Maldives president denies US$1.5m campaign finance violation
The anti-money laundering watchdog informed police about the suspicious transaction.
President Abdulla Yameen has dismissed an Al Jazeera report about US$1.5 million deposited into his private bank account as donations for his re-election campaign.
The central bank’s anti-money laundering watchdog informed police of the transaction, it was reported, as electoral laws require candidates to set up separate campaign accounts and declare the source of donations.
After the Al Jazeera story was widely reported by local media Tuesday morning, the president’s spokesman dismissed allegations of wrongdoing.
“A separate account of the president was assigned for the presidential campaign. And money was regularly deposited,” Ibrahim Muaz Ali tweeted.
There was nothing illegal in the campaign finances, he assured.
According to Al Jazeera, a third party deposited US$648,508 in hard currency to the president’s account at the Maldives Islamic Bank on September 5, followed by US$810,635 five days later.
“The whole amount was later withdrawn in hard currency,” it quoted from a confidential letter sent from the Financial Intelligence Unit to the acting police chief on September 13, ten days before the presidential election.
“When the bank asked about the source of the money and its use, the bank was told the money was donations from private companies and various others to be used in the 2018 presidential election.”
In further tweets, the president’s spokesman confirmed the FIU letter was sent to police. But it was later withdrawn, he claimed.
The president had called the central bank’s governor upon learning of the letter, Muaz revealed.
“The governor said he was unaware an FIU letter was sent to police and that the letter has been taken back as it could not be seen from its contents that the president has done anything against the law,” he tweeted.
The president asked the central bank, known as the Maldives Monetary Authority, to explain the matter to the public, he added.
Money was not deposited to Yameen’s campaign account from overseas, Muaz noted.
It is unclear whether Muaz was denying that US$1.5 million was deposited into Yameen’s account or insisting that it was done in accordance with electoral laws into an account designated for campaign finances.
Contacted by the Maldives Independent for clarification, Muaz refused to comment. There was nothing to add as the tweets were clear, he said.
Two police sources also confirmed the authenticity of the letter to Al Jazeera, which reported that the officer in charge of the FIU, Abdulla Ashraf, was removed from his post after the letter was sent.
The FIU is an independent agency within the central bank but its chief official is appointed by the governor. It is tasked with collecting and analysing information about money laundering and terrorist financing and flagging suspicious transactions.
Local media reported last week that there was no active investigation into the money laundering case.
Yameen – who lost the election to joint opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih with a record 38,000-vote margin – has been dogged by corruption allegations since the embezzlement of nearly US$80 million from state coffers.
The president claimed he was unaware that tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb – whom he later elevated to the vice presidency – was siphoning off resort acquisition fees into private accounts.
The suspicious transactions should have been flagged by the Bank of Maldives or the clearing department at the central bank, Yameen said during the campaign.
Last November, the anti-corruption watchdog confirmed longstanding allegations that a local company implicated in funnelling the stolen cash deposited US$1 million into Yameen’s private account at the Maldives Islamic Bank.
But the case was “filed” away until the person who deposited the cheques could be summoned for questioning. Police were unable to bring back the company’s secretary and shareholders to the Maldives despite issuing an Interpol red notice, the Anti-Corruption Commission said.
Ahead of the election, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party also renewed allegations about the president’s involvement in a plot to launder US$1.5 billion through Maldivian banks in 2015.
Along with the massive scam to steal resort lease payments, the plot was featured in a corruption exposé aired by Al Jazeera in September 2016.
This article was updated to include further tweets from the president’s spokesman.