President Yameen urges STO to enter international markets

President Abdulla Yameen has called on the State Trading Organisation (STO) to widen the company’s scope into the international global markets.

At a ceremony held at Dharubaaruge last night to mark the company’s 50th anniversary, Yameen spoke of diversifying the company into numerous fields including the establishment of a national shipping line and operation of oil tankers, assuring the government’s support in these ventures.

“We must find ways to reduce the price of oil and to find low priced oil,” Yameen said.

Oil exploration – via the STO’s subsidiary Maldives National Oil Company – was an election pledge of President Yameen, with a German research vessel conducting oil and gas exploration research in August 2014.

Expressing his confidence that diversification into shipping would reduce costs, especially oil prices, Yameen said that the STO cannot always remain a small scale retailer.

The STO is the country’s primary wholesaler, responsible for bringing in the vast majority of basic foodstuffs such as rice and flour, as well as other imported commodities such as electrical goods

The president also warned that “managing directors of state owned companies will change if the companies cannot perform” to the required standard.

Yesterday (January 22), Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem was dismissed from the post of Managing Director of Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL). No specific reason was given regarding the decision.

Yameen said yesterday evening that his office was working with the treasury to audit state-owned companies in order to determine whether they are reaching set targets as well as to categorise the firms and to align their pay structures to ensure employees are paid fairly.

According to Article 212 of the Constitution the auditor general has the authority and power to audit all institutions primarily funded by the state and “any business entity, in which shares are owned by the State”.

The STO launched an austerity campaign twelve months ago, pledging to cut operations costs by MVR50 million by the end of 2014 after President Yameen had declared the company bankrupt upon assuming office in November 2013.

“Not only does STO not have dollars, it does not have Maldivian Rufiyaa either. Funding the oil import through STO is now a burden for the state,” said Yameen at the time of the announcement.

Managing Director at the STO Adam Azim said last month that the company’s debts will be paid off within three years, telling Haveeru that its US$144 million (MVR1.7 billion) debt was unprecedented, and that US$51 million had been paid off during his tenure as a result of reductions in expenditure.

Meanwhile, Haveeru yesterday published corruption allegations against Azim – the brother of recently dismissed Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim.

The paper reported that it has obtained a copy of an Anti-Corruption Commission report which says Azim attempted to use the state-owned company’s money to influence the Football Association of Maldives’ congress.

Haveeru suggested the report revealed attempts to have a relative appointed to the post of FAM president through sponsorship money given to football clubs with voting rights in the congress.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Muaz said that no decision regarding the removal of Azim had been made and that relevant authorities and institutions will investigate and proceed with the issue of any corruption allegations.

Azim appeared alongside the president at yesterday’s anniversary celebrations.

Related to this story

State Trading Organisation bankrupt: President Yameen

Yameen bring changes to state institutions following Nazim dismissal

STO to pay off debts in three years


Court scheduling practices enabling judicial corruption: senior legal official

A senior legal official who served under the current and former administrations has claimed the country’s legal system is wide open to corruption, by allowing individual judges to schedule court hearings at their whim.

The legal figure, who has been involved in some of the country’s highest profile cases in recent years, told Minivan News that it was “quite evident” that the lack of a centralised system for scheduling legal hearings was not only resulting in massive inefficiency, but also allowing for corruption within the country’s court system.

Both the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office and the country’s judicial watchdog body have maintained they have limited involvement at present in deciding when hearings should be scheduled – with almost all decisions being taken by individual courts.

However, a PG’s Office spokesperson claimed that the Criminal Procedure Code presently sitting within the People’s Majlis was, if passed, anticipated to allow pre-trial hearings to give the prosecution and other parties a greater say in agreeing general timeliness for trials.

The senior legal source, who asked to remain anonymous, concurred that the responsibility for scheduling trial and sentencing hearings was presently the responsibility of individual courts and the judges overhearing them. The source alleged the system had created a situation where the judiciary, in certain cases, set hearings either as soon as possible, or instead delay them for up to several years depending on their own preferences and political motivations.

Such inconsistencies within the scheduling of several cases involving senior parliament and political figures – or their close associates – had left courts open to allegations of corruption and political motivation, the senior legal official claimed.

In one case submitted by the PG’s Office that involved a staff member working for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom facing allegations of child abuse, the source claimed there had been a delay of several years between the trial’s last last hearing and sentencing – despite all evidence having been submitted to the court.

“The judge presiding over the trail announced that the next hearing would be to deliver sentencing, but there had been delays of several years before this was scheduled,” the source claimed. “I understand letters were written by the PG’s Office asking to expedite the case, yet the situation [of delayed hearings] is quite common.”

The legal source claimed that this was just one example of a number of cases that had undergone significant delays – sometimes over the space of years – awaiting their next hearing within the nation’s courts without any specified reason.

“There must be hundreds of cases like this,” he said. “There is no central system for scheduling hearings, just six or seven judges all acting independently of each other.”

In outlining alleged inconsistencies within the scheduling of court hearings, the source pointed to the decision of the Criminal Court on February 23 this year to dismiss three long-standing counts of fraud against Parliament Deputy Speaker and ruling-coalition aligned MP Ahmed Nazim all at once.

The decision was taken by the court 16 days after the controversial transfer of power on February 7, with the presiding judge stating that Nazim’s “acts were not enough to criminalise him”.

“The Criminal Court dropped all of Mr Nazim’s cases,” the anonymous source claimed. I had never seen a criminal case where so much evidence failed to lead to a conviction.”

In an interview to the local media outlet Sun following the rulings, Nazim claimed that a total of four cases against him over alleged fraud were baseless and had been leveled by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration, using false evidence.

Nasheed is currently being tried over the detention of a Criminal Court chief Judge, who he alleges took the country’s legal system into his own hands and posed a threat to “national security”.

Aside from allegations of potential corruption, the source also raised fears that the present lack of a centralised scheduling system was failing to promote accountability or efficiency in the nation’s judiciary.

“If for instance the PG’s Office files two different cases about the same suspect, the courts might schedule one hearing for today and another next week, with the judge unaware that there are pending cases against the suspect.


Responding to Minivan News over the allegations of potential judicial corruption, court watchdog the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) referred the matter to the Department of Judicial Administration, saying the scheduling of hearings and any such concerns were not within its mandate.

“The scheduling of court hearings are administrative procedures undertaken by individual courts,” the JSC said.

The Department of Judical Services meanwhile said that when hearing criminal cases there presently existed no time limits by which time court hearings should be scheduled.

“In Criminal cases, there are no regulations stipulating requirements about such time limits. However, the court works on a guideline administratively adopted” said department spokesperson Ahmed Maajid.

Minivan News was still waiting for a response from the Department of Judical Services about these administrative guidelines at time of press.

Questioned as to whether the legal sources were shared by the prosecutor general, a spokesperson for the PG’s Office told Minivan News that it was for the courts to determine the schedule of court hearings.

“Generally we are not involved, unless, for example, a hearing involves travel to some of the country’s outer islands, then we might discuss a schedule with the courts,” he said.

The PG’s Office said it did not “usually” write to the courts regarding the issue of court scheduling , unless it had itself received complaints over the matter.


Journalists banned from Deputy Speaker corruption trial

The Criminal Court refused to allow journalists to observe today’s hearing of the ongoing corruption trial of Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim, who is facing charges of multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the former Atolls Ministry.

Local daily Haveeru and Sun Online reports that the hearing was scheduled to start at 12:00pm but was conducted one hour earlier at 11:00pm. The court did not inform any of the reporters who registered at the court this morning of the time change.

According to Haveeru, court reporters who learned of the time change and requested entry were told that “the judge has decided to hold a closed hearing.”

Asked by the reporters to offer a reason for the closed hearing, the court official asked the reporters to wait, went inside and did not appear until the hearing was over.

Almost two hours after the hearing concluded, Criminal Court Media Officer Ahmed Mohamed Manik told the court reporters that they were not allowed to enter because “negative perceptions of the court were being created [among the public] because of some journalists.”

Manik was not responding to Minivan News at the time of press.

Queried by the court reporters, the Criminal Court official insisted that the judge was authorised to exclude the public from trials under article 42 of the constitution.

Article 42(c) states that, “Trials of any matter shall be held publicly, but the presiding judge may exclude the public from all or part of a trial in accordance with democratic norms: 1. in the interests of public morals, public order or national security; 2. where the interest of juveniles or the victims of a crime so require; or 3. in other special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.”

However, according to Haveeru, a member of the public was allowed to attend today’s hearing. Under normal court procedure, only trials involving child sexual abuse are closed to the public.

The Criminal Court has since issued a press statement explaining that the judge decided to hold a closed hearing “because the reporters allowed in to the hearing on May 24, 2011, gave the false depiction of the court to the public and because the court believes this depiction could obstruct the course of justice.”

Nazim meanwhile appeared at court today after reportedly failing to comply with eight summons during the past few months.

The minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) parliamentary group leader is facing four counts of conspiracy to defraud to the Atolls Ministry, which were first identified in an audit report of the now-defunct ministry.

Following an investigation into the claims in the report, at a press conference in August 2009, Chief Inspector Ismail Atheef said police had uncovered evidence that implicated former Atolls Minister Abdullah Hameed, Eydhafushi MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, former director of finance at the ministry, and Nazim in a number of fraudulent transactions.

Police exhibited numerous quotations, agreements, tender documents, receipts, bank statements and forged cheques showing that Nazim received over US$400,000 in the scam.

A hard disk seized during a raid of Nazim’s office in May 2009 allegedly contained copies of forged documents and bogus letter heads.

Police maintained that money was channelled through the scam to Nazim who laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies.


MP Saleem denies corruption charges

Eydhafushi MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem has pleaded not guilty to charges that he was allegedly responsible for the illegal transfer of state funds to a private company in a violation of the country’s Anti-Corruption Act.

According to local media reports, prosecutors at the Criminal Court today alleged that Saleem, acting of his own accord, transferred 50 per cent of some government development funds to a company called Neyza Enterprises.  The allegations date back to 2003, when Saleem served as director of the Ministry of Atolls Development.

Haveeru reported that Saleem rejected allegations that he had been responsible for the funds transfer, claiming the charges against him were politically motivated  and an attempt by President Mohamed Nasheed to destroy his poltical career.

Judge Abdulla Didi reportedly told Saleem, who potentially faces a year in prison as well as the loss of his parliamentary seat if convicted, to avoid talking about politics and the president during the trial and discuss the charges against him.

Saleem’s lawyer MP Ibrahim Riza said that the charge documents had failed to clarify whether the defendant had been required to make an announcement concerning the development project linked to the case.  Riza claimed the situation was complicated by the government holding control of the documents in question.

Both the prosecution and defense submitted their respective list of witnesses to the court as the trial continues, Haveeru added.