The Maldives High Court has begun hearing a case that will decide whether the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives was right to remove former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim more than a year ago.
The case is being heard 14 months after it was filed.
Niyaz’s lawyer Ibrahim Riffath argued today that his client could not be removed from his position through an amendment to the Audit Act, four years before the end of his seven-year term.
The auditor general can only be reappointed if the post becomes vacant following the incumbent’s resignation or a parliamentary no-confidence motion, he contended.
State lawyers, however, argued that the amendments in question had specified the auditor general’s qualifications and term limit, and therefore warranted a reappointment. Niyaz could have reapplied to the post when President Abdulla Yameen called for new applicants, they said.
Niyaz’s abrupt removal came days after he released a landmark audit implicating then-Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and the head of the state-owned tourism promotion firm in embezzlement of some US$6million.
Yameen subsequently appointed the brother of the second official implicated in the scandal as auditor general.
A new audit, carried out after Adeeb’s arrest on an alleged assassination plot on Yameen, shows that some US$80million was embezzled from tourism leases alone.
Riffath described the amendments as politically motivated and asked the court to reinstate Niyaz to his former job.
The five-judge panel presiding over the case included Abdulla Didi, Sujau Usman, Abdul Rauf, Abdulla Hameed and Ali Sameer.
Niyaz, in a recent interview, has criticised Yameen for “complicity” in the loss of millions from the state. He said that the US$6million he had identified as missing was spent to enrich MPs and influence the 2014 parliamentary elections, which the PPM had won.
Niyaz said that when he raised the issue with Yameen in a private meeting, the president had said: ‘“What is the problem here? What has been lost from the state?” He said he believed that I, the auditor general, was being prejudiced.”
Niyaz also alleged that the president had offered him a luxury flat at the time.
Yameen has categorically denied his involvement in the scandal, claiming Wednesday that he was not aware “charity” to MPs came from embezzled funds.
“What I want to say is, the corruption stops at Ahmed Adeeb. Other ministers are not complicit in this. And the President was not aware of it,” he said on the island of Thoddoo.
“Ahmed Adeeb has helped MPs. And there are businessmen who support my political activities, who are giving me various amounts of money to work for 2018 elections. So far, this money has been managed for me by Adeeb. I don’t know the details of these funds…
“But what I want to say is, the receiver, whether be President, or an MP, they are unaware that the money has been obtained via MMPRC, or illegally from the state treasury.”
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed