Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has denied allegations of corruption in a special audit report of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC) while the opposition has called on the prosecutor general to press charges.
The report (Dhivehi) – made public on Thursday (October 30) – implicated Adeeb in corrupt transactions worth US$6 million between the MMPRC and the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) and the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).
The MMPRC obtained MVR77 million (US$5 million) from MPL to be paid back in dollars and US$1 million from MTDC as a loan, which was immediately transferred to two companies – Millenium Capital Management Pvt Ltd and Montillion International Private Ltd, both with ties to Adeeb.
Speaking at a press conference at private broadcaster DhiTV’s studio last night (October 31), Adeeb insisted that the MVR77 million was not a financial loss to the state, noting that US$3 million has been repaid to MPL with the remainder due in December.
“Under my [tenure] as tourism ministry, in order to avoid state companies going into the dollar black market, I have obtained dollars for the state from one state company to another, the tourism industry, and various private parties,” Adeeb said.
Adeeb claimed to have arranged for local businessmen to purchase treasury bills worth MVR800 to 900 million as of October 2013 to ease the government’s cash flow problems.
The agreement between MMPRC and MPL was approved by the respective boards of the state-owned enterprises, the ruling Progressive of Party of Maldives’ (PPM) deputy leader stressed.
The MVR77 million from MPL was not embezzled or misappropriated, he insisted, claiming that the government routinely converts rufiyaa into dollars through private parties.
On the allegation that the tourism ministry awarded an italian-owned company an island for resort development to pay back US$2.25million of the US$6million MMPRC owed to MPL and MTDC, Adeeb claimed that Dhaalu Maagau was used as a picnic island by PPM MP Ahmed Nazim’s friends.
The former deputy speaker of parliament had repeatedly sought to secure the island, Adeeb said, dismissing the allegation that the Italian paid the lease rent for the island through Adeeb’s father’s Montillion company.
Adeeb also pledged to release his financial statement to the media on Sunday (November 2) and denied failing to declare assets.
According to the audit report, Adeeb has failed to declare assets as stipulated by Article 138 of the Constitution since he was appointed tourism minister in 2012.
When the US$6 million corruption scandal first surfaced in May, Adeeb told Minivan News that the “defamation attempt” was linked to his refusal to support certain individuals for speaker and deputy speaker of the 18th People’s Majlis.
Minivan News understands MP Ahmed Nazim was involved in leaking documents related to the case to online news outlet CNM, which first broke the story of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigating the transactions.
Nazim’s passport was withheld last week, but he left the country on the date the court order was issued.
In May, Adeeb confirmed to Minivan News that two repayment cheques dated May 10 and 15 bounced due to insufficient funds.
The MTDC’s US$1 million had been reimbursed, Adeeb said, while MPL had been paid one-third of the owed amount in dollars. The remaining two thirds are due in June, he added.
At last night’s press briefing, Adeeb alleged “extraordinary ties” between Nazim and Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim.
Following his refusal to support Nazim for the deputy speaker’s post, Adeeb said Nazim threatened to put out audit reports implicating him as well as family members in corrupt dealings.
Moreover, the auditor general’s office neither sought a statement from him nor posed any questions regarding the transactions, Adeeb said.
“I am most saddened that professionals, specialised people, are brought in between our political rivalry in the political arena,” he said.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile released a press statement yesterday condemning the government’s “unconstitutional” and “unlawful” attempts to replace the auditor general before the end of his seven-year term.
Last week, parliament passed amendments to the Audit Act requiring the president to reappoint an auditor general within 30 days of ratifying the amendments.
President Abdulla Yameen ratified the amendments on Thursday.
The MDP contended that the auditor general could only be removed from office through the process specified in the Constitution, which was “(a) on the ground of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence; and (b) a finding to that effect by a committee of the People’s Majlis, pursuant to article (a) and upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting, calling for the Auditor General’s removal from office”.
The attempt to remove the auditor general shows the level of corruption in the current administration, the press release stated, adding that the government was undermining independent institutions.