The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has issued a press statement defending its investigative report of the airport privatisation deal signed by the previous government, harshly condemning “false and misleading” remarks by politicians of government-aligned parties.
On June 17, the ACC released a 61-page investigative report concluding that there was no corruption in the awarding of a concession agreement to a consortium of Indian infrastructure giant GMR and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) to develop and manage the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).
The report was met with strong criticism and bribery allegations from parties in the government coalition.
Insisting that the government’s stand would not change as a result of the ACC findings, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that “if there is a reasonable cause of doubt, this report can be contested by some parties.’’
“Many people say here that the ACC Board is not an unbiased organisation. They say it is politically motivated,” he was quoted as saying.
Religious conservative Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran meanwhile described the report as “a slap in the people’s face” while President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Inthihaad Party (GIP) Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza accused ACC members of corruption.
In an appearance on pro-government private broadcaster DhiTV last night (June 23), Imran insinuated that ACC members accepted bribes from GMR offered through former Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay.
The ACC report was “a highly unprofessional, semi-technical and procedural review” that did not amount to either a proper investigation or an audit, Imran said, calling for “a full-fledged investigation.”
In November 2012, the current administration abruptly terminated the US$500 million contract with the GMR-led consortium, declared the concession agreement ‘void ab initio’ (invalid from the outset), and gave GMR seven days’ notice to leave the country.
The decision followed weeks of protest by a self-titled “National Movement” spearheaded by Sheikh Imran and senior government officials – born out of the unofficial December 23 coalition of eight political parties and an alliance of NGOs that rallied at a mass gathering to “defend Islam” in late 2011 – calling on the government to “reclaim” and nationalise the airport.
Last Friday, GMR filed a claim for US$1.4 billion in compensation from the Maldives at ongoing arbitration proceedings in Singapore over “wrongful termination” of the contract.
Meanwhile, former Attorney General Azima Shukoor, who headed the cabinet committee that advised termination of the contract, contended on DhiTV last week that the ACC report was “incomplete” as the commission had overlooked several key factors.
“Did they omit the factors deliberately or unknowingly or simply just overlooked them? But a lot of factors have been overlooked and omitted from the report. The state will suffer great losses because of it. Especially when the country is tied up in a judicial case,” she was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.
In its press release on Thursday (June 19), the ACC stated that its investigation was “not based on what politicians say at podiums and in the media.”
“Instead, the case was investigated based on relevant information collected for the investigation, documents and statements taken after questioning those involved in the case,” the ACC said, denying the allegations of undue influence on its members or staff.
The ACC statement added that the commission in concluding investigations adhered to article 25 of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act of 2008, and did not reach its conclusions “after considering the wishes of a particular politician.”
The commission noted that it had not responded to any political rhetoric targeting the ACC in the past, adding that all corruption investigations followed criminal justice procedures, the ACC Act and regulations under the law.
The statement explained that article 25(a)(2) of the Act required the commission to submit cases for prosecution if sufficient evidence to secure a conviction was gathered.
In the absence of evidence to prove corrupt dealings, article 25(a)(1) of the Act stipulates that the commission must declare that the case does not involve corruption.
The report made public last week contained information collected for the investigation, observations and the reasoning for reaching the conclusion “without any omissions or additions,” the ACC added.
“This is the first time that an investigative report of a case investigated by the commission has been made public like this,” the statement continued. “It was released that way to provide details of the case to the public as transparently as possible.”
The ACC further noted that in December 2012 the commission submitted a case to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) requesting criminal prosecution over the previous government’s decision to deduct a court-blocked Airport Development Charge (ADC) from concession fees owed to the state.
The ACC asked the PGO to seek reimbursement of MVR 353.8 million (US$22.9 million) from former MACL Chair Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem and former Finance Minister Mohamed Shihab over the alleged misuse of authority the commission contended had led to significant financial losses for the state.
Responding to remarks in local media last week by an unnamed ACC member alleging that Imran attempted to influence the outcome of the investigation, the Adhaalath Party President admitted on DhiTV last night that he met commission members while the “National Movement” protests were ongoing.
Imran said he met ACC members after learning of efforts by GMR to bribe politicians through the former Indian High Commissioner Mulay.
Mulay also requested meetings with Imran himself on numerous occasions “through some of our ministers and even by directly calling our office,” he claimed.
Upon hearing of meetings between Mulay and ACC members, Imran said the leaders of the “National Movement” met commission members to “advise against accepting bribes.”
“[ACC members] said, ‘how can we go near that? we have sworn an oath,'” Imran said.
He claimed the ACC members told him that “the roots go deep” in the GMR deal and that former President Nasheed “completed the deal in Singapore.”
ACC members informed Imran that bribes from GMR was deposited to bank accounts in countries near Singapore, he claimed, while the commission members provided assurances that “everything would be made clear” once the investigative report was made public.
Imran said he would reveal further details of the “National Movement’s” meeting with ACC members if the commission responded to the allegations.
“In any case, we were working to liberate the airport on behalf of religion and the nation,” he said, adding that the government eventually decided to terminate the agreement without waiting for the ACC report.
As a result of pressure from the protests, he continued, the government was convinced it was not in the national interest to persist with the contract.
Imran also insinuated that the ACC would receive a portion of the US$1.4 billion compensation figure claimed by GMR.
State Minister for Home Affairs Abdulla Mohamed, who was part of the protests against GMR, meanwhile argued that the ACC releasing its report a few days before an arbitration hearing could not be “a coincidence.”
“Do we really have to comply with a court order from a Singaporean court?” he asked.
He contended that the Maldivian government would not have to compensate GMR despite a decision in favour of the consortium at the ongoing arbitration proceedings.
“Also, we can appeal such a judgment in Maldivian courts, can’t we? That’s not prohibited by Maldivian law. There’s no obstacle to that. So this is not something that the public should be concerned about at all,” he said.