The anti-corruption watchdog has promised to question President Abdulla Yameen, if necessary, for a thorough investigation of what may be the the country’s biggest ever tourism scandal, one that has embroiled the home minister, MPs and the former vice president.
The former Auditor General Niyaz, however, has raised doubts over the Anti Corruption Commission’s integrity, claiming the watchdog has been “paralysed” because of a systematic crackdown on watchdog institutions.
The ACC had failed to launch an investigation when the misappropriation of public funds from the tourism promotion firm, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, was first flagged in a 2014 report, Niyaz said. The report resulted in the former auditor general losing his job.
“I don’t think ACC can undertake an independent investigation. The government of Maldives has systematically paralyzed all oversight agencies of the state. Plus, members of ACC are likely to face impeachment if they ever initiate an investigation into Yameen’s alleged involvement in these corruption cases,” he said.
The parliament is dominated by Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives.
When Niyaz first told Yameen of his former deputy Ahmed Adeeb’s involvement, “the president said it was not my duty to look into such matters, he alleged that I had a personal grudge against Adeeb,” he recalled.
Adeeb was the tourism minister at the time. He went on to assume the vice presidency in July, but was impeached just three months later following a mysterious explosion on Yameen’s speedboat in September.
Adeeb and his associates became the prime suspects over the alleged assassination attempt, and their use of public funds from tourism leases came under scrutiny. Adeeb and the former Managing Director of MMPRC, Abdulla Ziyath, now stand accused of leasing properties without due process and siphoning funds from rents.
Tens of millions of dollars are thought to be missing. Adeeb and Ziyath have now been charged with corruption over the lease of 50 properties. The inquiry is continuing and it is likely the pair will face more charges.
Yameen must take responsibility, Niyaz said.
“The president was informed about Adeeb’s corruption early on. Money that should have gone into the state’s accounts were instead transferred to Adeeb and his aides’ accounts. Islands and projects were sold to the party that proposed the highest bribes. All of that has been documented in the audit report.
“Had the president intervened and taken corrective measures back then I am sure the public purse would not have suffered this loss,” he added.
Hassan Manik, the spokesman for the ACC, said the MMPRC scandal is of top priority and that a report into the details of missing funds and the individuals involved would be released soon.
“The ACC will question all individuals that are involved, or any individual we should talk to in order to complete the investigation, even if it is President Yameen,” Manik said.
“We have uncovered the total sum of money missing from state treasury. We have also identified the people involved in the corruption. But we can only reveal the names ans details soon once the investigation is over. Our work is going fast according to the deadlines we’ve set.”
He declined to reveal when the report would be published.
In a statement on Monday, Adeeb’s lawyers denied any wrongdoing: “The islands were leased according to the procedures set by the government.”
Referring to the new tourism-minister Moosa Zameer’s assurances to contractors that the government would honour contracts even though they were obtained through fraud, Adeeb’s lawyers said: “The government has said the lease contracts will not be affected and will stand. This proves that these contracts are, without a doubt, legal.”
Zameer’s comments were made in the wake of media reports that several companies affiliated with ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MPs Mohamed Musthafa, Hussain Manik Dhon Manik and Riyaz Rasheed, and main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s Ahmed ‘ADK’ Nashid were awarded islands without due process.
The president’s spokesman, Ibrahim Muaz Ali, was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.
Anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives said the ACC “must not leave any stone unturned, even if the graft trail leads to the highest levels of the government.”
Thoriq Hamid, a spokesman for the NGO, said: “It is crucial that the Anti-Corruption Commission ensures a thorough and independent investigation of these allegations of grand corruption.
This is especially important because the ACC previously failed to investigate this issue when former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim flagged the issue. He subsequently lost his job. The ACC must be consistent in such matters to maintain public trust.”
Yameen has now ordered an audit of the MMPRC beginning from the day he assumed the presidency.
Recounting his previous efforts to audit the firm, Niyaz said: “After MMPRC was established, financial statements were not submitted regularly. Auditors from the Auditor General’s office pleaded with the corporation’s board to comply with state financial regulations and laws but do you know what the chairman of the board said to the auditors? ‘Shall I throw you out of the window?! Who do you think you are questioning us?'”