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Watchdog denies withdrawing case against president

The Financial Intelligence Unit contradicted the president’s spokesman.



The central bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit has denied withdrawing any cases sent to investigative bodies, contradicting claims made by the president’s spokesman.

In a series of tweets, spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali claimed a letter sent to the police by the money-laundering watchdog was taken back.

He was responding to an Al Jazeera report about the FIU informing police of US$1.5 million deposited into President Abdulla Yameen’s private bank account at the Maldives Islamic Bank.

“No report, letter or any such information sent by the unit has ever been withdrawn,” the FIU said in a statement Tuesday evening, hours after Muaz claimed otherwise.  

Muaz said the president had called the central bank’s governor upon learning of the FIU letter and was told it has been withdrawn as it did not indicate any illegal activity.

The FIU is an independent agency within the central bank. It is tasked with flagging suspicious transactions after collecting and analysing information about money laundering.

In its statement, the FIU urged investigative bodies to “handle the reports with integrity and refrain from sharing the information to a third party without permission.”

Since the anti-money laundering law came into effect in 2014, more than 137 reports have been shared with the authorities, it noted.

The statement was delivered on behalf of the FIU by the central bank’s media official, who stressed the unit’s independence.

The role of the central bank, known as the Maldives Monetary Authority, “is limited to setting the budget for the unit, appointing the unit’s head and staff and facilitating the administrative work,” he told reporters.

– Campaign contributions –

According to Al Jazeera, a third party deposited US$648,508 in hard currency to the president’s account at the Maldives Islamic Bank on September 5, followed by US$810,635 five days later.

“The whole amount was later withdrawn in hard currency,” it quoted from a confidential letter sent from the FIU to the acting police chief on September 13, ten days before the presidential election.

“When the bank asked about the source of the money and its use, the bank was told the money was donations from private companies and various others to be used in the 2018 presidential election.”

After the Al Jazeera story was widely picked up by local media Tuesday morning, the president’s spokesman insisted that the campaign finances were legal. No money was deposited from overseas, he said.

He stopped short of saying whether the president’s bank account in question was opened for the campaign as required by the electoral law.

The FIU letter suggested the transactions were in breach of the requirement for separate accounts for campaign finances, Al Jazeera noted.

Muaz refused to comment when contacted by the Maldives Independent for clarification of his tweets.

At a ruling party press briefing later on Tuesday, MP Ahmed Nihan criticised media coverage of the Al Jazeera story as misleading. The media failed to explain the legal provision on campaign funds, he said.

The election law requires candidates to “open an account in his own name in a bank operated in the Maldives in order to spend on election related expenses.” Financial contributions must also be deposited in the same account.

“This is what President Yameen did. The money he got for the campaign was deposited as stated in the law,” he said.