Newly appointed Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham has denied allegations of conflict of interest in deciding not to prosecute a former presidential affairs minister for graft over last year’s poor Independence Day banquet.
The Prosecutor General’s Office in December cited lack of evidence in returning a graft charge against minister Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Hussain Shareef.
The anti-corruption watchdog had found that Shareef – who resigned in late October last year after being asked to stay home – awarded the MVR3.7 million catering contract to a restaurant owned by activists of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives despite their lack of experience.
Bisham was President Abdulla Yameen’s legal affairs secretary at the time. She also sat on a committee, which coordinated activities for the Golden Jubilee of Independence.
Ahmed Hisham Wajeeh, a spokesman from the PG office, said Bisham was not involved in the selection of the caterer or the decision to return the case against Shareef.
“I can tell you that she did not have any involvement in the selection of the caterer,” Hisham said.
Bisham recused herself from the committee that had reviewed the evidence against Shareef, he added.
The Anti-Corruption Commission is re-evaluating charges against Shareef and will make a decision on resubmitting the case very soon, said Hassan Manik, the ACC’s media official.
Bisham was appointed as PG after the People’s Majlis abruptly removed her predecessor Muhthaz Muhsin in a midnight vote after he stalled charges of weapons smuggling against former vice president Ahmed Adeeb.
Adeeb fell out of favour following a mysterious explosion on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat. Shareef resigned in the fall out. He was later arrested in Malaysia along with Adeeb’s associate and influential businessman Hamid Ismail.
Shareef was released, but Hamid was extradited to Malé and remains in prison.
According to the ACC, Shareef was responsible for the president’s office’s decision to hire New Port, a restaurant owned by PPM activists. The restaurant was selected without a bidding process, and the state treasury paid for machinery and waiters for the banquet, the ACC investigation revealed.
A total of MVR7.9 million was spent on the banquet, of which MVR3.9 million has been disbursed already, the ACC said.
At the time, the poor quality of the food prompted several reporters to allege corruption. A diplomat told the The Maldives Independent that the food was “inauthentic and tasteless.”
Although bribery was alleged in the awarding of the contract, the ACC said it had found no evidence to back the claim. The commission is also investigating other complaints over the banquet, including the hire of tables and chairs.
According to the finance ministry, a budget of MVR150 million was allocated for the celebrations to mark the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence. The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party says expenses were much higher than the allocated amount.