NYT report claims government and StAR seeking $400m in stolen assets

A report in major US newspaper The New York Times has claimed that the Maldives government is seeking to seize US$400 million allegedly stolen by the former government, assisted in its recovery efforts by the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR).

StAR is a joint initiative of the World Bank and the United Nations, which claims to have recovered US$5 billion over the past 16 years. It estimates conservatively that between US$20-40 billion is stolen annually from developing countries “through bribery, misappropriation and corruption – about 15 percent to 30 percent of aid to the developing world.”

In the Maldives, a  number of politically-connected figures, including former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, had now become the targets of  “increasingly coordinated efforts to repatriate misappropriated funds,” the NYT report said.

“Results to date have been encouraging, but much more can be done,” the NYT said, citing “officials and development experts.”

Representatives of the former government have steadfastly denied the existence of stolen funds. Gayoom’s assistant and former chief government spokesperson Mohamed Hussain Shareef (Mundhu) told Minivan News in December that  “there is no evidence to link Gayoom to corruption”, and urged accusers “to show us the evidence.”

“If you have the details make them public, instead of repeating allegations,” he said. “[The former president] has said, ‘go ahead and take a look, and if you find anything make it public.’”

Friday’s report in the NYT described the Auditor General’s report, published in 2009, as “a guidebook on self-enrichment.”

“An estimated US$9.5 million was spent buying and delivering a luxury yacht from Germany for the president; $17 million was spent on renovations of the presidential palace and family houses. Mr Gayoom built a saltwater swimming pool, a badminton court and a gymnasium, and he bought 11 speed boats and at least 55 cars — including the country’s only Mercedes-Benz,” the NYT noted.

“And the list goes on, from Loro Piana suits and trousers to watches and hefty bills for medical services in Singapore for ‘important people and their families. There was a US$70,000 trip to Dubai by the first lady in 2007, a US$20,000 bill for a member of the family of the former president to stay a week at the Grand Hyatt in Singapore. On one occasion, diapers were sent to the islands by airfreight from Britain for Mr Gayoom’s grandson.”

The Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem was dismissed in late March by an opposition-controlled parliament (Majlis) following a no-confidence motion and allegations of corruption.

Naeem, who was himself appointed by the former president and a then-ruling party majority Majlis, claimed at the time that the charges were an attempt to discredit his office and prevent him from reclaiming the government’s money stored in overseas bank accounts.

“A lot of the government’s money was taken through corrupt [means] and saved in the banks of England, Switzerland, Singapore and Malaysia,” Naeem said in March, during his first press conference in eight months.

The Maldives government has meanwhile “begun the paper chase”, Friday’s NYT report claimed, “but it lacks the resources to unravel a complex trail that it assumes runs through the British Channel Islands, Singapore and Malaysia.”

“Much of the looted money ends up in complex corporate structures and bank accounts held by associates offshore, making it hard to identify the beneficial owners. This raises the issue of tightening regulation of service providers and of the legal firms that create front companies that invest in assets like real estate and art,” the report noted.

However, “large banks now recognise the issue” and were increasingly willing to cooperate with international financial investigators.

“Eleven leading lenders, including UBS and HSBC, have formed the Wolfsberg Group, an association to develop standards to counter money laundering and terrorist financing,” the NYT said, adding that governments were  being urged to provided lists of “politically exposed persons, those potentially subject to corruption because of their jobs.”

The NYT spoke to Finance Minister Ali Hashim, who said that “the banks and other institutions came from abroad, and lowered their standards to the standards that were in the country.”

Foreign bank managers were given free holidays on luxury tourist resorts, Hashim told the NYT, which might have made it “hard for those managers to subsequently turn down risky or inappropriate credit requests.”

Hashim said the government now needed the money to offset a decline in tourism and plug the country’s 34 percent budget deficit.

“What we are asking the World Bank is, help us get this back,” Hashim told the NYT. “Then we won’t need to have that much foreign aid.”


Auditor General requests PG prosecute Gayoom and former ministers

The Auditor General’s office has sent a list of current and former government ministers to the Prosecutor General, requesting they be prosecuted for failure to declare their assets.

Article 138 of the Constitution requires every member of the Cabinet to “annually submit to the Auditor General a statement of all property and monies owned by him, business interests and all assets and liabilities.”

A letter to the Prosecutor General’s office, signed by Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, claimed that former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and many of his ministers, as well as several members of the current government, had refused to declare their assets despite being requested by his office to do so.

The Attorney General’s office advised the Auditor General that those concerned had indeed committed an offence under section 20 of the Audit laws, and were thus subject to state prosecution.

“Therefore, as advised by the Attorney General’s office, we request that you prosecute Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, of Ma. Kibigasdhosuge, as he has committed an offence under section 20 of the audit law and violated the constitution,” the Auditor General wrote.

Along with Gayoom, the list includes many Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and People’s Alliance (PA) MPs, and several members of the current government including Tourism Minister Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Rasheed.

“I submitted [the asset statement] today,” Sawad told Minivan News. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

The deadline set by the Auditor General was Thursday, Sawad noted. Gayoom’s submission, he suggested, “would be interesting.”

Others on the list include PA president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed, and former Anti-Corruption Commission member Ali Rasheed.

The ACC recently forwarded corruption allegations against Naeem to the Prosecutor General’s office. A motion in parliament for the Auditor General’s dismissal, based on the case yet to be heard by the court, has also stalled the Majlis twice and caused an all-out brawl between the major parties yesterday.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem said the ACC had delivered a large box file of documents regarding the Auditor General’s case “which we’re going through now”. The PG had yet to decide whether to prosecute, he said.

Regarding the Auditor General’s list, Shameem noted that “according to audit law, any person who obstructed the law as vested in the Auditor General is guilty of a crime, and I believe that is what he may be invoking.”

The PG’s office was “treating it as a normal case” he said, and had “technical issues” to consider before deciding whether to proceed with prosecution.

“We understand we’re in the limelight right now,” Shameem acknowledged. “We’re trying to keep a low profile.”

Spokesperson for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair suggested that “the number of DRP and PA MPs on the Auditor General’s list I believe gives insight into the troubles he is currently having in parliament.”

The Auditor General, he noted, “was actually appointed by Gayoom and a DRP-majority Majlis.”

“He’s a top-class accountant. I think that they believed he would foot their line, and did not expect that after he was appointed he would revert to type.”

No MDP member in senior government, Zuhair noted, had failed to declare their assets.

He called on the parliament to suspend the contentious debate over the fate of the Auditor General “until the court has ruled one way or another, otherwise they will be prejudicing the case.”

List of senior officials, past and current, yet to declare personal assets to the Auditor General as required by the Constitution:

Ali Rasheed – Former ACC member
Mohamed Ibrahim -Former EC member
Mujthaz Fahmy – JSC member
Abdul Gany Mohamed – JSC member

Ahmed Zahir -former JSC members
Abbas Shareef – former JSC member
Aishah Bisham – former JSC members
Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim – former JSC member

Ahmed Rasheed – Minister of Economic Development
Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad – Minister of Tourism

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – Former President
Mohamed Mauroof Jameel – Former Minister of Construction and Public Infrastructure
Ilyas Ibrahim – Former Minister of Health
Abdulla Shahid – Former Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mohamed Nasheed – Former Minister of Legal Reform, Information and Arts
Dr Ali Haidar – Former Minister of Housing and Urban Development
Abdulla Kamaludeen – Former Minister of Home Affairs
Zahiya Zareer – Former Minister of Education
Ismail Shafyu – Former Minister of Defense and National Security
Mohamed Saeed – Former Minister of Transport and Communication
Ahmed Thasmeen Ali – Former Minister of Atolls development
Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom – Former Minister of tourism and civil aviation
Hamdhoon Hameed – Former Minister of planning and national development
Aishath Mohamed Didi – Former Minister of Gender and Family
Dr Aishath Shiham – Former Minister of Youth and aports
Aishath Azima Shukoor – Former Attorney General
Dr Abdulla Mausoom – Former Minister of Environment Energy and water
Gasim Ibrahim – Former Home Minister

Source: http://www.audit.gov.mv/dv/assetsdeclist.php