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Thursday roundup: terrorist recruiter and no-bid contracts

A roundup of the day’s top stories.



Magistrate resigns before impeachment vote

Photo from Sun Online

Mohamed Ragib Ahmed, chief magistrate of the Kaafu judicial district, resigned on Thursday after the Judicial Service Commission recommended his dismissal to parliament.

In his resignation letter, Ragib accused the watchdog of refusing to consider his defence and seeking his removal for personal reasons, Avas reported. The details of the complaint against the magistrate remain unclear.

The JSC – a 10-member oversight body tasked with investigating complaints and taking disciplinary action – decided to recommend impeachment after completing an ethics probe and offering the accused a 30-day period to respond.

At its meeting on Wednesday, the commission also decided to investigate judges suspected of involvement in the country’s biggest corruption scandal after Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham told a parliamentary oversight committee on Monday that the beneficiaries include sitting judges, lawmakers and ministers.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the JSC announced that it has granted Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla’s request for open hearings in the watchdog’s probe into unconstitutional decisions by the top court. A hearing scheduled for 2pm next Sunday will be open to the media and public.

Alleged terrorist recruiter arrested

A 35-year-old Maldivian suspected of recruiting jihadi fighters for terrorist organisations was arrested on Wednesday night.

The man is suspected of “spreading extremist ideology widely in the Maldives, sending Maldivians to wars outside the country, and leading efforts to recruit people for militant groups,” police told the media, declining to reveal further details.

The arrest comes after the anti-terrorism law was revised last month to authorise police to arrest terror suspects and search private property without a court warrant.

Local media has identified the suspect as Mohamed Ameen, the first Maldivian to be designated a “terrorist leader” by the United States to impose targeted sanctions. In September, the US State Department described him as a recruiter for ISIS-Khorasan, a branch of the militant group Islamic State, and a “key leader for ISIS in Syria, Afghanistan, and the Maldives [who] used to direct terrorist fighters to Syria, but now sends them to Afghanistan.”

As of April 2019, Ameen was “actively engaged in leading ISIS recruitment” in the Maldives, according to the US government. “Ameen’s subordinates were holding roughly 10 recruitment sessions per week under the guise of Islamic classes at several Malé, Maldives-based locations, including Ameen’s home. Ameen and his group continued to recruit on behalf of ISIS from various Maldivian criminal gangs,” it added.

Last month, a presidential commission named Ameen as the leader of a Maldivian extremist group affiliated with ISIS. A secret witness told the commission that the ISIS affiliate was formed after in the wake of a split among local extremists after Abubakr al-Baghdadi declared the Islamic State in 2014. One group pledged their allegiance to the rival al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, the inquiry commission found.

Ameen was suspected of involvement in the 2007 Sultan Park bombing that injured a dozen tourists. An Interpol red notice was issued after he fled the country before the bomb blast.

He was arrested from Sri Lanka and brought back to the Maldives in October 2011. But the criminal court ordered his release in May 2012 “on the condition that he not get involved in any further terrorist activities, and not leave the country.”

Oversight committee probes no-bid Boskalis contract

Parliament’s public accounts committee decided on Wednesday to look into the awarding of a no-bid contract worth US$53 million to a Dutch dredging company by the ministry of national planning and infrastructure.

Boskalis was tasked with reclaiming six million cubic meters and setting up a four kilometre seawall within 180 days under the first phase of a project to develop a new commercial port. The previous administration revised public finance rules in 2015 to allow large-scale projects to be awarded without a competitive bidding process or approval from the tender evaluation board.

The parliamentary inquiry was proposed by MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa from the Maldivian Democratic Party and approved by the ruling party-dominated oversight committee amid corruption allegations from the opposition and criticism of no-bid contracts. The previous administration revised public finance rules in 2015 to allow large-scale projects to be awarded without a competitive bidding process or approval from the tender evaluation board.

Former infrastructure minister Dr Mohamed Muizz contended that the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company could have carried out the project for US$35 million using its trailing suction hopper dredger Mahaa Jarraafu.

But MTCC CEO Hassan Shah told Sun Online that the company’s dredger would take about two years to reclaim six million cubic meters with more time needed for shore protection and revetment would take longer. “But Boskalis gave 180 days. That is for sure not something we can do with our present capacity,” he said.

The MTCC dredger is also occupied in reclaiming land for Guraidhoo and Thulsdhoo, he noted, adding that the company was near full capacity as the current administration has awarded projects worth MVR2.3 billion (US$149 million) since last November.

Meanwhile on Thursday morning, the Anti-Corruption Commission expressed concern over awarding contracts without bidding, which was done “against the spirt of the state’s public finance law and regulations,” and urged the government to carry out procurement through a transparent and competitive tender.

The ACC has launched a probe on the initiative of its new members, a media official told the press.

Echoing the watchdog’s concern, the local chapter of Transparency International warned that no-bid contracts “carry with them inherent risks, often leading to corruption and subversion of democratic and economic systems of the country.” The anti-corruption NGO called on the government “to remain committed to its Zero Tolerance for Corruption policy and to honour its obligations under UN Convention Against Corruption to ensure transparency and objective decision-making on public matters.”