The anti-graft watchdog has dismissed corruption allegations against First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim’s charity, declaring legal the Sadaqat Foundation’s distribution in its name of dates gifted by Saudi Arabia.
The Anti Corruption Commission said Tuesday that some 500 boxes of 50 tonnes of dates donated by the King of Saudi Arabia was given to the Sadaqat Foundation in June so that the dates “may be distributed more quickly”.
The packets of dates, an annual donation usually distributed by island and city councils, were distributed by the Sadaqat Foundation last Ramadan. A note that read “With the best wishes of the Sadaqat Foundation” covered the section of the label that said the dates were a gift from King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.
At the time, the first lady was dubbed the “date thief” and accused of misusing state resources.
The controversy resulted in the closure of Channel News Maldives, the online newspaper that broke the story.
Similarly, the ACC has also ruled out corruption in an Islamic ministry letter requesting that the finance ministry give the foundation some US$12,000 that was donated to the government by an unnamed religious organisation based in Abu Dhabi.
The ACC’s findings on the date controversy said: “On Muleeaage’s [the presidential palace’s] request, the finance ministry handed over 500 boxes of dates to be distributed to the vulnerable and the poor. Muleeaage then handed over the dates to those who expressed interest in distributing the dates as an act of compassion.
“This commission found that this was done in order to distribute the dates more quickly to the people of the Maldives. The commission has ruled out corruption since this act did not afford any illicit benefits to anyone.”
Hassan Luthfee, the president of the ACC, added: “I don’t see how labelling the packets as ‘from Sadagat Foundation’ benefited them. Everyone, all Maldivians know that these dates were gifted by the Saudi government.”
The ACC, however, has ordered the finance ministry to set new rules on distributing aid.
Of its probe into the Islamic ministry’s request, the ACC said: “The commission has ruled out corruption because the Islamic ministry cancelled its letter to the finance ministry and because the money was never deposited to the Sadaqat Foundation’s account”.
The money was part of some US$24,980 deposited to the central bank’s accounts in New York by an Abu-Dhabi based religious organisation, which has previously financed the Sadaqat Foundation, the ACC said.
The donor agency had stated that its gift could be used by mosques, orphanages and other charities. The funds were then transferred to the Islamic ministry’s Wagf fund, which is used to fund a wide range of activities including construction of mosques.
According to the ACC, the board members of the Wagf fund had authorised half of the donation be transferred to the Sadagat Foundation. It also noted that the Islamic ministry claimed that officials from the donor agency, during meetings held in Abu Dhabi, had authorised the transfer of funds to the first lady’s charity.
The first lady, known as Madam Fathun, has come under fire previously for distributing cash during visits with the chronically ill at the hospital and visits to households in Malé.
The first couple are also accused of involvement in the theft of some US$80million from state coffers. President Abdulla Yameen, however, has categorically denied the claim, saying his former deputy was to blame for the historic corruption scandal.