Officials complicit in the country’s biggest corruption scandal remain in top posts of the state, former central bank governor Ahmed Naseer alleged in a parting shot after his resignation on Wednesday.
Naseer stepped down amid allegations of unlawful interference with the anti-money laundering watchdog. He was accused of removing the Financial Intelligence Unit’s top official days after he reported suspicious transactions involving former president Abdulla Yameen.
The FIU functions as an independent agency within the central bank.
In a press statement, Naseer said he wanted to face the “unfounded” allegations after resigning in order to protect the weight and dignity of the governor’s office, damage to which he said would be far greater than the loss of personal reputation.
Naseer insisted that his decision to remove former FIU boss Abdulla Ashraf was lawful and based solely on alleged dereliction of duty.
On Monday, Ashraf told parliament’s public accounts committee that Naseer “obstructed” his duties in reporting two suspicious transactions involving president Yameen, including US$1.5 million deposited to his account before the September 23 presidential election.
According to Ashraf, Naseer phoned him to complain after he notified police on September 13. The governor then met him privately on the office terrace and asked him not to report such “high-profile cases” so close to the election.
Naseer transferred Ashraf to a different post a day after the now-infamous terrace meeting.
– MMPRC scandal –
Naseer went on to accuse the central bank’s former top leadership of involvement in the theft of more than MVR1.3 billion (US$90 million) from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation – a corruption scandal of unprecedented scale in the country’s history – stressing that the embezzlement happened long before he was appointed governor in August 2017.
An internal review conducted after he assumed the post uncovered negligence and complicity, he alleged, after which suspected criminal matters were forwarded to the police for further investigation last March. There was enough evidence to convict those responsible, he added, alleging that they were protected from investigation.
Police announced in March that Naseer himself was under investigation over the removal of the former FIU boss.
The MMPRC scandal was exposed in a damning audit report released in February 2016, which implicated former vice president Ahmed Adeeb and his associates in siphoning off acquisition fees paid to lease islands and lagoons for resort development.
The Maldives Monetary Authority’s records show an “unusually high” number of meetings between the central bank’s leadership and then-tourism minister Adeeb, Naseer said.
The complicit officials remain in top posts at the MMA and government, he continued, accusing them of conspiring against him after he launched the internal probe.
“I do not wish to see the progress made by the MMA in the past years to be lost because of false allegations and activities targeting me at this moment for political reasons or otherwise, and I do not wish to give that chance to the said people,” he declared.
There were individuals within the state who do not wish to see the MMPRC scandal thoroughly investigated and the stolen funds recovered, Naseer alleged.
According to the Anti-Corruption Commission’s report on the embezzlement scheme, the FIU had been alerted to large sums of money transferred and withdrawn by SOF, the company that was used to channel stolen funds.
Last week, senior Bank of Maldives officials sought to deflect blame over the scandal, accusing former FIU bosses of ordering the release of SOF’s account after suspicious transactions were reported to the watchdog. Athif Shukoor, the FIU’s top official at the time, is also under investigation by the police, the anti-corruption watchdog revealed earlier this month.