JP spokesperson ‘unlawfully leased’ island to ex-minister

The opposition Jumhooree Party spokesperson Ali Solih has been accused of unlawfully leasing an island to a company owned by a cabinet minister during his tenure as the minister of state for fisheries and agriculture.

The anti-corruption watchdog said Solih had leased an uninhabited island in Shaviyani Atoll to a company owned by then-minister of health Mariyam Shakeela.

The constitution bars cabinet ministers from actively engaging in a business, buying or leasing any state property or from having financial interests between the state and another party.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), in a report released today, said Solih had abused his authority in leasing the island to Shakeela’s company.

Solih was appointed to the fisheries ministry by former president Dr Mohamed Waheed in 2012.

The ACC said Solih had not consulted the fisheries ministry’s legal department in signing a contract. The department had informed Solih the transaction was illegal in a memo, but he told the ACC he was not aware that a memo had been issued.

Solih did not cancel the contract even when he found out the company belonged to the health minister, but considered transferring the contract to a new company, the ACC said.

The managing director of the new company was a shareholder in the company the island was first leased to, the ACC said. The act constituted abuse of authority to confer undue advantages and if convicted, is punishable with three years in jail, house arrest or banishment.

President Abdulla Yameen appointed Shakeela as health minister, but she lost her cabinet portfolio when pro-government MPs rejected her nomination in a cabinet shuffle in August.

It is not yet clear if the ACC will seek to prosecute Shakeela for continuing to hold shares in a company as health minister.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Solih said he was not aware whether a cabinet minister held shares in the company the island was leased to.

“It was not my responsibility to find out who owned shares in the company, but as soon as I found out that this contravened with the law, I asked the legal department to look into it,” he said.

“This is the government’s method of intimidating people who are working against their tyrannical regime,” he added.

The JP had split from the ruling coalition in January citing authoritarianism. Senior members of the party have launched an anti government campaign along with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and the Adhaalath Party.

Two senior JP officials are now facing prosecution on criminal charges. JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and JP council member Sobah Rasheed have been charged with terrorism for allegedly inciting violence during an anti-government demonstration on May Day.

The charges under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act carry a sentence of between 10 to 15 years in prison.

The pair are abroad at present. Sobah said he is seeking political asylum.

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim has been in Bangkok since late April. The tax authority in May froze Gasim’s Villa Group’s accounts claiming the company owed the government US$90.4million in unpaid rent, fees and fines.

Gasim insists the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

 

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Former presidential advisor accuses tourism minister, finance minister of corruption in Fushidhiggaru deal

Former presidential advisor Ahmed ‘Sandhaanu’ Didi has accused Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad of illegally selling off Fushidhiggaru Lagoon in Kaafu Atoll without the knowledge of then – President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

Speaking at a press conference today, Didi showed an agreement signed between the government and Ukranian company Prime Capital Pvt Ltd during Waheed’s administration on developing Fushidhiggaru.

The former Special Envoy on Human Rights claimed Waheed only discovered news of the deal when the investors attempted to register a joint venture company at the Ministry of Economic Development, but said both ministers denied the move at the time.

“I was at the president’s office then. Dr Waheed summoned Adeeb and Jihad and asked whether Fushidhiggaru lagoon had been sold off to a foreign party and they denied that any such thing was done,” he told the press.

Neither Adeeb nor Jihad were responding to calls at the time of press.

The Fushidhiggaru deal first came to light during the 2013 presidential elections, when current Home Minister Umar Naseer claimed Adeeb had sold off the lagoon without a transparent and public bidding process.

JP coalition claimed that the agreement was compiled, signed and stamped without legal advice from the Attorney General, in the late hours of January 18, 2013, a Friday night.

At the time, Adeeb denied the existence of an “official” lease agreement and dismissed the allegations as an attempt at “political assassination.”

Despite Adeeb’s denial, local media in September 2013 reported that the Economic Ministry had refused to register a joint venture company for the development of Fushidhiggaru lagoon with Prime Capital.

The company subsequently filed a lawsuit against the Economic Ministry at the Civil Court.

In a verdict (Dhivehi) delivered on July 15, Civil Court Judge Ali Naseer ordered the government to register the joint venture company within a seven-day period, sign a master lease agreement within five days of registration, “and [to] make all arrangements undertaken by the government in accordance with the agreement.”

Didi today said he has submitted relevant documents and letters to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Anti-corruption Commission and Maldives Police Services requesting the matter be investigated.

“This is the most deceitful and biggest embezzlement in recent Maldivian history,” he said.

“I am aware that by talking about this I am endangering my own safety, but this must be done for the future generation. Prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him advised us to reveal the truth no matter how bitter it may be.”

Didi was imprisoned in 2003 for writing and distributing a newsletter called “Sandhaanu” which criticized President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s policies.

Former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim in November released a report implicating Adeeb in a US$6million corruption scandal.

Adeeb has denied allegations, and accused Niyaz of colluding with MP and former Deputy Speaker of parliament Ahmed Nazim in releasing the audit report. Adeeb suggested Nazim had a personal vendetta against him following his refusal to support Nazim for the Majlis Speakership in May.

Niyaz was subsequently dismissed from the post through a surprise amendment to the Audit Act, and Hassan Ziyath, the brother of an official implicated alongside Adeeb, was appointed as the new Auditor General.

The Criminal Court on October 26 withheld Nazim’s passport on allegations of blackmail while the Supreme Court today held the first hearing into an appeal of the High Court’s acquittal of Nazim from four counts of corruption.

Photo: President Abdulla Yameen’s cabinet



Related to this story

Court overrules government on lagoon development joint venture

Singaporean company sues three government ministries over lagoon lease

Tourism Minister implicated in US$6million corruption scandal

Supreme Court to hear corruption charges against MP Ahmed Nazim

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President Yameen appoints members to ACC

President Abdulla Yameen has appointed new members to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for a five-year term.

Along with previous members Hassan Luthfee and Muaviz Rasheed – who were appointed for a second five-year term – President Yameen presented letters of appointment to Aminath Minna, Yazumeed Mohamed, and Sofwath Mohamed at a ceremony at the President’s Office yesterday.

The oath of office was administered by Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Areef. Parliament approved the president’s nominees last month.

Luthfee and Muaviz meanwhile retained their posts as chair and deputy chair, respectively.

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Audit uncovers corruption in MNBC sales agent agreement with BIG

A special audit of the defunct Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) has uncovered corruption in a deal designating Business Image Group Pvt Ltd (BIG) the former state broadcaster’s exclusive sales agent with a 15 percent commission from the main income items.

The audit report (Dhivehi) made public on Thursday (April 17) revealed that an agreement was signed with BIG on March 7, 2010 to formulate a business plan and provide marketing consultancy.

In addition to making BIG the exclusive sales agent for a five-year period, MNBC agreed to pay the company a monthly fee of MVR25,000 (US$1,621) as well as 15 percent of all income generated through BIG.

Auditors found that the contract was awarded to BIG without a transparent and competitive bidding process.

While an announcement seeking a marketing consultant was made on January 3, 2010, the audit report noted that it made no mention of either an exclusive sales agent or a sales commission.

“Therefore, the bidding process was carried out in a way to facilitate undue benefit to a particular party,” the report stated.

The report further noted that MNBC did not share any documentation from the bidding and evaluation processes with the audit office.

In the absence of any documentation with the exception of the MNBC board’s decision to make BIG the exclusive sales agent, the report stated that auditors were unable to ascertain whether a cost-benefit analysis was carried out.

While MNBC’s income increased in 2010 and 2011, the report explained that there was no measure to evaluate BIG’s performance or assess the company’s contribution to the revenue growth.

MNBC was formed in January 2009 as a 100 percent government-owned corporation by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The television and radio channels operated by the company were handed over to the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) – created by an act of parliament in June 2010 – in the wake of the controversial transfer of presidential power on February, 7, 2012, during which the state broadcaster was stormed by mutinying police and soldiers.

The audit meanwhile revealed that as of August 2012 BIG was paid a total of MVR5.78 million (US$374,837) as sales commission.

Auditors were unable to verify from the available documentation – payment vouchers and invoices submitted by the company – that the commission was provided from additional income generated as a result of BIG’s work.

Moreover, BIG sought a further MVR6.7 million (US$439,040) in October 2012. The release of the funds was however halted on instruction from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) pending the completion of an investigation.

Auditors concluded that BIG was not owed a commission from income generated from public announcements, SMS, my tones, advertisements, and airtime sales.

Based on the findings, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim recommended that the case should be investigated by the ACC and that action should be taken against the officials responsible for drawing up the agreement in a manner detrimental to the interests of MNBC.

Meanwhile, in March this year, three pro-government Malé City councillors alleged corruption in the awarding of the ‘Clean Green Malé’ project to BIG by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party-majority (MDP) council. The allegations by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives councillors were denied by those of the opposition party.

Other cases

The special audit also flagged four other cases of ostensibly corrupt practices at MNBC.

In January 2011, the Finance Ministry arranged a MVR47.8 million (US$3 million) loan from the State Bank of India to settle unpaid bills and develop an uplink system.

However, the uplink system project was halted after imported equipment was not paid for, auditors found. Of the US$3 million loan provided to MNBC, only US$127,000 was spent on the project for an advance payment and bank charges.

After paying an upfront fee, management fee, and interest payments, the report noted that the rest of the loan was used to pay salaries for MNBC staff and cover other recurrent expenditure.

As 85 percent of the loan was used for recurrent expenditures, the audit concluded that the purpose for which the loan was obtained was not served.

Moreover, as a result of MNBC’s failure to repay the loan in monthly installments at the end of the grace period in February 2012, the report noted that the State Bank of India liquidated the deposit kept at the bank by the Finance Ministry.

In another case, auditors found that MNBC provided MVR1.5 million to an individual in September 2011 to exchange for US$100,000.

While the individual was not licensed to exchange foreign currency, the state broadcaster has not received either the dollars or the rufiyaa as of the report’s publication.

As MNBC asked police to investigate the matter five months after the dollars were due, the audit office concluded that the corporation’s senior officials and board members were negligent and responsible for the loss.

The auditor general recommended an ACC investigation of the case and action against responsible officials.

In a third case highlighted in the report, auditors discovered that MNBC was owed MVR10 million (US$648,508) as of March 2012 for sales as well as services rendered.

As MNBC has since been dissolved, the report noted that no efforts were underway to recover the money owed.

Lastly, auditors found that the Finance Ministry provided MVR10 million to MNBC ahead of the 17th SAARC summit held in Addu City in November 2011 after the state broadcaster informed the ministry that it lacked funds in the budget to cover the summit.

In order to arrange the funds, the report revealed that the Finance Ministry decided to take MVR15 million (US$972,762) as dividends from the state-owned Kooddoo Fisheries Maldives Ltd.

A MVR10 million cheque sent to the ministry by Kooddoo was given to MNBC without depositing the funds in the public bank account as required by the Public Finance Act, the report revealed.

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ACC uncovers corruption in flagship housing programme

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has uncovered corruption in the flagship-housing programme Veshifahi Malé, with officials accused of violating the programme’s publicised vetting procedures in grading applications.

The Veshi Fahi Male’ de-congestion programme was a project of the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) under its manifesto pledge to provide affordable housing.

The project was launched on November 10, 2010 to ease congestion in the capital and develop the Greater Male’ Region, composed of Hulhumale’, Vili-Male’, Thilafushi industrial island and Gulhifalhu.

In a statement on Thursday, the ACC ordered the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure to invalidate applications of 139 of 448 individuals who had been deemed eligible for flats under the category C.

Long-time residents of Malé City are eligible for flats under the C category.

Officials had accepted incomplete and or falsified information and failed to cross check the validity of documents in grading applications in the categories of period of residency in Malé, period registered on Malé City’s municipal roster, duration of marriage and employment, salary, spouse’s salary and number of children under 18, the ACC said.

According to the ACC, of the 139 invalid applications, 111 of the applicants or their spouses already owned a plot of land measuring 600 square feet or had already received a flat under a separate government housing programme.

A further 33 were not even registered on the Malé City’s municipal roster. An additional eleven had submitted false information and the police have been asked to take action, the ACC said.

The ACC has ordered the Ministry of Housing to annul the list of individuals eligible for flats under category C and restart the grading process.

Approximately 125,000 people are believed to reside in about 16,000 households in Male’- the total number of households in the Maldives is estimated to be 46,000.

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No legal authority for ACC to prevent signing of Nexbis contract, Supreme Court rules

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) did not have the legal authority to order the Department of Immigration and Emigration not to sign a contract with Malaysian mobile security firm Nexbis in 2010, to establish a border control system (BCS).

The apex court today overturned a previous High Court judgment, which itself overturned a Civil Court ruling last year declaring that the ACC did not have legal authority to terminate the contract signed with Nexbis in November 2010.

However, the High Court judgment was appealed by Nexbis at the Supreme Court, which today ruled in favour of the Malaysian company.

The controversial BCS project was terminated by the government in August this year and replaced by the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) provided by the US government on August 20.

According to local media reports, today’s Supreme Court judgment was delivered with the unanimous consent of all seven Justices on the court bench. However, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adnan noted different points to the other five.

Delivering the majority decision at today’s hearing, Justice Abdulla Saeed reportedly said that the High Court violated judicial and legal principles in overturning the lower court verdict, noting that the ACC’s order was made after the agreement was signed.

Referring to domestic contract laws and the ACC Act, the Supreme Court upheld the Civil Court ruling, which had determined that the ACC did not have the legal authority to order the Immigration Department to terminate the BCS project based on alleged corrupt dealings.

The Supreme Court had also previously overturned a High Court injunction blocking the implementation of the BCS project, prompting ACC Chair Hassan Luthfy to claim that the independent body had been rendered powerless.

If this institution is simply an investigative body, then there is no purpose for our presence,” Luthfy said in September last year. “Even the police investigate cases, don’t they? So it is more cost effective for this state to have only the police to investigate cases instead of the ACC.”

Luthfy contended that the ruling had rendered the ACC powerless to prevent corruption, even if it was carried out on a large scale.

“In other countries, Anti Corruption Commissions have the powers of investigation, prevention and creating awareness. If an institution responsible for fighting corruption does not have these powers then it is useless,” he argued.

Corruption allegations

In December 2011, the ACC submitted corruption cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office (AGO) against former Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim and Director General of the Finance Ministry, Saamee Ageel, claiming the pair abused their authority for undue financial gain in awarding Nexbis the MVR 500 million (US$39 million) BSC project.

Ex-controller Ilyas – brother-in-law of President Dr Mohamed Waheed and current state minister of defence and national security – pleaded not guilty to the charges at the first hearing of the trial on April 10 this year.

Meanwhile, on December 25, 2012, parliament voted unanimously to instruct the government to terminate the BSC agreement with Nexbis.

All 74 MPs in attendance voted in favour of a Finance Committee recommendation following a probe into the potential financial burden on the state as a result of the deal.

In September 2012, the ACC informed the committee that the deal would cost the Maldives MVR 2.5 billion (US$162 million) in potential lost revenue over the lifetime of the contract.

The Finance Committee meanwhile found that the government had agreed to waive taxes for Nexbis despite the executive lacking legal authority for tax exemption.

Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US government in March this year to provide a border control system to the Maldives, representatives from Nexbis told Minivan News that the company was uncertain what the MOU would mean for the group’s own border control technology.  The technology has been in use at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) since September 2012.

“We do remain confident that the Maldivian government will honour its obligations under the 2010 concession agreement,” read a statement from lawyers representing the company.

“We are confident also of the support we have received by the Immigration Department in implementing and fully operating the system, but remain cautious of individuals that continue to pose obstacles to prevent the success of this project is stemming the national security issues faced by the Maldives today.”

Concession agreement

Under the concession agreement signed with the Maldives government, Nexbis levied a fee of US$2 from passengers in exchange for installing, maintaining and upgrading the country’s immigration system.  The company also agreed a fee of US$15 for every work permit card issued under the system.

Nexbis in July 2013 invoiced the Department of Immigration and Emigration for US$2.8 million (MVR 43 million) for the installation and operation of its border control technology in line with the concession agreement – requesting payment be settled within 30 days.

Nexbis’ lawyers argued that the company had expected the fee to be included in the taxes and surcharges applied to airline tickets in and out of the country, according to local media.  However, lawyers argued these payments had not been made due to the government’s “neglect” in notifying the relevant international authorities.

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Adhaalath Party head accused of attempting to influence ACC investigation into GMR

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla attempted to influence the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC)’s investigation into alleged corruption in the previous government’s aborted airport privatisation deal, a commission member alleged to local media outlet CNM.

The ACC member, on condition of anonymity, reportedly alleged that the commission during its investigation came under heavy criticism from Sheikh Imran over its refusal to tailor the report to his liking.

The ACC’s findings, which were published last week, concluded that there was no corruption in the airport privatisation deal, days prior to GMR claiming US$1.4 billion in compensation for “wrongful termination” of its 25 year concession agreement.

“He met with me on two occasions. The first meeting happened just a day before they were to have a big night of protests. He requested that the ACC help the national movement’s efforts to drive GMR away and to speed up our investigation and conclude it in such a fashion that would assist their efforts,” CNM quoted the commission member as saying.

The second meeting took place a day before the national movement’s protests concluded, he claimed.

According to the unnamed commission member, Imran requested a five-minute meeting.

“On the second night he told me that he hoped the ACC would include at least one phrase that would be helpful to the national movement,” he said.

ACC President Hassan Luthfee had his phone switched off when contacted regarding the allegations today.

Sheikh Imran and national movement steering committee member and spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Last Monday, the ACC ruled out corruption in the awarding of a concession agreement in June 2010 to a consortium of Indian infrastructure giant GMR and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhard (MAHB) to develop and manage INIA.

In a 61-page investigative report (Dhivehi), the ACC concluded that the bidding process was conducted fairly by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and that the GMR-MAHB consortium won the contract by proposing the highest net present value of the concession fee.

The ACC further concluded that the awarding of the contract did not contravene amendments brought to the Public Finance Act requiring parliamentary approval for such agreements.

The amendments were published in the government gazette after the concession agreement was signed, the ACC noted.

In December 2012, shortly after the protests led by Sheikh Imran Abdulla under the self-titled ‘national movement’ against GMR concluded, the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan abruptly terminated the agreement and gave GMR a seven day ultimatum to leave the country.

“The government has given a seven day notice to GMR to leave the airport. The agreement states that GMR should be given a 30 day notice but the government believes that since the contract is void, it need not be followed,” then-Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor said in a press conference announcing the decision.

Shukoor claimed that the government reached the decision after considering “technical, financial and economic” issues surrounding the agreement.

Criticism

Responding to the ACC report in local media, Sheikh Imran Abdulla described the findings as a “slap in the peoples’ face.”

He claimed that the public now resented the ACC due to its findings and that the commission had lost credibility as a result of the report.

Imran contended that the report would facilitate the return of GMR should the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) win the September presidential election.

Responding to the ACC’s findings, the government of President Waheed insisted that the report would have no impact on its legal position to declare the GMR concession agreement void, contending that President Waheed’s decision had nothing to do with corruption allegations levelled by “some people”.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News following the release of the report that the contract was declared void from the beginning due to the negative impact on state finances in 2012.

“Back before the government took back control of the airport from GMR, the reason we gave was that the deal was bleeding the country’s economy. We were paying GMR to keep them here,” he told Minivan News at the time.

Masood said that despite “speculation from some people” concerning corruption by the former administration in signing the deal, the present government was not responsible for filing a case with the ACC.

He added that the government’s concerns over the deal had been in relation to the imposition of a US$25 Airport Development Charge (ADC) by GMR that was blocked by the Civil Court in 2011 after the then-opposition DQP filed a case on the matter.

The DQP, now part of President Waheed’s coalition government, attempted to block payment of the charge on the grounds that it was effectively a tax not approved by parliament.

In response, then MDP government agreed to deduct the ADC from the concession fees payable, while GMR later offered to exempt Maldives nationals from paying the ADC as it moved to appeal the verdict.

However, former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned under controversial circumstances on February 7, 2012 amidst a violent mutiny by elements of the police and military before the Civil Court verdict was appealed at the High Court.

Consequently, in the first quarter of 2012, Dr Waheed’s government received US$525,355 of an expected US$8.7 million, after the deduction of the ADC. That was followed by a US$1.5 million bill for the second quarter, after the ADC payable eclipsed the revenue due the government.

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Maldives Media Council submitting case against President’s Office “to create a free media”

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has voted to submit a case against the President’s Office to “create a free media” in light of the discriminatory treatment of Raajje TV.

The President’s Office is violating equal rights by not inviting the opposition-aligned TV station Raajje TV to events and has not been adhering to the MMC’s requests that it give equal opportunities to all media, the MMC Secretariat told Minivan News (April 9).

The case will be submitted to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office April 10.

“MMC members have voted to submit the case. Members have a strong feeling that it is a necessary step to take in order to create a free media in the Maldives,” said the MMC Secretariat.

The MMC has been very active the past two months trying to solve these problems and is now sending the case to the PG, Raajje TV Deputy Chief Executive Officer Abdulla Yamin told Minivan News.

The President’s Office has not been inviting Raajje TV to press conferences, has denied reporters entry press events in the President’s Office, and has not sent the channel any government press statements, Yamin claimed.

The President’s Office also asked government ministries and state-owned companies not to give information to Raajje TV and for these companies to stop providing private sponsorship to the media outlet.

Yamin said that they had observed this treatment was particular only to their channel.

“The President’s Office said they have not invited us because it is their privilege to decide whether to invite Raajje TV or not,” said Yamin.

“We are talking about rights granted in the constitution, not a privilege. There must be a situation [in the Maldives] where independent media can run.

“Article 28 of the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of the press and article 29 assures the right to freedom of information,” Yamin declared.

Yamin explained that the MCC had acted as a mediator to try and resolve the lack of cooperation shown by the President’s Office to Raajje TV.

“The President’s Office said if we do certain things they will cooperate. However, then the President’s Office is forcing their influence on our editorial policy,” said Yamin.

“We are not going to negotiate our constitutionally guaranteed right to information,” he added.

Ongoing government discrimination

Raajje TV filed a case against the President’s Office in the Civil Court in September 2012, complaining that the station had been boycotted from official events. Yamin expects the civil court to issue their verdict later this week.

Raajje TV also submitted a case to the parliamentary committee on government accountability regarding the president’s office discriminating against the media outlet. Parliament invited the president’s office to attend the committee twice, but never received a response, according to Yamin.

Additionally, Raajje TV lodged a complaint against the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) with the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), alleging it was “using its power to give benefits” to other TV channels by providing them funding.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) was contacted by the ACC regarding the matter, but did not respond, according to Yamin.

“The MBC have not done anything regarding our right to information. They should be working on these issues to make sure rights are assured,” said Yamin.

Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Jameel Ahmed previously named Raajje TV as an “enemy of state” in a press conference held in July, the same day on which the Maldives Police Services publicly stated its refusal to provide cooperation or protection to the channel.

Raajje TV also filed a case against the Maldives Police Services in September 2012 over their decision to deny cooperation or protection to the channel. In February 2013, the Civil Court ruled that the decision by the Maldives Police Service to cease cooperating with Raajje TV was unconstitutional.

Dismissing the police argument that it had the sole discretion to decide who to invite to press conferences and functions, the court stated that the action more resembled a deliberate attempt to limit the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of media and the right to information.

Raajje TV believes this verdict will apply to the President’s Office as well.

“If the court is fair and balanced a similar verdict will come. I believe the court won’t be that corrupt because the constitution and laws are clear. It’s written in black and white,” Yamin said.

Raajje TV is one of the five private broadcasters in the country and is the only television station aligned with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The TV station has come under substantial pressure and criticism from groups including the government and political parties aligned with it.

RaajjeTV has been the subject of continuous verbal attacks by the state following the transfer of power in February.

In early August 2012, Raajje TV’s control room was sabotaged by intruders.

Press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders at the time condemned this attack, stating “This targeted and well-prepared operation was the foreseeable culmination of the new government’s escalating verbal attacks on Raajje TV. How the authorities respond will be seen as a test of their commitment to media pluralism.”

The President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission were not responding to calls at time of press.

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ACC probing alleged ‘jewelry deal’ between Zakat fund donor and Islamic Minister’s wife

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has said it has begun probing into an alleged business deal struck between Firoz Ghulam Khan – who promised to donate a sum of US$ 10,000 to the Zakat fund last year – and the wife of Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed, Fathimath Afiyaa.

In September 2012, during a press conference held at the ministry, Khan, a Dubai-based Indian Muslim businessman, announced that he would donate a sum of US$10,000 to the Zakat fund every month in a bid to support the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, headed by Sheikh Shaheem.

“Zakat (Alms) is not something given as charity. This is something I am obliged to do. Zakat money is something that should be given to the needy. I have told Minister Shaheem that I will deposit the money to the fund in the first week of every month,” he was quoted saying in the media.

Speaking to Minivan News on Wednesday (March 13), President of the Anti Corruption Commission Hassan Luthfee confirmed that the case was being probed.

“We first noticed it in the media and began our investigation, and later we also received a complaint from an individual. We are now investigating the matter,” he said.

According to local newspaper Haveeru, the business deal was struck on December 25, just three months after announcement of Zakat fund donation, and involved the formation a company under the name ‘Pure Gold Jewelry Maldives Private Limited’, which intended to sell jewelry to resorts.

Citing a paper it claims to have received from the Ministry of Economic Development, Haveeru claimed that the company had 1500 shares in the name of Shaheem’s wife, while Firoz Ghulam Khan’s net share was 103,500. Kareem Firoz had shares totaling up to 45,000.

Speaking to Minivan News, an official from Company Registration Department of Ministry of Economic Development confirmed that a company under the name Pure Gold Jewelry Maldives Private Limited was set up involving foreign parties. However, he did not reveal any details of the parties.

According to article 15(a) of the Prevention of Corruption Act passed in 2000, it is an offence for a Minister or his/her spouse to indulge in business with foreign parties.

Article 15(a) of the act states – “The Chief Justice, or the Speaker of Parliament, or a member of cabinet, or a cabinet minister, or anyone having a position equivalent to that, or the Auditor General, or the Commissioner of Elections, or a Judge of High Court, or an Atoll Chief, or the wife or the husband of any such person, or any state employee which the President decides so and their spouses having private business relations is an offence.”

According to the Article 15(c) of the act, punishment for such an offence includes imprisonment, house arrest or banishment for a period not more than 3 years.

Minister Shaheem – who was placed among the top 500 most influential Muslims in 2010 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISC) Jordan – was earlier also accused of sexual misconduct in a video broadcast by local media Raajje TV, in which he was seen speaking with a figure in a hijab before leading her through a doorway.

However the Minister denied the allegations claiming that the video was fabricated.

Minister Shaheem’s phone was switched off at the time of press.

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