First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim has sparked a firestorm of criticism after it emerged that a charity organisation she founded was distributing packets of dates gifted by Saudi Arabia to the people of the Maldives in its name.
The packets are being handed out at breakfasts organised by the Sadagat Foundation, several people who received the packets have told The Maldives Independent.
“With the best wishes of the Sadagat Foundation,” an accompanying note read.
The plastic cover of the packet says it is a gift from the government of the custodian of the two holy mosques King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.
Saudi Arabia donates 50 tonnes of dates to the Maldives every Ramadan.
CNM, an online news website, has alleged that the finance ministry was ordered to handover some ten tonnes of dates to the presidential palace. The 500 boxes of dates were transported to a campaign office run by the first lady in Malé on a truck owned by the Maldives Road Development Corporation, the website said.
The government, however, continues to deny that the dates were handed over to the NGO.
A spokesman for the finance ministry said: “I can say tell you for sure that none of the 50 tonnes gifted to the Maldivian people have been transferred to the First Lady’s office, charity organisation or any other office.”
Staff at the first lady’s office refused to comment.
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s spokesman, also dismissed the claim.
“The first lady does not have to ‘steal’ dates for an undue advantage,” he told Sun Online.
VNews quoted him as saying: “Madam has been an example in social work, distributing walking sticks and generously helping the poor. She does all of this from foreign aid. My question is then why should she take some dates from the government.”
The Anti-Corruption Commission has pledged to launch an inquiry.
The local councils usually distribute the dates to each household in Malé.
Opposition supporters have now dubbed the first lady “the date thief.”
She has come under fire previously for distributing cash during visits with the chronically ill at the hospital and visits to households in Malé.
The first couple are also accused of involvement in the theft of some US$80million from state coffers. President Abdulla Yameen has categorically denied the claim, saying his former deputy, Ahmed Adeeb, was to blame for the historic corruption scandal.