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Anti-corruption watchdog under fire over ‘incomplete and overdue’ report

ACC president Luthfy is under investigation over alleged money laundering.



The Anti-Corruption Commission has drawn fierce criticism over the long-awaited report of its probe into the country’s biggest corruption scandal.

The 776-page report published Thursday exposed politicians, prominent businesses and top government officials who conducted transactions with SOF Pvt Ltd, a company that was used to funnel US$90 million stolen from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.

Two ministers who received payments from SOF were promptly suspended as lawmakers and businesses named in the report claimed to have carried out legitimate currency exchange deals.

On Thursday night, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih questioned why it took the ACC nearly three years to release the report after the probe was concluded in July 2017.

The president did not see the report before its release, his spokesman Ibrahim Hood insisted.

As criticism mounted over the ACC’s failure to follow the money trail beyond payments made to bank accounts, a protest march was held in Malé on Friday afternoon calling for the removal of the commission’s five members.

“We don’t accept this report. This report was prepared by people suspected of involvement in the corruption,” said former state attorney Mariyam Shunana, who organised the protest. 

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.

 – Tip of the iceberg –

Former auditor general Niyaz Ibrahim – who was removed after he flagged corruption at the MMPRC in 2014 – accused the watchdog of omitting the names of several beneficiaries. 

The report was just the “tip of the iceberg” and the estimated US$90 million was “a fraction of the MMPRC corruption,” Niyaz wrote Thursday.

Information he shared with the ACC about lawmakers and senior state officials who were bribed by Adeeb was absent from the report, he said.

The beneficiaries also include candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, he added.

“I don’t know why ACC has not revealed the names of these people. What I know for certain is there are family members of ACC members among them,” he alleged.

ACC officials were responding to calls from the Maldives Independent.

Niyaz’s criticism has been echoed by politicians, lawyers and activists.

Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim – whose Villa Travels received US$700,000 from SOF, ostensibly in a money exchange transaction – called on the ACC to reveal the identities of people who received cash from SOF.

Former chief justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain also called the report “incomplete” and of “low quality.” Basic questions were left unanswered and the ACC failed to question key persons of interest, he noted.

A witness statement in the report suggested that MVR10 million from the stolen funds was used to bribe MPs to remove the former chief justice in December 2014.

Transparency Maldives meanwhile called on the government to compensate whistleblower Gasim Abdul Kareem, a former manager at the Bank of Maldives who was jailed for eight months for leaking SOF’s bank statement. 

The whistleblower’s criminal record should be expunged, the anti-corruption NGO said.

Everyone involved should be prosecuted without regard to political affiliations or position, TM said in a statement Thursday, calling on the government to recover the stolen funds and cancel the resort deals.

“It is not possible for a group of individuals to carry out corruption on such a large scale without the involvement of state institutions and officials,” it added.

“State institutions and state companies who were negligent or complicit in the act, and people who subverted the governance system and laws to facilitate corruption, must be brought to justice. Action must be taken against senior officials in the central bank, Bank of Maldives, Maldives Islamic Bank and MMPRC who facilitated, aided, or were negligent in this act.”

– Integrity and independence –

It emerged Sunday that ACC president Hassan Luthfy is under investigation over suspected money laundering. A police media official confirmed the probe but declined to reveal any details.

Mihaaru meanwhile reported that former president Yameen’s statement taken for the ACC report would be inadmissible in court. According to the newspaper, the ACC sent questions and accepted answers in writing after the president initially refused to cooperate.

There was no statement with Yameen’s fingerprint or minutes of questions and answers as required by ACC regulations. He was not pressed about authorising the MMPRC’s resort leases.

Yameen, who denied any involvment, is now facing trial on money laundering charges over US$1 million deposited to his personal account by SOF.

ACC president Luthfy’s integrity and independence were also called into question last May over leaked statements in which he admitted to having warned Justice Ali Hameed and the chief judicial administrator “not to do anything against the government.”

Luthfy has faced questions over political allegiance since his appointment to the five-member body.

He was among several heads of independent institutions who were awarded luxury flats at discounted prices in early 2015.

In July 2010, a secretly recorded phone conversation revealed Luthfy was “ordered” to release an ACC press statement by MP Ahmed Nazim, formerly a close associate of Yameen.