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Anti-corruption watchdog deflects blame on MMPRC scandal

The ACC blamed the authorities for failing to act after findings were shared in 2017.



The Anti-Corruption Commission on Monday defended its investigation report of the country’s biggest corruption scandalin the face of fierce criticism over failure to follow the money trail and a nearly three-year delay in disclosing the findings

The report published last Thursday exposed politicians, prominent businesses and top government officials who conducted transaction with SOF Pvt Ltd, a company that was used to funnel the bulk of US$90 million stolen from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.

In the aftermath of the report’s release, a former auditor general accused the ACC of omitting the names of several beneficiaries, including relatives of ACC members, and a protest march was held calling the removal of the five commissioners.

It emerged Sunday that the ACC president Hassan Luthfy was under investigation for suspected money laundering.

The MMPRC scandal was first exposed in a damning February 2016 audit report, which implicated former vice president Ahmed Adeeb and his associates in siphoning off acquisition fees paid to lease islands for resort development. 

The ACC probe was launched days after Adeeb’s arrest in October 2015 on suspicion of plotting to assassinate former president Abdulla Yameen.

In a statement Monday, the ACC dismissed criticism of its report as “false opinions without any legal basis” and denied omitting details to protect complicit individuals.

After the report was compiled in July 2017, the findings were shared with the police, Prosecutor General’s office, Attorney General’s office, president’s office, tourism ministry, and the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority, the ACC said.

But the commission has yet to be “informed of any action that was taken by the state authorities” after the following requests were made:

  • requested police to investigate alleged corruption and fraud in the collection of acquisition fees of islands and lagoons leased by MMPRC
  • requested police to look into a suspected forged MMPRC board resolution that was used to lease islands
  • requested the PG office to press charges in connection to MMPRC’s decision to lease Nasandhura Palace hotel for 50 years
  • requested the tourism ministry to seek compensation for the loss caused by the leasing of Nasandhura Palace hotel
  • requested MIRA to investigate the transactions made to sell offer letters for lease of islands

The ACC stressed it has not concluded that the 155 individuals and companies named in the report as having received funds from the SOF account were involved in the embezzling funds from the MMPRC.

A joint investigation will be launched with the police to determine why and for what purpose the money was transferred to their bank accounts.

Since the report’s release, several lawmakers and prominent businesses have insisted that they conducted legitimate currency exchange transactions with SOF and received US dollar payments in exchange for Maldivian rufiyaa.

The ACC previously said its probe was stalled due to the police’s failure to bring back SOF’s secretary and shareholders to the Maldives despite issuing an Interpol red notice.

The commission is also investigating suspected involvement of Bank of Maldives staff in depositing MMPRC funds to SOF’s account.

According to the ACC probe and MMPRC audit, checks signed over to the state-owned company for acquisition cost payments were endorsed by its managing director and deposited to the SOF account.

After coming under fire over its role in the scandal, the Bank of Maldives on Sunday defended its staff and insisted that no laws were broken.

In a statement, the national bank said suspicious transactions by SOF were regularly reported to the central bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit. 

The bank continued to accept endorsed checks in accordance with regulations until the practice was discontinued in February 2016, BML said.

While a MMPRC board resolution required checks to be signed by both parties involved in the transaction, BML said it was not obligated to follow a company board resolution.

The bank was cooperating with investigations launched by the ACC and audit office when a branch manager leaked SOF’s bank statement, it noted.

Last week, Transparency Maldives called on the government to compensate whistleblower Gasim Abdul Kareem, who was jailed for eight months.

The leaked statement showed that more than MVR1.3 billion (US$84 million) was funnelled through SOF’s US dollar account between May 2014 to October 2015.

Responding to complaints from the public in the wake of the ACC report, BML added: “The current procedure on checking with other banks and questioning the beneficiaries started after the anti-money laundering act and rules came into effect in October 2014.”