Minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) Leader MP Abdulla Yameen called on the government today to investigate allegations of US$800 million worth of blackmarket oil trade by the State Trading Organisation (STO) while he was chairman of the state-owned enterprise.
During parliamentary debate on a resolution proposed by MP Mohamed Musthafa demanding an investigation into the allegations, Yameen conceded that STO did sell oil to Burma “but if you claim that the trade was illegal, you have to prove it first.”
“This was done by forming a company in a country where such matters are most closely monitored,” he said. “That company is audited by STO auditors. An illegal business would not be allowed to operate in Singapore. This was not a secret trade.”
Yameen added that STO senior officials alleged to be involved in the oil trade were still employed by the government: “They are now in high posts in the MDP,” he said.
“So if you dare to investigate this, by all means go ahead,” he continued. “I encourage that this be investigated. The other thing I want to say is that I have now become impatient. Even if they stack US$800 million worth of documents on one end of the scale, there is no way they would be able to prove [any wrongdoing].
“The documents are with the government. We did not take documents home with us when we left office,” he said.
Yameen, brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and long-serving Trade Minister in his cabinet, claimed that the administration possessed a list of senior officials of the previous government who had purchased assets overseas.
“The government will have that list now,” he said. “Why is it that they won’t make it public? I know that this work was done under the World Bank’s stolen assets recovery programme [StAR]. This list will have people who are now helping this government, not anyone else. Why don’t you release the list?”
The MP for Mulaku claimed that the government has paid “over a million dollars” to forensic accounting firm Grant Thornton, without uncovering any evidence to implicate Yameen.
“In such investigations, forensic accountants are given two or three weeks to complete their work,” he said. “[But] this has now been dragged out for over a year.”
Yameen said that he was “ready to sue” for defamation if a final report “under seal and signature of Grant Thornton” was made public.
“But there’s no way to file this suit because no official document has been released,” he continued. “All that’s been released are draft reports without any signature or seal that can be taken to court.”
Yameen added that “the US$800 million worth of trade was done with back-to-back LCs (lines of credit) in Singapore based on trust between one bank and another.”
“All the bank documentation is there,” he said, claiming that Grant Thornton had cleared out all the “invoices and documents” from STO Singapore so that “there’s not even one photocopy left.”
“How can eight or nine years worth of documents of a government company be taken like this?” he asked. “I know this for a fact.”
The right of individuals to be considered innocent until proven guilty was “a sacred provision” in the Maldivian constitution, he said.
During the heated debate that followed, Former Finance Minister Gasim Ibrahim urged the government to allow the allegations to be investigated either by police or the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) as “they are the institutions that are legally empowered to conduct investigations.”
“I don’t believe this case should be debated in parliament,” said Gasim, arguing that the constitution protected the rights of the accused.
MP Eva Abdulla of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile observed that the audit report of the State Trading Organisation (STO) had noted that about Rf11 million (US$80,000) in local currency was released to Emerald Resort Pvt Ltd as loan facilities between April 1, 2003 to April 3, 2005 to be paid back in US dollars.
“The same report noted that STO imported medical equipment without a bidding process at a much higher price than [the equipment] was available for,” she continued.
Eva also referred to the audit reports of the Maldives Customs Service, which revealed that luxury yachting company Sultans of the Seas in 2007 had forged documents to evade import duties for a yacht.
“After that the audit report of the presidential palace Theemuge noted that Rf104 million was given out as assistance,” she said. “From that, 50,000 Singapore dollars were spent for medical assistance to the [former President’s] family members. And US$20,000 for a member of the People’s Majlis. And so on until Rf100 million was reached. It’s not just the US$800 million dollar case we want to investigate. We want this to be looked into.”
The MDP MP for Galolhu North revealed that the Presidential Commission was currently investigating over 25 similar cases of corruption and misappropriation of state funds by the former government.
“Honourable Speaker, whether it is me [facing corruption allegations], the Deputy Speaker, the leader of a fragmented and unraveling party, the brother of a deposed ruler, we want to make certain that these investigations will go ahead and that we can have justice,” she said. “We want to stop looking back as a nation and breathe freely. We can only do that when we face these cases of corruption and find out the truth.”