President Abdulla Yameen sought to shrug off responsibility for Maldives’ biggest ever corruption scandal claiming he was not aware that cash handouts to ruling party officials and MPs came from the stolen millions from state coffers.
Yameen said he continues to receive gifts from friendly businesses for the 2018 polls. His former deputy Ahmed Adeeb had been in charge of managing the money and had disbursed cash on his behalf “to help” MPs and for ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ activities.
It was only when an explosion on the presidential speedboat occurred that the president said he had discovered the money being distributed came from the state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
Instead of answering questions about the stolen US$80million and the extent of his complicity, the president’s comments on the island of Thoddoo on Alif Alif Atoll on Wednesday have only sharpened them.
Yameen had said: “What I want to say is, the corruption stops at Ahmed Adeeb. Other ministers are not complicit in this. And the President was not aware of it. We hear being said on the holhuashi, that others have benefitted from this. Who hasn’t benefitted from this money? Who hasn’t benefitted from this money? We need money to help each other.
“And the receivers of charity, do they check of they got it justly? Who checks of the money they receive is legitimate? And so, Ahmed Adeeb has helped MPs. And there are businessmen who support my political activities, who are giving me various amounts of money to work for 2018 elections.
“So far, this money has been managed for me by Adeeb. I don’t know the details of these funds. However, along with the MMPRC corruption funds, he has helped people who have needed to do things – including MPs who have asked for help.
“But what I want to say is, the receiver, whether be President, or an MP, they are unaware that the money has been obtained via MMPRC, or illegally from the state treasury.”
He later said: “But I also want to say alongside this, is that everyone helped by Adeeb didn’t know that the money was that money. The MPs, the politicians, our various political activities may have been funded with that money. But when we received the funds, we didn’t know that they were those funds. We only became aware that the money may be illegitimate when the launch was blown up when President came back from a Hajj trip.”
The president also slammed former President Mohamed Nasheed and the opposition for their criticism of the scandal, claiming corruption was an endemic problem throughout the world.
“My government is saddened by this. But that is not a reason for MDP or our opposition to criticise this government. Look at MDP’s rule. The short, three year rule. Every publication by the auditor general at the time contained details of corrupt ministers. The ministers, the figures, are included in the publication.”
He repeatedly stressed that he was not advocating for corruption, but asked who would not accept a gift of cash?
“So when President Nasheed, or other leading national figures discuss what they discuss, what I want to tell them is that there is no truth at all, in talk of any ongoing corruption in the Maldives. There has always been corruption in the Maldives. Every government attempts to decrease corruption. But who has managed to?
“Tell me here, now? Who hasn’t accepted a bit of cash if they’d gotten it? And if the cash was of a good amount, would they ask (the person who had given it to them) how they had gotten it? How do you ask that? Even the wife doesn’t ask if the household expenditure is halal (legal)? So how do we do this? So in when we talk in this vein, there is corruption in the Maldives, and there is corruption in all countries. I am not advocating for corruption here.”
Former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim, who was removed from his job when he first flagged theft from MMPRC, has said that Yameen must bear responsibility for the stolen money. The president did not take action, but attempted to convince Niyaz the theft was “good for the country,” he said in an interview with Raajje TV on Saturday.
Niyaz also said he believed the stolen money was used to influence the 2014 parliamentary elections, in which the ruling coalition had won a strong majority.
The Anti Corruption Commission is now investigating the alleged deposit of some US$1million in Yameen’s personal bank accounts.
The Maldives Independent will publish a full translation of President Abdulla Yameen’s speech.
Reporting by Xiena Saeed