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Parliament reconsiders perjury charges against top Bank of Maldives official

Deputy CEO Shareef was accused of lying to an oversight committee.



Parliament will consider withdrawing a request to investigate and and seek charges against Bank of Maldives Deputy CEO Mohamed Shareef for allegedly providing false information to an oversight committee, Speaker Mohamed Nasheed announced on Monday.

The reversal comes a day after parliament’s secretary-general Fathmath Niusha told the press that a request would be made to the Maldives Police Service. Parliamentary committees have the constitutional power to “summon any person to appear before it to give evidence under oath,” she noted, without providing details of the alleged perjury.

But Speaker Nasheed revealed at the start of Monday’s sitting that Shareef has since written to parliament pledging to cooperate with the committee’s inquiry.

According to the speaker, Shareef said his testimony was based on available information and claimed to have seen cheques circulating on social media after the committee meeting. He pledged to review the leaked cheques and provide new information.

“My aim is to encourage people to speak the truth at this Majlis, not to punish or investigate people,” Nasheed said, adding that he would consult with the committee chair and reconsider the request for a perjury probe.

Shareef was questioned by the public accounts committee last Tuesday after the Anti-Corruption Commission implicated dozens of BML employees over alleged collusion in the theft of more than MVR1.4 billion (US$91 million) from the state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.

The stolen funds were funnelled through the national bank after cheques paid to the MMPRC were deposited to the accounts of a private company called SOF. Despite the MMPRC cheque endorsement policy requiring the signature of two board members, cheques honoured by BML were endorsed with only one signature.

But Shareef claimed the bank had followed legal procedures and repeatedly insisted that employees were innocent of any wrongdoing. A company board resolution was not required to honour a cheque, he said.

Shareef said BML fulfilled its responsibility by reporting the transactions to the central bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit, an independent agency tasked with flagging suspicious transactions.

But MPs were skeptical of claims that the bank played no role in the country’s biggest corruption scandal.

A day after Shareef appeared at the committee, Speaker Nasheed publicly warned of action against perjury. Committees chairs have been complaining that some officials “do not talk in clear language,” the former president said.

Local media reported last week that contrary to Shareef’s assertions, BML had deposited non-negotiable cheques to SOF’s account. Non-negotiable cheques must only be deposited to the payee’s account.

The anti-corruption watchdog confirmed the reports but the BML continued to deny the allegations.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the bank sought an injunction from the civil court to prevent a presidential inquiry commission from seeking legal action against bank staff for refusing to provide information.

BML sued the Asset Recovery Commission earlier this month. The lawsuit is due to proceed to trial after failure to reach an agreement at the dispute resolution stage.

Shortly after the MMPRC scandal was first exposed in a February 2016 audit report, a BML manager was arrested and jailed for eight months for disclosing damning information.

According to a bank statement leaked by whistleblower Gasim Abdul Kareem, more than MVR1.3 billion (US$84 million) was funnelled through SOF’s US dollar account between May 2014 to October 2015.