The Bank of Maldives has flatly denied accusations that a top official deliberately misled parliament and committed perjury while testifying before the public accounts committee.
The national bank released a statement defending Deputy CEO Mohamed Shareef on Tuesday evening, hours after Speaker Mohamed Nasheed announced that parliament will ask police to investigate him and seek perjury charges.
“The officials who gave information at the parliament on behalf of the bank relied on bank records and were truthful. In answering questions by MPs, the officials again relied on available bank records and answered honestly,” BML insisted.
Shareef was questioned by the oversight committee last week over the bank’s alleged role in the theft of more than MVR1.4 billion (US$91 million) from the state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, a corruption scandal of unprecedented scale in the country’s history.
The stolen funds were funnelled through the bank after cheques paid to the MMPRC as resort acquisition fees were deposited to the accounts of a private company called SOF.
The bone of contention arose over Shareef’s insistence that the bank did not deposit non-negotiable cheques to SOF’s account, an assertion that was disputed by the Anti-Corruption Commission to the media as a photo of a non-negotiable HSBC cheque started circulating on Twitter.
The law requires non-negotiable cheques to be deposited to the payee’s account.
In its statement, BML said it did not start keeping records with the originals or images of cheques from other banks until 2016. The bank started clearing cheques under a cheque imaging and truncation system during the year, it said.
It was the responsibility of the cheque issuing bank to clear and deposit cheques from their bank to BML accounts, it noted, adding that it has requested copies of MMPRC cheques from other banks and pledging to provide more information after a review.
BML also made public a letter sent from Deputy CEO Shareef to Speaker Nasheed after the threat of a perjury probe.
“The HSBC cheque was deposited after HSBC cleared the payment without asking [BML] to return the cheque to the customer. Such cheques are returned to the [cheque issuing] bank through the Maldives Monetary Authority for recordkeeping. The only record kept at this bank will be the cheque deposit slips,” Shareef wrote .
At Tuesday’s sitting, Nasheed said Shareef’s letter was about bounced cheques and unrelated to questions over non-negotiable cheques. But the bank denied any mention of bounced cheques in information provided to the oversight committee.
The dispute with parliament was caused by miscommunication, BML suggested.