Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment Ahmed Mahloof returned to work Tuesday more than two months after he was suspended over transactions with a company implicated in the country’s biggest corruption scandal.
The former lawmaker was among several individuals named in a long-awaited report by the Anti-Corruption Commission into the theft of US$90 million from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
According to the investigation report, several politicians, lawmakers and prominent businesses received large sums of money to their bank accounts from SOF Pvt Ltd, a company that was used to funnel the bulk of the funds stolen from the MMPRC.
Hours after the report was released on February 14, Mahloof was asked to stay home until an investigation was concluded.
The suspension was lifted after the police and anti-corruption watchdog cleared the minister of involvement, the president’s spokesman told the press.
Mahloof thanked President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih for the trust shown in him.
Prior to his suspension, Mahloof defended his dealings with SOF as a “legitimate currency exchange transaction,” a defence that was also made by other individuals and prominent companies named in the ACC report.
The former Galolhu South MP shared a receipt of the August 2014 payment of US$33,000 in exchange for MVR508,860.
The dollars were needed for The Jeans shop operated by his family and it was deposited to his account because the shop did not have a US dollar account, Mahloof said, noting that he was never questioned for the ACC probe.
According to media reports, State Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Akram Kamalludeen, who was suspended after it emerged that he was paid US$30,000 from SOF, has also been cleared and allowed to return to work.
Two board directors of state-owned enterprises were also suspended in February after they were named in the ACC report.
In December, the ACC revealed that the scale of the MMPRC theft was bigger than estimated in a damning audit report released in February 2016, which implicated former vice president Ahmed Adeeb and his associates in siphoning off acquisition fees paid to lease 57 islands and lagoons for resort development.
Of US$77.5 million worth of checks collected as resort acquisition costs, only US$12.5 million ended up in state coffers, the ACC found. The rest was transferred to private bank accounts.
Yameen previously insisted the theft “did not reach higher than Adeeb,” although the former right-hand man was first implicated in embezzlement from state funds in October 2014 — more than a year before the second MMPRC corruption scandal came to light.
Following the release of the second audit, SOF said it provided a “brokerage” service to the MMPRC to distribute the funds as requested to the first couple and senior politicians.
Analysis of leaked statements of a US dollars bank account owned by SOF showed that more than MVR1.3 billion (US$84 million) was channeled through the front company between May 2014 to October 2015.