Termination of misappropriated state funds investigation cost government MVR66 million

The termination of an agreement to investigate the alleged misappropriation of state funds by the regime of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom cost the government MVR66.17 million (US$4.2 million), a special audit report of the defunct presidential commission has revealed.

The report released last month explained that UK-based firm Grant Thornton dissolved the ‘asset tracing, recovery and repatriation’ agreement on April 30, 2012, after the Attorney General’s (AG) Office failed to respond to eight emails seeking instructions on how to proceed following the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, 2012.

The report noted that a settlement agreement was reached following a mediation process in March 2013 for the government to pay the forensic accountancy firm MVR64.61 million (US$4.1 million).

The government also paid MVR1.56 million (US$101,167) for legal counsel – to Eversheds LLP – employed for the arbitration process.

Following full payment of the settlement claim, the report revealed that Grant Thornton handed over all documents and information related to its investigation as well as minutes of meetings and expert findings on November 13, 2013.

The AG’s Office shared the documents with the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

“As the agreement was brought to an end before Grant Thornton’s investigation was fully concluded and because the presidential commission’s investigations had noted a number of cases of suspected corruption and embezzlement when its work came to a halt, this office believes that the investigations should be completed,” the audit report stated.

The Auditor General’s Office recommended the ACC conclude the investigations commenced by Grant Thornton.

Oil trade

Former President Mohamed Nasheed formed the presidential commission in May 2009 to investigate alleged corruption during his predecessor’s 30-year reign.

The audit report noted that the commission’s investigations were mainly conducted through Grant Thornton, which included the alleged illegal oil trade involving the State Trading Organisation’s (STO) Singapore branch, the 2007 audit report of the Bank of Maldives, and asset tracing of senior government officials.

Nasheed’s vice-president, former President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, dissolved the presidential commission shortly after assuming office on February 7, 2012.

A week before the transfer of power, the presidential commission forwarded for prosecution a case against then-opposition MP Abdulla Yameen for his involvement in the alleged oil trade during his time as chairman of the STO.

The allegations first appeared in February 2011 in India’s The Week magazine, which described Yameen as “the kingpin” of a scheme to buy subsidised oil through STO’s branch in Singapore and sell it through a joint venture called ‘Mocom Trading’ to the Burmese military junta, at a black market premium price.

The article drew heavily on an investigation report by Grant Thornton, which obtained three hard drives containing financial information detailing transactions from 2002 to 2008.

Investigators learned that Mocom Trading was set up in February 2004 as a joint venture between STO Singapore and a Malaysian company called ‘Mocom Corporation Sdn Bhd’, with a potentially lucrative deal of selling oil to Myanmar and an authorised capital of US$1 million, it acted as a front for an international money laundering racket.

The presidential commission sought criminal charges against Yameen and two other shareholders of STO Singapore – former Managing Director of STO Mohamed Manik and former Managing Director of STO Singapore Ahmed Muneez – and asked the AG’s Office to pursue civil compensation suits.

Yameen has dismissed the allegations on several occasions and disputed the illegality of the oil trade.

“It’s perfectly legitimate. I was a perfectly clean minister while in Gayoom’s cabinet. They have nothing on me,” he told Minivan News in February 2011.

Moreover, grilled by parliament’s national security committee in November 2011, he denied any involvement in “micro-management” of STO subsidiary companies. Upon assuming office in November, President Yameen called on the ACC to investigate the allegations.

Presidential commission audit

The audit report noted that the commission tasked Grant Thornton with investigating the finances of 12 associates and relatives of former President Gayoom.

If the amount of funds or assets recovered by Grant Thornton reached £1.5 million after deducting investigating costs, the government agreed to pay 25 percent as a fee and 35 percent if the figure exceeded £1.5 million.

In July 2010, the agreement with Grant Thornton was transferred from the audit office to the AG’s Office, the report noted.

Under revised terms of the agreement, the government agreed to pay Grant Thornton 2.5 times the cost of investigation if the agreement was terminated. Additionally, consultancy fees and rates were also raised.

Auditors calculated that the government had to pay MVR20.3 million (US$1.3 million) as a result of the modification.

Among other issues highlighted in the report, the audit office noted that the commission’s expenses were not monitored either by the President’s Office or other state institutions.

Moreover, emailed invoices and bills from Grant Thornton were paid without supporting documents, the report noted.

From May 2009 t0 February 2012, auditors found that the commission spent MVR36.02 million (US$2.3 million) for its investigations.

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President Yameen urges ACC to investigate alleged Burma oil fraud: “We won’t try to cover up anything”

President Abdulla Yameen has asked the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate the alleged US$800 million oil fraud conducted by the State Trading Organisation (STO) during his chairmanship.

Speaking at a celebratory function held by the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) on Wednesday night, local media reported Yameen as stating “Why not investigate the case? I want the allegations against me investigated while I’m president. We won’t try to cover up anything.”

The allegations first surfaced in an Indian magazine article, which alleged Yameen was “the kingpin” of a scheme to buy subsidised oil through the State Trading Organisation’s branch in Singapore and sell it on at a premium through an entity called ‘Mocom Trading’ to the Burmese military junta.

The article drew on an investigation report by international accountancy firm Grant Thorton, commissioned by Nasheed’s government in March 2010 to investigate the oil sales after it obtained three hard drives full of financial information detailing transactions from 2002 to 2008. No digital data was available before 2002, and the paper trail was described as hazy”.

Yameen has previously acknowledged the trade but has disputed its illegality, describing the allegations as attempts at “political blackmail.”

“Myanmar, Vietnam, the STO is an entrepreneurial trade organisation. It trades [commodities like] oil, cement, sugar, rice to places in need. It’s perfectly legitimate. I was a perfectly clean minister while in Gayoom’s cabinet. They have nothing on me,” he told Minivan News following the publication of the Indian article.

“The truth is, towards the end of Nasheed’s government, the company that investigated the case had filed it to Singapore Appeal Court,” he told the PPM gathering last night.

“The case had been withdrawn from the court during Nasheed’s presidency, as requested by Nasheed, because there was nothing more to be investigated, no way forward. But until now, the government has not received any document that belongs to the company, that carries the company’s stamp. I went to Singapore twice and met with the lawyers,” the new president said.

Government pays penalty fees to halt investigation

In September this year the Finance Ministry confirmed the government had paid millions of dollars in contractual penalty fees to Grant Thornton, after last year terminating its contract to recover assets allegedly stolen during the 30 year regime of Yameen’s half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Under the terms of the contract, signed by the former Nasheed administration in July 2010, Grant Thornton would charge no fee for the investigation beyond costs such as flights and accommodation, instead taking a percentage of the assets recovered.

At the same time, Grant Thornton was entitled to charge a penalty fee of up to US$10 million should the government terminate the investigation, such as in the event it arrived at a political deal.

One of the first acts of President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government after 7 February 2012’s controversial transfer of power was to dissolve the Presidential Commission which had been overseeing Grant Thornton’s investigation, and terminate the agreement with the forensic accountants.

In August 2012, Attorney General Azima Shakoor issued a statement announcing that her office had received two invoices totalling US$358,000 and GBP£4.6 million from Grant Thorton, charges she claimed were for legal advice provided to Nasheed’s government.

The government paid an initial GBP£1.5 million (US$2.4 million) on 24 April 2013, with the remaining amounts to be paid in monthly installments of GBP£300,000 (US$476,000) each on May 22, June 27 and July 17.

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Presidential Commission forwards Yameen’s alleged US$800 million illegal oil trade for prosecution

The presidential commission has forwarded a case for prosecution against former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s half brother and MP, Abdulla Yameen, for his alleged involvement in the international illegal oil trade worth up to US$800 million whilst he was the chairman of the State Trading Organisation (STO) till 2005.

Yameen has publicly dismissed the allegations on several occasions, distancing himself from the Singapore branch of the STO where the trade to Burma took place, as well as disputing any illegality in the trade.

The allegations first appeared in February 2011 in India’s The Week magazine in a cover story by Sumon Chakrabarti, Chief National Correspondent of CNN-IBN, who described Yameen as “the kingpin” of a scheme to buy subsidised oil through STO’s branch in Singapore and sell it through a joint venture called ‘Mocom Trading’ to the Burmese military junta, at a black market premium price.

The article draws heavily on an investigation report by international accountancy firm Grant Thorton, commissioned by the Maldives government in March 2010, which obtained three hard drives containing financial information detailing transactions from 2002 to 2008. No digital data was available before 2002, and the paper trail “was hazy”.

Investigators learned that Mocom Trading was set up in February 2004 as a joint venture between STO Singapore and a Malaysian company called ‘Mocom Corporation Sdn Bhd’, with the potential lucrative deal of selling oil to Myanmar and an authorised capital of US$1 million – but instead, acted as a front to an international money laundering racket that has cost Maldives millions of dollars.

The report subsequently prompted an investigation into the alleged illegal trade by the Presidential Commission, investigative body appointed by President Mohamed Nasheed and the parliament’s National Security Committee questioned the alleged parties.

Chair of the presidential commission ‘Sarangu’ Adam Manik stated in a press conference on Tuesday that the investigation’s findings implicated Yameen and two other shareholders of STO Singapore – Former Managing Director of STO Mohamed Manik and former Managing Director of STO Singapore Ahmed Muneez.

“The three together were involved in this [illegal oil trade],” claimed Manik. “The oil trade carried out through Mocom Singapore is alleged to have involved fraud, transactions that deliberately caused losses to the company as well as a lot of illegal transactions which were against general business principles.”

Therefore, he said, the commission has requested the police and Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) this week to file the criminal charges against the three men, and asked the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) to pursue civil compensation suits against the three. Singaporean authorities will also go forward with the prosecution cases, he added.

However, he said the authorities will make the final decision on who will be prosecuted based on the findings.

Manik pointed out that the findings reveal that Mocom did not make any sales between 2004 and 2005, while 2001, 2002 and 2003’s financial statements audit showed that the company made a total profit of only SD 51,930.

However, in 2004 alone, an unnamed shareholder of Mocom received SD 51 million as sales commission, according to Manik.

“Hence, even though the company’s [Mocom’s] sales belong to STO Singapore, it did not receive anything and kept facing losses while certain shareholders and alleged parties kept making undue financial gains,” Manik explained.

He added that while the investigation is still not over they had decided to put the alleged parties on trial as the commission believed there was enough evidence to prosecute them.

However, more evidence of fraud will likely to be exposed during the trial, Manik said.

Operation history

“The Maldives receives subsidised oil from OPEC nations, thanks to its 100 percent Sunni Muslim population. The Gayooms bought oil, saying it was for the Maldives, and sold it to Myanmar on the international black market. As Myanmar is facing international sanctions, the junta secretly sold the Burmese and ‘Maldivian’ oil to certain Asian countries, including a wannabe superpower,” alleged Chakrabarti, who is writing a book on Gayoom’s administration and the democratic movement that led to its fall.

“Sources in the Singapore Police said their investigation has confirmed ‘shipping fraud through the diversion of chartered vessels where oil cargo intended for the Maldives was sold on the black market creating a super profit for many years,’” the report added.

Referencing an unnamed Maldivian cabinet Minister, The Week stated that: “what is becoming clear is that oil tankers regularly left Singapore for the Maldives, but never arrived here.”

According to The Week, Grant Thorton’s report identifies Myanmar businessman and head of the Kanbawza Bank and Kanbawza Football Club, Aung Ko Win, as the middleman acting between the Maldivian connection and Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, the second highest-ranking member of the Burmese junta – one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, perhaps exceeded only by North Korea.

Also allegedly implicated in the Grant Thorton report are Brigader-General Lun Thi, the junta’s Minister of Energy, Aung Thaung, the Burmese Minister of industry, “and his son, Major Pye Aung, who is married to Aye’s daughter, Nander Aye.”

“Another Burmese business couple, Tun Myint Naing (aka ‘Steven Law’) and his wife, were linked to the Gayooms,” alleged The Week.

According to a 2000 report on the Golden Triangle Opium trade by Hong Kong-based regional security analysis firm, Asia Pacific Media Services, “in 1996 Steven Law was refused a visa to the USA on suspicion of involvement in narcotics trafficking”, and several companies linked to him were blacklisted because of his suspected involvement in his father’s drug empire.

His father, Lo Hsing Han, also known as Law Sit Han, is named in the report as a notorious ‘Golden Triangle’ heroin baron turned businessman, with financial ties to Singapore. He was also responsible for arranging a lavish wedding in 2006 for the daughter of Burmese dictator Than Shwe.

“Lo Hsing-han and his family set up the Asia World Company… involved in import-export business, bus transport, housing and hotel construction, a supermarket chain, and Rangoon’s port development,” APMS wrote.

According to The Week’s report, “Yameen was allegedly aided by Muneez, and by Mohamed Manik.”

The operation continued with fuel purchased by STO Singapore from companies including Shell Eastern Petroleum Pvt Ltd, Singapore Petroleum Company and Petronas, and sold mostly to the STO (for Maldivian consumption) and Myanmar, “except in 2002, when the bulk of the revenue came from Malaysia.”

The “first red flag” appeared in an audit report on the STO by KPMG, one of the four major international auditing firms which took over the STO’s audits in 2004 from Price WaterhouseCoopers.

Investigators learned that Mocom Trading was set up in February 2004 as a joint venture and had four shareholders: Kamal Bin Rashid, a Burmese national, Maldivians Fathimath Ashan and Sana Mansoor, and a Malaysian man named Raja Abdul Rashid Bin Raja Badiozaman. Badiozaman was the Chief of Intelligence for the Malaysian armed forces for seven years and a 34 year veteran of the military, prior to his retirement in 1995 at the rank of Lieutenant General.

As well as the four shareholders, former Managing Director of STO Singapore Ahmed Muneez served as director. The Week reported that Muneez informed investigators that Mocom Corportation was one of four companies with a tender to sell oil to the Burmese junta, alongside Daewoo, Petrocom Energy and Hyandai.

Under the contract, wrote The Week, “STO Singapore was to supply Mocom Trading with diesel. But since Mocom Corporation held the original contact, the company was entitled to commission of nearly 40 percent of the profits.”

That commission was to be deposited in a United Overseas Bank account in Singapore, “a US dollar account held solely by Rashid. So, the books would show that the commission was being paid to Mocom, but Rashid would pocket it.”

In a second example cited by The Week, investigators discovered that “STO Singapore and Mocom Trading duplicated sales invoices to Myanmar. The invoices showed the number of barrels delivered and the unit price. Both sets of invoices were identical, except for the price per barrel. The unit price on the STO Singapore invoices was US$5 more than the unit price of the Mocom Trading invoice. This was done to confuse auditors.”

As a result, “the sum total of all Mocom Trading invoices to Myanmar Petrochemical Enterprises was US$45,751,423, while the sum total of the invoices raised by STO Singapore was US$51,423,523 – a difference of US$5,672,100.”

Furthermore, “investigators found instances where bills of lading (indicating receipt of consignment) were unsigned by the ship’s master.

Despite his officially stepping down from the STO in 2005,  the Grant Thorton report says that debit notes in Singapore “show payments made on account of Yameen in 2007 and 2008.”

“The debit notes were created as a result of receiving funds from Mr Yameen deposited at the STO head office, which were then transferred to STO Singapore’s bank accounts. This corresponded with a document received from STO head office confirming the payments were deposited by Yameen into STO’s bank accounts via cheque.

“In conversation with Mr Muneez, this was to provide monies for the living expenses of his [Yameen’s] son and daughter, both studying in Singapore. Their living expenses were distributed by Mr Muneez,” the Grant Thorton report stated.

In a previous interview with Minivan News, Yameen confirmed that he had used the STO’s accounts to send money to his children in Singapore, “and I have all the receipts.”

He at the time described the then STO head in Singapore as “a personal friend”, and said “I always paid the STO in advance. It was a legitimate way of avoiding foreign exchange [fees]. The STO was not lending me money.”

He denied sending money following his departure from the organisation: “After I left, I did not do it. In fact I did not do it 3 to 4 years before leaving the STO. I used telegraphic transfer.”

Yameen described the wider allegations contained in The Week article as “absolute rubbish”, and denied being under investigation by the Singaporean police saying that he had friends in Singapore who would have informed him if that were the case.

The article, he said, was part of a smear campaign orchestrated by current President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, a freelance writer and the dismissed Auditor General “now in London”, who he claimed had hired the audit team – “they spent two weeks in the STO in Singapore conducting an investigation.”

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Maldives welcomes Burmese reforms

The Maldives has said it supports recent political reforms in Burma, which has freed hundreds of political prisoners over the past several weeks.

The Burmese government has also begun direct talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The Maldives welcomed the release of the 200 political prisoners on 11 October. We would like to see all remaining political prisoners in Burma freed,” said President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair.

“The ongoing talks between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi have the potential to lead to meaningful democratic reforms,” he added.

According to a statement issued by the President’s Office, the international community expects the Burmese government to make significant progress on issues of democracy and human rights.

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Comment: US needs to strengthen ties with South Asia

Last week, the United States and India concluded the fourth strategic dialogue on Asia-Pacific regional affairs, illustrating the importance that Washington places on its relationship with New Delhi. India’s surging economy has deepened interest among US policymakers eager to advance bilateral ties with a large country in the region that shares a democratic identity. Factors contributing to this shift include China’s ascent as an economic and strategic power and the possibility that the US military may favor an offshore strategy in the future.

However, India should not be the sole hope on which US security strategy rests in South Asia. US relations with this new strategic partner are guaranteed to experience bumps, as evidenced by the recent rejection of US firms in the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition. Moreover, India has long maintained a strong non-aligned foreign policy tradition, enforced by policymakers who face continual domestic political pressures not to appear too pro-American. This is not to say that the US-India strategic partnership appears ready to fail. Still, one possible scenario could find relations with India not progressing as quickly as desired, while relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan remain in tatters, leaving minimal US relations with other South Asian states. Even if this scenario does not occur, the United States cannot afford to ignore the need to forge deeper strategic relationships with the smaller countries in the region.

Relations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal hold many unexplored possibilities and reasons for expansion.

First, as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake pointed out in Congressional testimony earlier this year, all these countries are governed by democratically elected leaders. As with the “shared values” discourse supporting greater relations with democratic India, the United States has a similar foundation for fostering ties with these nations.

Second, three of these countries are maritime states. Given the importance of securing Indian Ocean sea lanes, through which 50 percent of the world’s container traffic and 70 percent of the world’s crude and oil products transit, it is in US interests to promote maritime security cooperation among South Asian countries and deepen defense ties with these navies as a form of burden-sharing in the Indian Ocean.

Further, smaller countries provide better test cases for realizing new strategic visions and more permissive environments in which to experiment than do the larger states of India and Pakistan, where constraints are omnipresent and the stakes are much higher. In the Harvard International Review, Doug Lieb has discussed the importance of analyzing international relations in “marginal states” that are often overlooked in a structural realist worldview that privileges the study of large countries. The smaller countries of South Asia could be easy wins for the United States, especially in the face of increasing Chinese dealings there.

US ties are probably the strongest with Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority and democratic nation. Given the country’s vulnerability to nontraditional security threats such as cyclones and earthquakes, the Bangladeshi military would appreciate increased help with weather forecasting technologies and cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief issues. Before the next environmentally related cataclysm occurs, the United States should further develop security relations with Bangladesh.

The Maldives, like Bangladesh, is a relatively pro-American Muslim democracy. It faces the challenge of countering Somali pirates and Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists from Pakistan seeking harbor on any one of its 26 atolls. The Maldives National Defense Forces would likely not be equipped to handle a potential Mumbai-style attack on its tourism industry and could benefit from US counter-terrorism assistance.

US relations with Sri Lanka have been strained due to charges of human rights violations during its defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. Yet as Sri Lanka’s economic and diplomatic ties with China grow, the United States must try not to alienate Sri Lanka given its strategic location in the Indian Ocean. In fact, the US Navy could benefit from exchanges with the Sri Lankan military. For example, learning the swarm attack tactics that were employed during the country’s civil war could help the United States prepare for the threat it may face from Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. In addition, the Sri Lankan navy could benefit from US assistance in transitioning its patrols from the north to the south, where roughly 300 ships pass the tip of the island daily.

Regarding Nepal as it draws down its forces and integrates Maoist rebels into the military as part of its peace process, US security cooperation and expertise could be critical in this operation.

Finally, judicial capacity-building would be another low-cost way to advance US ties with all these countries.

By comparison, China has been strengthening its ties to South Asian countries, especially in the form of infrastructure development. Chinese port construction in Chittagong, Bangladesh; Hambantota, Sri Lanka; Gwadar, Pakistan; and Kyaukpyu, Burma have all been cited as prominent examples of a supposed “string of pearls” that China may be seeking to build in an area outside its traditional sphere of influence. Regardless of actual Chinese intentions in South Asia, Indian analysts have voiced concern about being “encircled” by China’s economic, military, and diplomatic inroads with these countries, including Nepal.

In recognition of the growing challenges South Asia presents to the United States, experts are beginning to discuss ways of reorganizing the US government’s bureaucracy to address the region’s new realities. Bruce Riedel and Stephen Cohen have proposed the creation of a “South Asia Command” (SACOM) to overcome the seam issues posed by Pacific Command (PACOM) and Central Command (CENTCOM) separating India and Pakistan in US defense policy. Others have suggested an Indian Ocean Region Command (IORCOM). With such talk and broader discussions about a realignment of US force posture in Asia, now is the time to also examine relations with the smaller countries in South Asia and the prospects for building partner capacities in the region.

As the United States winds down its commitment in Afghanistan, while confronting unbounded uncertainty in its relationship with Pakistan, it can look to the promise of partnership with India only to a certain extent. If disappointments such as the MMRCA rejection happen too often, or if India tests nuclear weapons again and Washington re-imposes sanctions, the United States would be left without strong security partners in the region. For too long, the United States has ignored the potential benefits of fostering relations with the smaller countries in South Asia. Prospects for advancing US security ties with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal deserve serious examination.

Nilanthi Samaranayake is an analyst in the Strategic Studies division at the Center for Naval Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]ve.com

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Gayoom’s image suffers following corruption allegations: Himal

The story of corruption under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has given his image a massive beating, with even former allies now openly criticising the longtime autocrat of nepotism, writes CNN-IBN correspondent Sumon K Chakrabarti for Himal Southasian magazine.

“The Grant Thornton investigation was carried out mostly in Singapore, and the report, when it came out in September, was not just a serious indictment of Gayoom’s family members – primarily his young half-brother, Abdulla Yameen – but also a fascinating exploration of how autocracies often fall back on blood brother dictatorships to do business. In this case, that ‘brother’ was Burma. Meanwhile, Gayoom’s sudden foray back into politics seems to be with the specific intention of strengthening his own position in order to be able to more effectively deal with the revelations about the extent to which corruption took place during his decades in power.

“‘We had a whiff of it for some time, but we had no idea about the scale of the con job,’ a minister in President Nasheed’s cabinet, on condition of anonymity, told this reporter in Male, in the aftermath of the Grant Thornton report. ‘The scale, as we know now, is mind-boggling. What is now becoming clear is that “ghost ships” regularly left Singapore in the name of delivering oil to the Maldives – but never arrived here.’ He continued: ‘We are a tiny nation, and our oil consumption is very small. But the State Trading Organisation (Singapore) used to buy oil in bulk … and sell it either on the black market or to Myanmar.’”

Full story

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“Shared corruptions” with Maldives worth hundreds of millions, reports Democratic Voice of Burma

The Burmese authorities actively helped the Maldives “cover its tracks” while the Singapore branch of the State Trading Organisation (STO) funneled discounted OPEC oil to the junta using fraudulent paperwork and sold it at a premium, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) has reported.

The DVB is describes itself as a non-profit news organisation providing accurate and unbiased news to Burma.

Referring to a draft report into the activities of STO Singapore compiled by forensic accountancy firm Grant Thorton on request of the Maldives government, “STO Singapore appear to have purchased fuel from Shell Eastern, the Singapore Petroleum Company and Petronas, and then sold it to STO, its parent company, or to third parties,” DVB said.

“The Maldives is given a special, cheap allocation of oil by OPEC because of the cartel’s preferential treatment for 100 percent Sunni Muslim nations, so the tiny island state under [former President] Gayoom would assume a far larger allocation of oil than the residents of the country needed,” it added.

Shipments destined for the Maldives would never arrive, and bills of lading recording receipt of cargo were missing, the report stated.

Details of the operation first appeared in an article by India’s The Week magazine, which identified the intermediary in the transaction between the two countries as Mocom Trading Pvt Ltd, a joint venture with a Malaysian company called Mocom Corporation Sdn Bhd, that was incorporated in 2004 to sell the oil allocation.

Mocom was one of only four foreign companies permitted to sell petroleum to the junta, alongside Daewoo, Hyundai and Petronas, the report stated – permission granted directly by Burma’s Energy Minister Brigadier-General Lun Thi.

The company had four director-shareholders: Kamal Bin Rashid, a Burmese national, two Maldivians: Fathimath Ashan and Sana Mansoor, and a Malaysian man named Raja Abdul Rashid Bin Raja Badiozaman, who was also Chief of Intelligence for the Malaysian armed forces for seven years. Then Managing Director of STO Singapore Ahmed Muneez was also a director.

According to the Grant Thorton report, the contract with Mocom Corporation revealed that a 40 percent commission on profits under the arrangement was paid directly into an account held by Rashid with the United Overseas Bank account in Singapore. The profits whereabouts beyond this point remain unknown.

When the story first broke, former STO chairman Abdulla Yameen, half brother of Gayoom and now leader of the opposition coalition party People’s Alliance (PA) party, told Minivan News that such trading was not illegal as STO Singapore was an “entrepreneurial” trade organisation that was licensed to trade in goods as well as supply the needs of the STO: “Even now the STO buys from one country and sells to those in need,” he said.

Yameen has acknowledged using the STO’s accounts to transfer money from the Maldives to his children in Singapore during his time as Chairman, but claims this was a legitimate means of avoiding foreign exchange fees.

The Week article had cited a source in the Singaporean police as stating that both Yameen and STO Singapore were under investigation. Minivan News contacted Singaporean police seeking to confirm the report, but was told by a police spokesperson that “It is inappropriate to comment on police investigations, if any.”

Obfuscation and heroin links

The DVB reported on several Burmese companies named in the Grant Thorton report as linked to Mocom.

“Among the companies who did business with the Maldivians was Kanbawza Bank, owned by Aung Ko Win, who is close to Burmese vice-general Maung Aye,” DVB reported.

Kanbawza Bank was “no stranger to controversy”, it noted.

“The bank was started in Shan state by the then-unknown and apparently ‘asset-less’ teacher, Aung Ko Win, who happened to meet and befriend Maung Aye. From mysterious profits made in the Shan hills – once the world’s largest source of opium – the bank has grown to become one of the biggest and most important financial institutions in Burma.”

Other companies which were doing business with the Maldives included Golden Aaron and S H NG Trading Pte Ltd, recorded active trading in 2002. During this period, according to the invoices obtained by Grant Thorton, STO revenue increased dramatically to $US78.8 million.

Both these Burmese companies are facing international sanctions, noted DVB, and are owned by Steven Law and his Singaporean wife, Cecilia NG. Law’s father, Lo Hsing Han, is described by the US government’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as “the godfather of heroin”.

Most of the Maldives’ heroin since the 1990s is of the ‘brown sugar’ variety of Afghan or Pakistani origin. However, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime Representative for East Asia and the Pacific, Gary Lewis – cited in the DVB report – a wave of ‘china white’ heroin appeared on the streets of Male’ in 2003.

The vast majority of this variety, many times stronger than brown sugar, is produced in Burma.

The DVB report concluded that details such as those appearing in the Grant Thorton report currently “ask more questions than they answer.”

But the outline of STO Singapore’s operations thus far suggested that the “shared corruptions” between Burma and the Maldives were “worth hundreds of millions, [from] which [it] will take generations to fully recover.”

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Allegations of STO’s blackmarket oil deals with Burma “politically motivated”: Gayoom

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has lashed out at comments made by the Presidential Commission yesterday that top-level officials from the former administration were involved in blackmarket oil deals with the Burmese military junta.

The allegations were first published in India’s The Week magazine on Friday. In the article, CNN-IBN Chief National Correspondent Sumon K Chakrabarti described Gayoom’s half brother and former STO Chairman Abdulla Yameen as “the kingpin” of a scheme to buy subsidised oil through the State Trading Organisation’s branch in Singapore and sell it on through an entity called ‘Mocom Trading’ to the Burmese military junta, at a black market premium.

The article, which has since been published on the magazine’s website, also claimed that Singaporean police were investigating the incidence of shipping fraud linked to STO Singapore. It drew heavily from a draft report from forensic accountancy firm Grant Thorton, commissioned by the Maldives government to investigate financial records on three hard drives pertaining to STO Singapore’s operations.

Gayoom has claimed that the allegations by the Presidential Commission were politically motivated. Newspaper Haveeru reported Gayoom as distancing himself from the STO, quoting the former President as saying that “I [had] no connections with the STO when I was the president and after that.

“STO has a board and a Chairman that oversee all the operations of the company. I never [got] involved in the matters of STO. The company will reveal its annual financial report at its General Meeting every year and discuss on the matters [raised in the report],” Haveeru reported Gayoom as saying.

“The commission is trying to tarnish my reputation because of the support given to me by the residents of the islands and the success DRP achieved in the local council election,” he reportedly added.

Yameen dismissed the allegations as “absolute rubbish” following the publication of Chakrabarti’s original story in The Week.

He acknowledged using the STO to send funds to his children in Singapore during his time as chairman, but denied doing so money following his departure from the organisation.

“After I left, I did not do it. In fact I did not do it 3 to4 years before leaving the STO. I used telegraphic transfer,” he told Minivan News.

Yameen also denied being under investigation by the Singaporean police.

Asked to confirm whether the STO Singapore had been supplying fuel to Myanmar during his time as chair of the board, “it could have been – Myanmar, Vietnam, the STO is an entrepreneurial trade organisation. It trades [commodities like] oil, cement, sugar, rice to places in need. It’s perfectly legitimate. “

In a subsequent interview with VTV’s ‘Fas Manzaru’ program, Yameen acknowledged flying to Burma during a period when the STO faced a rice shortage, “a very long time ago.” He had not visited in the past 16 years, he said.

“Perhaps this government is afraid that with my supposed Myanmar military links, I might bring over weapons from that country and overthrow this [Maldivian] government. But I have to say that those military officials in the Burmese government are ones I have never met. I don’t even know them,” Yameen told VTV.

He also announced that he was “ready to offer anyone 90 percent” of the alleged US$800 million in laundered money cited by The Week article, “if they locate it for me.”

“I only want 10 percent. If I get US$800 million now, 10 percent of that will suffice for me. Even if I get around US$80 million dollars, it will be enough for me,” Yameen said.

“Therefore this time for anyone who helps locate this [money], I am ready to hand over 90 percent of all that into the finder’s name.”

Yameen called on police to investigate the matter alongside previous allegations in the Indian press that President Nasheed had consumed alcohol.

“I welcome investigation. But if investigations are being done, then it should also be investigated when an Indian newspaper publishes such defamatory material against the President,” Yameen said.

The Presidential Commission has meanwhile stated that details of the alleged racketeering would be disclosed on conclusion of the investigation, in collaboration “with international parties”.

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Yameen implicated in STO blackmarket oil trade with Burmese junta, alleges The Week

Singaporean police are reportedly investigating former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s half brother Abdulla Yameen for alleged involvement in an international money laundering racket thought to be worth up to US$800 million – if accurate, a staggering 80 percent of the Maldives’ annual GDP.

Yameen is an MP and leader of the People’s Alliance (PA) party, which in coalition with the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), of which Gayoom is the ‘honorary leader’, together maintain a parliamentary majority in the Maldives.

The allegation is central to an explosive piece in India’s The Week magazine by Sumon K Chakrabarti, Chief National Correspondent of CNN-IBN, who describes Yameen as “the kingpin” of a scheme to buy subsidised oil through the State Trading Organisation’s branch in Singapore and sell it on through an entity called ‘Mocom Trading’ to the Burmese military junta, at a black market premium.

“The Maldives receives subsidised oil from OPEC nations, thanks to its 100 percent Sunni Muslim population. The Gayooms bought oil, saying it was for the Maldives, and sold it to Myanmar on the international black market. As Myanmar is facing international sanctions, the junta secretly sold the Burmese and ‘Maldivian’ oil to certain Asian countries, including a wannabe superpower,” alleged Chakrabarti, who is writing a book on Gayoom’s administration and the democracy movement that led to its fall.

“Sources in the Singapore Police said their investigation has confirmed ‘shipping fraud through the diversion of chartered vessels where oil cargo intended for the Maldives was sold on the black market creating a super profit for many years,’” the report added.

Referencing an unnamed Maldivian cabinet Minister, The Week states that: “what is becoming clear is that oil tankers regularly left Singapore for the Maldives, but never arrived here.”

The article draws heavily on an investigation report by international accountancy firm Grant Thorton, commissioned by the Maldives government in March 2010, which obtained three hard drives containing financial information detailing transactions from 2002 to 2008. No digital data was available before 2002, and the paper trail “was hazy”.

According to The Week, Grant Thorton’s report identifies Myanmar businessman and head of the Kanbawza Bank and Kanbawza Football Club, Aung Ko Win, as the middleman acting between the Maldivian connection and Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, the second highest-ranking member of the Burmese junta – one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, perhaps exceeded only by North Korea.

Also allegedly implicated in the Grant Thorton report are Brigader-General Lun Thi, the junta’s Minister of Energy, Aung Thaung, the Burmese Minister of industry, “and his son, Major Pye Aung, who is married to Aye’s daughter, Nander Aye.”

“Another Burmese business couple, Tun Myint Naing (aka ‘Steven Law’) and his wife, were linked to the Gayooms,” alleged The Week.

According to a 2000 report on the Golden Triangle Opium trade by Hong Kong-based regional security analysis firm, Asia Pacific Media Services, “in 1996 Steven Law was refused a visa to the USA on suspicion of involvement in narcotics trafficking”, and several companies linked to him were blacklisted because of his suspected involvement in his father’s drug empire.

His father, Lo Hsing Han, also known as Law Sit Han, is named in the report as a notorious ‘Golden Triangle’ heroin baron turned businessman, with financial ties to Singapore. He was also responsible responsible for arranging a lavish wedding in 2006 for the daughter of Burmese dictator Than Shwe.

“Lo Hsing-han and his family set up the Asia World Company… involved in import-export business, bus transport, housing and hotel construction, a supermarket chain, and Rangoon’s port development,” APMS wrote.

According to The Week report, “Yameen was allegedly aided by Ahmed Muneez, former Managing Director of STO Singapore, and by Mohamed Hussain Maniku, former MD, STO. Maniku was MD from 1993 to 2008, and currently serves as the Maldives’ Ambassador to Washington.

The operation

According to The Week article, the engine of the operation was the Singaporean branch of the government-owned State Trading Organisation (STO), of which Yameen was the board chairman until 2005.

Fuel was purchased by STO Singapore from companies including Shell Eastern Petroleum Pvt Ltd, Singapore Petroleum company and Petronas, and sold mostly to the STO (for Maldivian consumption) and Myanmar, “except in 2002, when the bulk of the revenue came from Malaysia.”

The “first red flag” appeared in an audit report on the STO by KPMG, one of the four major international auditing firms which took over the STO’s audits in 2004 from Price WaterhouseCoopers.

The firm noted: “A company incorporated in Singapore by the name of Mocom Trading Pte Ltd in 2004 has not been discluded under Note No. 30 to the Financial Statements. There was no evidence available with regard to approval of the incorporation. Further, we are unable to establish the volume and the nature of the company with the group.”

In a subsequent report, KMPG noted: “The name of the company has been struck off on 20th April 2006.”

Investigators learned that Mocom Trading was set up in February 2004 as a joint venture between STO Singapore and a Malaysian company called ‘Mocom Corporation Sdn Bhd’, with the purpose of selling oil to Myanmar and an authorised capital of US$1 million.

According to The Week, the company had four shareholders: Kamal Bin Rashid, a Burmese national, two Maldivians: Fathimath Ashan and Sana Mansoor, and a Malaysian man named Raja Abdul Rashid Bin Raja Badiozaman. Badiozaman was the Chief of Intelligence for the Malaysian armed forces for seven years and a 34 year veteran of the military, prior to his retirement in 1995 at the rank of Lieutenant General.

As well as the four shareholders, former Managing Director of STO Singapore Ahmed Muneez served as director. The Week reported that Muneez informed investigators that Mocom Corportation was one of four companies with a tender to sell oil to the Burmese junta, alongside Daewoo, Petrocom Energy and Hyandai.

Under the contract, wrote The Week, “STO Singapore was to supply Mocom Trading with diesel. But since Mocom Corporation held the original contact, the company was entitled to commission of nearly 40 percent of the profits.”

That commission was to be deposited in an United Overseas Bank account in Singapore, “a US dollar account held solely by Rashid. So, the books would show that the commission was being paid to Mocom, but Rashid would pocket it.”

In a second example cited by The Week, investigators discovered that “STO Singapore and Mocom Trading duplicated sales invoices to Myanmar. The invoices showed the number of barrels delivered and the unit price. Both sets of invoices were identical, except for the price per barrel. The unit price on the STO Singapore invoices was US$5 more than the unit price of the Mocom Trading invoice. This was done to confuse auditors.”

As a result, “the sum total of all Mocom Trading invoices to Myanmar Petrochemical Enterprises was US$45,751,423, while the sum total of the invoices raised by STO Singapore was US$51,423,523 – a difference of US$5,672,100.”

Furthermore, “investigators found instances where bills of lading (indicating receipt of consignment) were unsigned by the ship’s master.”

Gayoom's half-brother and PA leader Abdulla Yameen

Money from the Maldives

Despite his officially stepping down from the STO in 2005, The Week referenced the report as saying that debit notes in Singapore “show payments made on account of Yameen in 2007 and 2008.”

Citing the report directly, The Week wrote: “The debit notes were created as a result of receiving funds from Mr Yameen deposited at the STO head office, which were then transferred to STO Singapore’s bank accounts. This corresponded with a document received from STO head office confirming the payments were deposited by Yameen into STO’s bank accounts via cheque.

The Week claimed that Yameen was aided by Muneez on the STO Singapore side, and by Mohamed Hussain Maniku, former STO managing director, on the Maldivian end until 2008.

“In conversation with Mr Muneez, this was to provide monies for the living expenses of his [Yameen’s] son and daughter, both studying in Singapore. Their living expenses were distributed by Mr Muneez,” the Grant Thorton report stated, according to The Week.

In an interview with Minivan News, Yameen confirmed that he had used the STO’s accounts to send money to his children in Singapore, “and I have all the receipts.”

He described the then STO head in Singapore as “a personal friend”, and said “I always paid the STO in advance. It was a legitimate way of avoiding foreign exchange [fees]. The STO was not lending me money.”

He denied sending money following his departure from the organisation: “After I left, I did not do it. In fact I did not do it 3 to4 years before leaving the STO. I used telegraphic transfer.”

Yameen described the wider allegations contained in The Week article as “absolute rubbish”, and denied being under investigation by the Singaporean police saying that he had friends in Singapore who would have informed him if that were the case.

The article, he said, was part of a smear campaign orchestrated by current President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, a freelance writer and the dismissed Auditor General “now in London”, who he claimed had hired the audit team – “they spent two weeks in the STO in Singapore conducting an investigation.”

Yameen said he did not have a hand in any of the STO’s operations in Singapore, and that if Muneez was managing director at the time of any alleged wrong-doing, “any allegations should carry his name.”

He denied any knowledge or affiliation with Steven Law or Lo Hsing Han, and said that as for Mocom Trading, “if that company is registered, Maniku would know about it.”

Asked to confirm whether the STO Singapore had been supplying fuel to Myanmar during his time as chair of the board, “it could have been – Myanmar, Vietnam, the STO is an entrepreneurial trade organisation. It trades [commodities like] oil, cement, sugar, rice to places in need. It’s perfectly legitimate. “

Asked whether it was appropriate to trade goods to a country ostracised by the international community, Yameen observed that the trading had “nothing to do with the moral high-ground, at least at that time. Even even now the STO buys from one country and sells to those in need.”

Asked why the President would hire a freelance writer to smear his reputation after the local council elections, “that’s because Nasheed would like to hold me in captivity.”

The only way Nasheed could exert political control, Yameen claimed, “was to resort to this kind of political blackmail”.

“Unfortunately he has not been able to do that with me. I was a perfectly clean minister while in Gayoom’s cabinet. They have nothing on me.”

Last time around

No love is lost between Yameen and the present Maldivian administration, which detained him and Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim in early July 2010 on accusations of bribery and, according to the police charge sheet, “attempting to topple the government illegally.”

President Nasheed’s cabinet had resigned en masse the week prior, in protest against what they claimed were the “scorched earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament, leaving only President Mohamed Nasheed and Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan in charge of the country. The move circumvented regulations blocking the arrest of MPs while no-confidence motions were pending against sitting ministers.

Several days later, audio recordings of conversations between several MPs, including Yameen and Gasim, were leaked to the media. The recordings carried implications of vote-buying within parliament, suggestions of collaboration with the officials in the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and details of a plan to derail the progress of a taxation bill.

Yameen defended the conversation at the time as “not to borrow money to bribe MPs… [rather] As friends, we might help each other.”

The issue quickly became one of invasion of privacy, and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) issued a statement to that effect.

Unable to get an arrest warrant extension for the pair through the Maldivian courts, the government quickly found itself facing international criticism and diplomatic urging to “stick to the rule of law”, after Yameen was detained by the military on the Presidential Retreat of Aarah purportedly “for his own protection.”

While in custody, Yameen told local media he did not wish to be detained in ‘protective’ custody. The military refused to present him before the court on a court order, raising more international eyebrows.

Later in July, the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News that the government had felt obliged to take action after six MDP MPs came forward with statements alleging Yameen and Gasim had attempted to bribe them to vote against the government.

The opposition PA-DRP coalition already has a small voting majority, with the addition of supportive independent MPs. However, certain votes require a two-thirds majority of the 77 member chamber – such as a no-confidence motion to impeach the president.

Zuhair told Minivan News at the time that given the severity of the allegations against them, neither could be considered prisoners of conscience.

“I cannot describe these people as political leaders – they are accused of high crimes and plots against the state,” Zuhair said.

“These MPs are two individuals of high net worth – tycoons with vested interests,” he explained. “In pursuing their business interests they became enormously rich during the previous regime, and now they are trying to use their ill-gotten gains to bribe members in the Majlis [parliament] and judiciary to keep themselves in power and above the fray.”

“They were up to all sorts of dark and evil schemes,” Zuhair alleged. “There were plans afoot to topple the government illegally before the interim period was over.”

Yameen was also one of many former and serving Ministers on an audit hit-list issued by Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, prior to his dismissal on March 29, 2010.

Naeem, who was appointed by former President Gayoom, had produced a damning report detailing the previous government’s spending habits. These, according to an article on the report published in the New York Times, included an estimated “US$9.5 million spent buying and delivering a luxury yacht from Germany for the president, $17 million on renovations of the presidential palace and family houses,a saltwater swimming pool, badminton court, gymnasium, 11 speed boats and 55 cars, including the country’s only Mercedes-Benz.”

“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,” wrote the NYT, citing Naeem’s report.

The Maldives government had “begun the paper chase”, the 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.”

On March 24, Naeem sent a list of current and former government ministers to the Prosecutor General, requesting they be prosecuted for failure to declare their assets, citing Article 138 of the Constitution requiring 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.”

He then held a press conference: “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, during his first press appearance in eight months.

Five days later he was dismissed by the opposition-majority parliament on allegations of corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), for purportedly using the government’s money to buy a tie and visit Thulhaidhu in Baa Atoll. The motion to dismiss Naeem was put forward by the parliamentary finance committee, chaired by Deputy Speaker and member of Yameen’s PA party Ahmed Nazim, who the previous week had pleaded not guilty to ACC charges of conspiracy to defraud the former ministry of atolls development while he was Managing Director of Namira Engineering and Trading Pvt Ltd.

The parliament has yet to approve a replacement auditor general.

Representatives of the former government have steadfastly denied the existence of stolen funds. Gayoom’s assistant and former chief government spokesperson Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef told Minivan News in December 2009 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 at the time. “[Gayoom] has said, ‘go ahead and take a look, and if you find anything make it public.’”

Shareef had not responded to Minivan News at the time of going to press.

Online link to The Week article

Download The Week article (~25mb)

Download leaked Grant-Thorton Draft Report

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