Transparency Maldives call for criminalisation of Illicit enrichment

A local anti-corruption NGO has called for the criminalisation of illicit enrichment to effectively address the problem of high-level corruption in the Maldives.

Speaking at a press conference today, Transparency Maldives’ (TM) project coordinator Fazla Abdul Samad said that a comprehensive asset declaration system should also be put in place in order to identify and prosecute cases of illicit enrichment.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) – which the Maldives acceded to in 2007 – defines illicit enrichment as a “significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or lawful income.”

“As a signatory state to the UNCAC, the Maldives is recommended to criminalise illicit enrichment as an anti-corruption measure,” said TM.

According to a corruption barometer survey conducted by TM in 2013, 83 percent of respondents believe that corruption is a problem at the public sector.

The parliament was perceived as the most corrupt institution in the country, followed by political parties and the judiciary.

“However, despite the public perception and widespread media coverage of high profile public officials with allegations of illicit enrichment, it is not reflected in the number of investigation, prosecutions and convictions carried out by the relevant state bodies,” the NGO said.

According to information obtained by TM from the prosecutor general’s office, only three cases of bribery have been prosecuted between 2010 and 2014, of which one case ended in a conviction.

During the same period, 37 cases of undue advantage by government employees were prosecuted but only one case had been proved in the courts.

“Successful convictions are low and have not been forthcoming largely because ill-gotten wealth through bribery and other corrupt means is currently difficult in the Maldives as there is not legal provision criminalising illicit enrichment,” said TM.

A 2012 World Bank study showed that a number of countries with illicit enrichment legislation has been successful in recovering ill-gotten wealth.

TM has also started an online petition calling on high level state officials to declare their assets to the public.

In March this year, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) submitted 13 amendments to attorney general’s office for inclusion in the new penal code, including the criminalisation of illicit enrichment.

While the amendment was not submitted to the parliament, TM said discussions are underway between ACC and the attorney general’s office regarding the criminalisation of illicit enrichment.

The new penal code was due to come into effect in April, but the pro-government majority in parliament postponed its enactment to July 16, 2015.