Ex-head of Financial Intelligence Unit accused of graft
Athif Shakoor is accused of purposely not alerting the authorities to suspicious transactions.
Athif Shakoor, the former head of the central bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), is accused of covering up suspicious transactions with companies involved in the country’s biggest ever corruption scandal.
The charges relate to more than US$90 million that was paid as resort acquisition fees to the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) during the previous administration.
The FIU is an independent agency within the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA). It is tasked with flagging suspicious transactions after collecting and analysing information about money laundering.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) revealed on Tuesday that Athif, who resigned from his position in June 2015, failed to alert the appropriate authorities to suspicious transactions.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Anti-Corruption Commission said Shakoor is being investigated by the police.
“I look forward to being fully accountable for the seven months I served as head of [the] Financial Intelligence Unit,” Athif tweeted following the ACC’s statement.
In a second tweet, he wrote: “For detractors, friends & those concerned. It started in June of 2014 & continued until well into 2018. I was at [the FIU] from November 2014 to June 2015. All in power knew. When I figured out that I was powerless to stop it I left the system & vacated my position to someone who [could do something about it].”
According to the ACC, a report sent by the Bank of Maldives to the FIU on November 27, 2014, flagged as a matter of concern transactions between the MMPRC and SOF Pvt Ltd – a company that was later known to have been used to funnel the bulk of the $90 million stolen from the MMPRC to various companies and individuals.
The FIU analysed the transactions and concluded that they were indeed irregular and pointed towards money laundering, but Shakoor, as head of the department, made the ultimate decision not to alert the investigative authorities.
An FIU report on December 31, 2014, noted that a total of $22.1 million had been deposited into SOF accounts.
According to the report, $9.1 million was transferred to the company from the MMPRC between August and November, while there were eight withdrawals totalling $3.1 million from SOF accounts.
The FIU noted that SOF’s tax filings and annual reports clearly showed that the company was not capable of conducting enough business to have earned $9.1 million.
The report recommended that the police investigate the source of the funds and find out what they were being used for. It also advised the bank to conduct customer due diligence.
However, on April 6, 2015, Athif decided not to pass the report to the appropriate authorities.
“Based on his own admission to the commission and evidence gathered during the investigation, it has been proven without a doubt that this decision was made solely by the head of [the] FIU,” the ACC said.
The final report filed on April 6 said the suspicious transactions were flagged by the bank because the customer had refused to provide transaction details and the bank had failed to conduct due customer diligence.
“Although the FIU’s analysis raised extraordinary dealings it was decided that there was no [reason] to suspect money laundering activities. It was decided that these STRs (Suspicious Transaction Reports) did not need to be sent to an investigative authority,” ACC’s statement said.
Athif told investigators he decided not to notify the appropriate authorities because MMA’s then governor, Azeema Adam, had directed the FIU to focus on stopping black money entering the country.
The ACC said it did not find any evidence to implicate the former governor.
The FIU’s report was sent to Azeema’s work email from Shakoor’s Gmail account but there was no documentary evidence to suggest the governor had prevented Shakoor from acting on the report – as later corroborated by Azeema herself.
FIU’s manager also had no part in the final decision, despite being involved in making the report, the ACC said.
After investigating a complaint against Shakoor, the ACC said it had asked the prosecutor general’s office to charge those involved with using their official position to obtain an undue advantage over others, under the Prevention and Prohibition of Corruption Act. However, prosecutors said the case should be investigated by the police under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act.
The current MMA governor, Ahmed Naseer, is also being investigated for interfering in the work of the FIU.
Shakoor’s successor, Abdulla Ashraf, was transferred last year after he informed police that about $1.5 million had been deposited in the account of former president Abdulla Yameen.
Yameen is currently on trial on money laundering charges stemming from over $1million that had been deposited in his personal account by the SOF.