The anti-money laundering watchdog’s former chief on Wednesday blamed the central bank’s former governor for the failure to take any action to stop the country’s biggest corruption scandal.
Ibrahim Athif Shakoor told parliament’s public accounts oversight committee that he had alerted former governor Azeema Adam on at least four occasions to unusually large transactions by SOF, a local company that was used to funnel the bulk of US$90 million stolen from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation during the previous administration.
When the FIU learned of an MVR40 million (US$2.5 million) cheque issued to the MMPRC being deposited to SOF’s bank account, Athif said the governor suggested the transaction might have been legitimate.
According to Athif – who was in charge of the Financial Intelligence Unit from November 2014 to June 2015 – Azeema did not explicitly tell him not to notify the police as required by the anti-money laundering law.
The questions raised by the governor prompted Athif to gather more information about SOF from the economic ministry and the tax authority.
“So when I got the information it became clear that this is a very young company. From the latest records of the company it was apparent that this is not an institution that had the capacity to conduct huge transactions,” he said.
Athif soon noticed that transactions worth millions of Maldivian Rufiyaa were likely tied to political developments.
“This transaction is on the day [former defence minister Mohamed] Nazim was arrested. This one is during the days when the May Day protests took place. This is when the current speaker of parliament [Mohamed Nasheed] was arrested and summarily sentenced,” he explained to lawmakers, pointing out major transactions from the SOF bank account.
The governor was informed “at least four times,” Athif said.
He acknowledged failure to fulfil his duty by alerting the police.
“My responsibility is not to send a letter to police. My responsibility is to stop money laundering. [If the question is] whether I sent that letter, then no, I didn’t,” he said.
Athif also challenged the insistence by the Bank of Maldives that it did not facilitate the embezzlement scheme, referring to a meeting with the national bank’s compliance officer.
“On that day I checked whether they didn’t know or whether they knew and deliberately was not following procedures. On that day, I was sure that they knew about the transactions” he said.
According to a bank statement leaked by whistleblower Gasim Abdul Kareem, more than US$84 million was channeled through SOF’s US dollar account between May 2014 to October 2015.
However, the Bank of Maldives only sent one suspicious transaction report to the FIU, according to Athif.
The MMPRC scandal was first exposed in a damning audit report released in February 2016, which implicated former vice president Ahmed Adeeb and his associates in siphoning off fees paid to lease islands and lagoons for resort development.