Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, special envoy to the president, has renewed allegations that former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has US$80 million hidden in foreign bank accounts, including US$40 million in tsunami aid from the Emir of Qatar.
The last time the allegation was made, by Hassan Afeef, a former MP and now political advisor to the president, Gayoom successfully sued for defamation and Afeef was fined US$350.
Zaki insisted he “was only quoting what was said in newspapers in the UK in an interview with the Global Protection Committee (GPC),” describing it only as “an international NGO.”
The GPC’s leader, Michael Lord-Castle, told Minivan News during an interview in November 2006 “that we have been advised that between US$60-80 million has been transferred from Maldives’ governmental funds directly to various private bank accounts in favour of President Gayoom. Some of those funds we understand derive from donations made in respect to the tsunami disaster.”
When Minivan News asked ‘Commander’ Lord-Castle to disclose the countries and banks the money had been transferred to, he replied that “investigations are continuing and at this stage it is necessary to withhold certain information.”
Members of the controversial GPC, of which little record exists for an organisation “first formed in 1943 towards the end of the Second World War” and boasting “over 2,400 members ranging from ex-presidents, prime ministers and ministers of different countries”, travelled to the Maldives to observe the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s planned assembly for constitutional change on 10 November 2006.
Lord-Castle said the group had been commissioned to produce a report to the European Parliament on the political situation in Maldives, a claim denied by the European Parliament. He was deported from the Maldives together with four associates.
The GPC’s website has since disappeared from the web, while Lord-Castle’s current wikipedia entry describes him as a ‘well-known English businessman’ with varied involvement in an insolvency advisory service, a failed business-class airline, a vigilante ambulance service, and the supplier of a cleaning chemical called Vizexon promising to “kill all pathogens, including swine flu, H5N1, bird flu, SARS, influenza virus and HIV.”
Zaki said that he did not believe the accusation was defamatory “and if Gayoom feels he is getting defamed then he should file a suit against the GPC.”
“If [the accusation] proves true it will be fairly significant because first of all it was money from the National Treasury, secondly the money was for tsunami victims, and thirdly there would be reason to anticipate more [hidden money],” he said.
World Bank enlisted
Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed announced in September he was seeking the help of the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) to recover a suspected US$2 billion in embezzled funds, stating that the money was needed to plug a budget deficit of 34 per cent of GDP.
“Many people have been in one way or another connected to this huge web of corruption,” Nasheed said, adding that international help was needed because of a lack of forensic accountancy skills in the country.
Gayoom’s assistant and former chief government spokesperson Mohamed Hussain Shareef (Mundhu) responded to the allegations by demanding Zaki “show us the evidence. If you have the details make them public, instead of repeating allegations. Maumoon has said, ‘go ahead and take a look, and if you find anything make it public.'”
“There is no evidence to link Gayoom to corruption,” he insisted. “What Afeef said was very slanderous. We threw the book at him, and showed in court that he had no evidence to back up his claim at all, not a single piece of evidence.”
He described the renewal of the allegations as “immature, especially dragging the Qatari government into this. We called them and they were as surprised as us – senior officals in their government had no clue about [the alleged theft of US$40 million in tsunami aid]. Anyone of intelligence knows that aid money is not passed across a table by leaders. Gayoom could obviously not just take off with donor or tsunami aid.”
Mundhu expressed confidence that the World Bank’s investigation “would find nothing untoward. I know for a fact that our tsunami aid accounting mechanism was far superior to that of many other countries. All the aid money went through one oversight body headed by the then UN representative and the auditor general.”
The source of the allegations, the GPC, were one of many “voodoo NGOs” around at the time, he said. “We tried to find out what they were about, and basically drew a blank. Nobody in the UK knew anything about them.”
The allegations were intended “to wipe Gayoom off the political map,” Mundhu claimed. “The MDP is a minority government. Nasheed himself as an individual has no more than 25 per cent support in the country. Gayoom is the most popular individual with 45 per cent and over 100,000 die-hard supporters – clearly people thought he did a good job. Nasheed could not beat him one-to-one, and that reality is very hard [for the MDP] to stomach.”
The accusations of embezzlement, he suggested, were the activities of “certain unpleasant elements in the MDP. I don’t branch Nasheed in this, but [the party] was so intent on bringing in people with grievances towards the [former] government that they brought in unsavoury elements that now even Nasheed cannot control.”