The Criminal Court ruled today that the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim cannot prosecuted on charges of defrauding the now-defunct Ministry of Atolls Development, in the purchase of 220 harbour lights worth Rf1.95 million (US$126,000) in 2004.
Minority opposition People Alliance (PA) Leader and MP Nazim, along with MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem (then-finance director at the ministry) and Abdullah Hameed, former Atolls Minister and half brother of Gayoom was charged in late 2009 on multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the Atolls Ministry.
The scam – first flagged in an audit report released in early 2009 – involved paper companies allegedly set up by the defendants to win bids for projects worth several hundred thousands dollars, including the fraudulent purchase of harbour lights, national flags and mosque sound systems.
The prosecution began in late 2009, after police uncovered evidence that implicated Hameed, Saleem and Nazim in a number of fraudulent transactions.
At a press conference in August 2009, police exhibited numerous quotations, agreements, tender documents, receipts, bank statements and forged cheques showing that Nazim received over US$400,000 in the scam.
A hard disk seized during a raid of Nazim’s office in May 2009 allegedly contained copies of forged documents and bogus letterheads.
Police maintained that money was channelled through the scam to Nazim who laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies.
The first count focused on charges that Nazim used equipments and employees of Namira Engineering while he was the company’s Managing Director to submit bids in the name of two companies called Tech Media Service Pvt Ltd and Standard Electric Works Pvt Ltd to provide 220 harbour lights to the Atolls Ministry without the company’s prior knowledge in 2004.
The prosecutors requested the court to recover the money paid to Nazim for the supply on the grounds he defrauded the ministry.
However, during the trial Nazim had submitted six witnesses to prove the companies were aware of the submission of bid and presented Saleem as a witness to establish that the ministry received the 220 harbour lights.
The prosecution meanwhile presented as evidence the police investigation report, cheques issued by the state and bogus letterheads found during a police raid on Namira Engineering in May 2009.
Further, the prosecutors presented employees of Namira as key witnesses to prove they are acting on Nazim’s orders.
However, Judge Saeed Ibrahim today dismissed the testimonies of the prosecutor’s witnesses on the grounds that they were the employees who had prepared the fraudulent bid estimates which were submitted.
Even though the witnesses had told the court that they had prepared the bid estimates on Nazim’s order, the judge concluded that it does not mean Nazim had ordered them to prepare the bids fraudulently.
Judge Ibrahim also argued that the act of asking was not enough to prove criminal intent.
Therefore, in reference to article 51 of the constitution which guarantees the rights of the accused, the judge concluded that the charges cannot be filed against Nazim.
However Nazim is also facing other counts of fraud for setting up four paper companies to win a bid worth US$110,000 to provide 15,000 national flags for the former atolls ministry in 2003.
In the ongoing case, prosecutors are heavily relying on the findings stated in the audit report, which concludes that the four companies which submitted the bid to the project were connected to Nazim’s Namira Company.
According to the report, the documents of Malegam Tailors, the company which won the bid, show that it shared the same phone number as Namira. Fast tailors, another company that applied also shared a different phone number registered under Namira.
The other company Needlework Tailors that submitted the bid had an employee of Namira sign the documents as the General Manager while the fourth company named “Seaview Maldives Private Maldives” did not have any record of its existence, according to the report.
However, the auditors noted that Searview bid documents had an exact date error found on Fast tailors documents, which according to the auditors prove same people had prepared both company’s bids.