, the exchange occurred in a cabinet Viber group.
The documentary also alleged a plan to launder US$1.5 billion through the Maldives Monetary Authority.
It 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.
Asked about the allegation, the MMA’s spokesman said the central bank will not comment on the documentary because the allegations were not new, and referred the Maldives Independent to a statement released in February.
At the time, the central bank denied allegations made by MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed about US$1.5 billion transferred to private bank accounts through the MMA.
The February statement “remains the MMA’s official stand,” the spokesman said.
The government statement meanwhile went on to say that the claims made by Al Jazeera are “simply a rehearsing of allegations previously made against the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company”.
A damning audit report released in February had exposed the theft of some US$80 million from the state-owned tourism company.
The government assured legal action as recommended by the anti-corruption watchdog, which is yet to conclude its investigation of the unprecedented corruption scandal, and suggested that Al Jazeera might have “derailed” it by releasing evidence into the public domain.
“The Maldives government would request that all evidence obtained by Al Jazeera be handed to the Maldives Police Services or the Anti- Corruption Commission so as to assist it with their own investigations,” it added.
Mohamed Junayd contributed reporting.