The government of Maldives has cancelled a US$300,000 PR deal with Washington-based lobbyist Podesta, following former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s arrest on a charge of plotting to kill President Abdulla Yameen.
Documents filed by Podesta at the US Department of Justice show the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, a state-owned company currently at the center of a historic corruption scandal, paid the firm US$50,000 for the month of September.
Podesta’s activities came to a halt on October 30, according to the submission.
A foreign ministry spokeswoman said the government no longer has PR contracts with any foreign firms.
The Maldives Independent is awaiting comment from Podesta.
Emails sent to Adeeb’s personal email, obtained by The Maldives Independent, show that senior foreign ministry officials communicated directly with Adeeb over Podesta’s hire.
Adeeb is now standing trial on charges of terrorism and corruption, relating to the theft of some US$80million from the MMPRC.
Jeffrey Salim Waheed, the deputy permanent representative in New York, in an email to Adeeb on August 19, said: “I wanted to remind you of the Podesta contract. As soon as the money has been deposited in the AOSIS account, we can sign it.”
The Maldives is the chair of AOSIS, or the Alliance of Small Island States, an informal group on climate change, and is providing secretariat services to the group through its UN offices in New York.
On June 22, Foreign Secretary Ali Naseer Mohamed sent an email to Adeeb stating the contract’s worth: “We have discussed the scope of the work with US lobby group Podesta and they have slightly reduced the fee to a total of $300,000 over a period of six months.
“The fee is to be paid with a monthly installment of US$50,000, and each month’s work would commence after we make payment for that month,” he said.
Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon was copied in the email, but the government had denied hiring Podesta when questioned in September.
The emails show that the MMPRC, a state-owned tourism promotion company, had handled all of the government’s recent PR deals.
Omnia Strategy, a London-based legal and public relations firm hired in the wake of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s jailing on a terror charge, came under fire last month when the UK’s Daily Mail alleged that the Maldivian regime paid Omnia £210,000 through stolen funds.
In response, Omnia said it terminated the Maldives contract early “following the unpredictable domestic events that occurred in the Maldives in October and November 2015” and is “no longer instructed” by either the government or the MMPRC
The firm is chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The payment was made on September 18 by a local textiles importer called MC Maldives Pvt Ltd.
The company’s owner, Abdulla Rafiu, told the Daily Mail that he wired the money as a favour to Mohamed Allam Latheef ‘Moho,’ the owner of SOF Pvt Ltd, a company implicated in the embezzling of some US$80million from tourism leases.
According to an audit report, resort lease payments worth millions of dollars were deposited to SOF’s account after officials signed and endorsed the cheques made out to the MMPRC.
Omnia has said in a statement that it is “taking this matter very seriously” and “reviewing the suggestion that our client was not in control of the referenced bank account.” The foreign ministry later said Omnia was paid through government accounts.
The MMPRC had also paid American firm Ruder Finn US$185,000 in 2012 for PR work for then-President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s.
Ruder Finn had complained to Waheed over delayed payments, according to leaked emails.