Niyaz, who fled into exile in late 2016 after appearing in an Al Jazeera exposé, has long maintained that he had personally raised concerns with the president over millions funnelled through the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation to companies linked to then-tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.
But Yameen accused him of harbouring “a personal grudge against Adeeb.”
Speaking on Nolhivaranfaru island, Yameen acknowledged the mid-2014 meeting took place but stressed that it was not about Niyaz’s concerns over the lease of 160 islands as claimed by the opposition.
An October 2014 audit overseen by Niyaz revealed how the MMPRC took MVR77 million (US$5 million) from Maldives Ports Limited to be paid back in dollars and borrowed US$1 million from the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation in the guise of making an urgent payment to a foreign party.
In both cases, the money was immediately transferred to companies owned by Adeeb’s father and a businessman related to him. It was withdrawn in large amounts ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections.
“When he talked to me about it, my answer to him was written in the newspapers then, and we have been saying, too,” Yameen said Wednesday.
“I said that’s not something I will meddle in. MPL is a company. When the MPL’s board decides, and if MPL has a foreign currency exchange license given by the MMA, that’s not a problem. There is no measure that can be taken about that [transaction], legally or otherwise.”
But MPL could take steps over delays in repayment, he told the auditor general.
“But [Niyaz] was displeased and said, ‘I have to talk about this.’ I told him to do as he sees fit. So he did as he saw fit and when it all ended, he left the post and remains so today,” he said.
The president’s remarks suggested that he voluntarily stepped aside. But Niyaz did not resign.
He was contentiously sacked by the ruling party-controlled parliament a day after the October 2014 audit report was released, four years before the end of his seven-year term.
Niyaz challenged the “unconstitutional” dismissal at the High Court as he was not removed through a no-confidence vote.
A second special audit of the MMPRC – commissioned by the president after vice president Adeeb was arrested on suspicion of orchestrating an assassination attempt in September 2015 – found that the MPL had released MVR205.21 million (US$13.31 million) to the MMPRC to be paid back in dollars.
Some US$5.52 million was not repaid.
The failure to take action in the wake of Niyaz’s 2014 audit report “paved the way” for the theft of US$79 million from state coffers, the damning February 2016 report stated. The bulk of the stolen funds was acquisition fees collected from the lease of islands, lagoons and plots of land.
Last November, the anti-corruption watchdog confirmed longstanding allegations that a local company implicated in siphoning off the stolen cash deposited US$1 million into Yameen’s private account at the Maldives Islamic Bank.
Yameen denies any involvement in the scandal, pinning the blame solely on Adeeb.