The offices of the Department of Immigration and Emigration were raided by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) officials with assistance from police after the granting of a court order.
The seeking of a court order followed thwarted efforts by the ACC earlier in the day to gain access to the immigration department’s offices across the greater Male’ area.
The ACC confiscated around 75 laptops, reports Haveeru, which had allegedly been given to staff as part of a Rf500 million (US$32 million) deal with the Malaysian company Nexbis to develop a new border control system in the Maldives.
According to Sun Online, the ACC has this morning filed a case against the Immigration Department alleging that its staff were intimidated whilst attempting to conduct their investigations.
ACC Vice President Muavviz Rasheed stated that investigators were locked in the building and that the lights and the air conditioning were turned off.
“It is a crime to obstruct ACC in its efforts to carry out its responsibilities. There are punishments for this. So we will take action according to the law. We will not be silent when people attempt to dishonour our authority in this manner,” ACC Vice President Muavviz Rasheed told Sun.
Assistant Controller of the Immigration Department Ibrahim Ashraf told Minivan News today that this intimidation did not happen, rather that the incident alluded to by Muavviz occurred when ACC investigators attempted to remain in the building past the office’s working hours.
“They wanted to stay in the building past the end of working hours – we have been instructed not to do any overtime because of financial constraints. This resulted in havoc,” said Ashraf.
Ashraf said that he had spoken to the person responsible for locking the building at the end of each day and had been assured that the doors had not been locked with ACC employees inside.
Ashraf stated that the ACC had attempted to search the offices without first obtaining a court order and without informing immigration staff. In addition he said that the ACC wished to search employees’ personal lockers.
He said that the ACC had eventually been granted a the court order at midnight, after which its investigators returned to the Velanaage headquarters.
It was at this point that the ACC confiscated the majority of the laptops which Ahsraf stated were part of the Nexbis project. He added, however, that the new Nexbis software was not yet installed on the confiscated computers.
Ashraf also stated that the ACC visited the residence of a senior department figure at around 5:00am to confiscate a laptop after the court order had expired.
The ACC began to investigate the bidding process by which the deal had been awarded soon after it was announce that Nexbis had won the tender in November 2010.
In late 2011, the commission forwarded cases against the Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim and Director General of the Finance Ministry Saamee Ageel, to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PG), alleging that the pair had abused their authority for undue financial gain in granting the contract to Nexbis.
After the ACC ordered work on the project halted, the Civil Court ruled that the commission did not have the authority to make such an order. The ACC subsequently challenged this ruling in the High Court.
The ACC President Hassan Luthfee told Minivan News last week that a decision was anticipated by the end of May. He hoped the High Court would “delineate” the role of the ACC.
Both the President and Vice President of the ACC were unavailable for comment at the time of press.
Clarification on the powers of the ACC would alleviate confusion which has also arisen in the Thilafushi-Heavy Load reclamation project.
Heavy Load, a company run by the family of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Interim Chairman Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik, came under the ACC’s radar after similar complaints regarding this project’s tender process.
Moosa claimed at the time that the ACC was not politically impartial. At a press conference today, MDP Deputy Chairperson Mohamed ‘Inthi’ Imthiyaz was asked about yesterday’s raid, responding: “A series of mini-coups follow coup d’etat. I believe this is one of those mini-coups”.
Last week, details emerged that the first phase of the Nexbis project had been completed even as legal issues remained unresolved.
This first phase had reportedly involved a significant financial outlay by the company, which has previously threatened legal action should it incur losses as a result of delays to the project.
In the preceding week, the High Court had ordered an injunction halting any further work on the project pending the outcome of the ACC’s appeal on the Civil Court ruling.
Assistant Controller Ashraf expressed his concern that hindrances to the new border control system will have ramifications that go far beyond political turf-wars.
“Whoever is doing this to jeopardise the image of the Immigration Department needs to understand that the consequences may be disastrous. I don’t want the Maldives to become another Bali or Mumbai,” he said.
“They can take action against corruption and let the border control project continue. We are becoming a weak spot in the region. I have serious concerns.”
“We have a population of 300,000 which includes 100,000 foreigners. We have to be sure that they do not have criminal records, that they are not fugitives hiding in paradise,” added Ashraf.