Police urge citizens to be wary of rising cyber-crime and fraud

The Maldives Police Services (MPS) has urged all citizens to be wary of cyber-crimes and the increasing prevalence of money-grabbing scams.

Speaking at a press conference today, MPS Drug Enforcement Department head Superintendent Ahmed Shifan said that cyber-crime has become an “emerging and trending” issue, with a separate police unit tasked with dealing with the problem.

Local media reported yesterday (December 30) that the Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem was claiming his official twitter account had been hacked and that all tweets posted after 11pm on December 29 were not posted by him.

Shaheem’s account showed one post after 11pm which reiterated his previously expressed discontent towards the Tourist Arrival Countdown Show which, at the time, was to feature Jamaican dancehall artist Sean Paul.

Sean Paul has since cancelled his appearance in the show, citing security concerns after a death threat appeared on Youtube last week. Religious religious groups within the country also called for the performance to be stopped.

In a press statement released today, the police also urged citizens to be more vigilant towards scams and embezzlement.

While revealing that two or three such cases are filed every week, the statement also said that such cases were difficult to proceed with because such criminals are often hard to trace.

The statement said that some of the most commonly reported cases were those where customers put in more money than was paid when getting mobile phone reload or ‘raastas’ services, and when scammers promised to provide gifts for money.

Police requested that people not hand money to anyone communicating through unknown phone numbers or individuals who promise monetary profits in return. They also urged shop keepers to dial in mobile phones of customers themselves.

People were asked to report any suspicious requests and to carry out monetary transactions more carefully.

Statistics provided by the police show that 374 embezzlement cases have been reported this year, compared to 391 in 2013.



Related to this story

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Police commissioner expresses concerns over 2012 cyber crime surge

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PPM MP sentenced to four years in exile for embezzlement

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ibrahim Ameen has been sentenced to four years and six months in exile for embezzlement.

The Criminal Court found the MP for Ungoofaaru constituency guilty of embezzling MVR36, 818 (US$2,388) from the Ungoofaru Island Council Office.

Ameen had been responsible for all incoming cash at the office from May 2004 – April 2006, but failed to explain how MVR36,818 went missing from cash handed over to the office by the island’s power house.

The embezzlement was discovered by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), but Ameen told the Criminal Court the commission’s audit was flawed. He had, however, confessed to receiving the amount.

The Criminal Court sentenced Ameen to internal exile under the Penal Code Article 131(a) and ordered him to pay the money back to the Island Office within a month.

Article 131(a) of the code states that any persons found guilty of embezzlement should be sentenced to six month or one year banishment if it was the first time the person was found guilty of such crime, and  Article 132 states that if the amount of money obtained through embezzlement was more than MVR10,000 (US$649) the person should be banished to an extra  month for each additional MVR1000 (US$69).

Ameen’s brother Abdul Nasir was also handed an eleven year sentence on 17 April 2014 for embezzling MVR114,325 (US$7,414) from the council. Nasir was also found guilty of embezzling fees paid to the council by the power house.

Nasir had confessed to using the funds for personal use, the Criminal Court said.

Ameen won a by-election after his brother MP Dr Afrasheem Ali’s brutal murder left the seat vacant. The PPM issued Ameen the ticket without a primary as he is the brother of the late MP.

Ameen did not contest for the 18th People’s Majlis.

He told local media that he had no interest in politics and that he had competed in the by-election in 2012 to complete his brother’s term.

“My brother’s family asked me if I will stand for the seat. Senior party members and friends also want me to stand for the seat. But I have no interest,” he said at the time.

The current Majlis is in recess ahead of the end of its term on May 28.

Article 73 of the constitution states that a person shall be disqualified from election as a member of the People’s Majlis – or a member of the People’s Majlis immediately becomes disqualified – if he has been convicted of a criminal offence and is serving a sentence of more than twelve months.

Additionally, the same article states that if a person has been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term more than 12 months he will not be able to stand for parliament,  unless a period of three years has elapsed since his release or he has been pardoned for the offense.

In August 2011, Kaashidhoo MP Ismail Abdul Hameed was sentenced to 18 months in exile for corruption. He subsequently lost his seat.

However, Hameed served ten months of his term under house arrest due to the state’s failure to decide on an island for his exile. He was released in August 2012 under parole.

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Audit reports released in first quarter revealed illegal expenditure worth MVR2.2 billion

Audit reports released in the first quarter of 2014 reveal financial transactions worth MVR2.2 billion (US$142 million) were conducted illegally by state institutions and corporations, according to the quarterly report (Dhivehi) of the audit office made public yesterday (April 29).

In the 14 audit reports released between January and March, the auditor general recommended recovering MVR294 million (US$19 million) from the officials responsible for the illegal expenditure.

These included MVR256.9 million (US$16.6 million) worth of unpaid dividends owed by state-owned corporations, MVR1.2 million (US$77,821) paid out as allowances to soldiers studying in the Maldives and overseas in addition to their basic salary, MVR166,324 (US$10,786) owed by an atoll councillor for residing in the atoll house free of charge, MVR23,927 (US$1,551) spent on plane tickets for a minister, and several millions owed by the Works Corporation.

The 14 reports covered the financial years 2011 and 2012 for a number of government ministries and companies, including the Defence Ministry, Finance Ministry, Civil Aviation Ministry and the Works Corporation.

The quarterly report noted that the auditor general also recommended that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigate several cases of alleged corruption and embezzlement flagged in the 14 audits, which uncovered 163 instances of illegal expenditure or violations of public finance regulations.

In an appearance on state broadcaster Television Maldives in January, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim asserted that releasing audit reports was “futile” as the accountability process has so far failed.

While the audit office’s role was to conduct audits and review financial statements, Niyaz noted that the office was not legally empowered to file cases at court to recover funds or hold officials accountable for lapses.

Niyaz insisted that there was no political motive behind the timing of damaging audit reports, noting that the audit office adheres to a timetable or schedule shared with a parliamentary committee.

He also assured the public that the audit office was free of undue influence from any state official.

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Audit of Waste Management Company uncovers embezzlement, “wasteful” expenditure

An audit of the government owned Waste Management Company has uncovered severe mismanagement and embezzlement.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed had established the company by presidential decree on 15 December 2008 with assets worth MVR 1.5 billion (US$ 97 million).

However, “Since its inception, the company has done nothing to achieve its aims,” Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim has said in a new report.

The company’s sole expenditure in the period 2009- 2011 was on wages, the report notes, adding “state expenditure on the Waste Management Corporation Ltd did not bring any benefit and was completely wasteful.”

With the election of island and atoll councils, the Finance Ministry had recommended the company be dissolved in 2011 as the Local Government Act charged local government with waste management. However, the President’s Office advised against the dissolution, the report said.

In 2010, a European Union and World Bank funded “South Ari-Atoll Regional Waste Management” Project to establish a waste management systems in Alif Dhaal Atoll Bodukaashihuraa was transferred from the Ministry of Housing and Environment to the Waste Management Company on President Nasheed’s orders.

But to this day, the Waste Management Company has not done any work on the project, the report found.

Further, an unnamed board member had embezzled MVR610,000 (US$ 39,354) by doctoring cheques, the report said. The board member was the sole employee in charge of the company’s finances.

The Auditor General’s Office was unable to carry out a full financial audit because the company had failed to submit its annual financial report, the report said.

Moreover, the company had failed to keep proper documentation of its expenditure and revenue or minutes of its board meetings or an asset register.

Expenditure on travel abroad was not documented, while employees were not registered with the pensions scheme as mandated by the Pensions Act, the report said.

Niyaz has recommended criminal charges be filed against all parties who participated in, were accomplice to,and/or were negligent in the embezzlement and wastage of state funds.

He has further called on the government to decide on the company’s future as soon as possible.

Governance NGO Transparency Maldives released a report last week revealed that 83 percent of people surveyed felt corruption had increased or stayed the same during the past two years.

Speaking at the event to launch the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) report, President of the Anti-Corruption Commission Hussain Luthfy urged more transparency within government companies in order to foster an atmosphere in which corruption can be addressed proactively.

He suggested that government owned companies often pass resolutions to obstruct the ACC’s investigations.

Transparency Maldives, the local chapter of Transparency International (TI) describes the GCB as one of the tools it uses to better understand corruption.

The group’s most widely used indicator – the Corruption Perceptions Index  – was released last week. For the second consecutive year the Maldives was not ranked after TI was unable to gather the necessary data.

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Maafushi Council chair arrested in connection with missing half-million rufiya

Police have arrested the chair of Maafushi island council in connection with the alleged theft of MVR 520,000 (US$33,722) from the council’s budget, which was found missing from a safe in the island council secretariat.

Local newspaper ‘Haveeru’ reported a local councillor as claiming that Abdulla Mufeed of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had been taken into custody.

Police revealed that the case had been reported on 26 August before the council chair was arrested on Thursday night (August 29), while he was in Male’.

Police said the investigation team had obtained documents related to the case as well as questioned people to clarify related information.

The island council obtained the money by renting a house in an auction, and the money was paid by the buyer according to an agreement between the two parties, said police.

Police also said the buyer had paid the monthly payment of MVR35,000 (US$2,269) in advance, a total of MVR 420,000 (US$27,237) in advance for the year, as well as paying MVR 100,000 (US$6,485) for the council to spend on social activities.

The fraud and financial crime department is investigating the case.

The councilor also told alleged to the paper Mufeed had stolen MVR 51,000 (US$3300) given to the council by the Youth Ministry.

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Former Police Commissioner Adam Zahir faces corruption charges

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has asked the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) to press corruption charges against former Commissioner of Police Adam Zahir over the alleged embezzlement of MVR65,817 (US$4,268) from the police budget.

According to the ACC, the funds were released in 2008 to purchase return tickets for Adam Zahir’s wife from Manchester, England to Male’ to attend a function to mark the police golden jubilee.

The ACC investigators however found that Zahir’s wife was not out of the country at the time.

While a payment voucher for the trip included an Emirates Airlines ticket slip dated April 7, 2008, immigration records showed that Zahir’s wife was in the Maldives between March 26 and April 9 that year.

Immigration records also showed that Zahir’s wife did not travel on Emirates Airlines at all in 2008. The ACC discovered that she had arrived in the Maldives on a British charter flight from First Choice Airways.

The commission therefore asked the PGO to prosecute the former police chief for abuse of authority and embezzlement.

A senior officer of the now-defunct National Security Service (NSS), Zahir became the first Commissioner of Police when former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom established the Maldives Police Service as a civilian law enforcement agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

During the reform movement led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Zahir was accused of overseeing torture and custodial abuse, making his resignation a perennial opposition demand.

He resigned in November 2008 after the election of President Mohamed Nasheed.

Wikileaks cables from the American Embassy in Colombo meanwhile revealed that the former police chief was seen as part of the “old guard” opposed to political reforms under President Gayoom.

In December 2005, Sri Lankan police raided the Colombo office of the then MDP-affiliated Minivan News publication upon request from the Maldivian authorities, which alleged that Minivan staff were engaged in seditious activities and gun-running.

In a December 29 meeting with poloff [political officer], an American contractor who works with law enforcement officials in Colombo said that his police contacts informed him the request for the investigation had been signed by Maldivian Chief of Police Adam Zahir and sent to the Interpol Liaison Desk. The contractor said the Sri Lankan police suspected  the charges were politically motivated, but were compelled to  follow up because of their serious nature,” the cable read.

In January 2006, former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed – part of the ‘New Maldives’ group of young ministers associated with Gayoom’s reform package – told the US Embassy political officer that the raid on the Minivan office was “utterly shameful.”

Shaheed expressed  concern that the raid undermined the ‘New Maldives’ agenda he and several other reform-minded ministers are promoting. Describing the police chief as ‘someone we are at war with,’  Shaheed added that he had encouraged the president to shift  Zahir from his current position,” reads the cable.

In 2006, reformist magazine Adduvas exposed a number of MPs and regime officials who had taken soft loans from former President Gayoom, including Zahir, who had obtained loans totalling MVR8.7 million (US$677,000).

In August 2009, Zahir was summoned to the presidential commission set up by former President Nasheed to investigate allegations of corruption and misappropriation of state funds under the former regime.

At a ceremony on March 29 this year to commemorate the 80th anniversary of police, Zahir was awarded a special plaque by President Dr Mohamed Waheed “in remembrance of his dedicated and invaluable services rendered to MPS.”

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Auditor General accuses senior officials of negligence in embezzlement of MVR 24 million from DMC

The Auditor General’s Office has accused senior government officials of negligence in the alleged embezzlement of MVR 24 million (US$1.6 million) through the Disaster Management Center (DMC) in 2009 and 2010.

In a presentation to parliament’s Finance Committee on Wednesday, Director General Ibrahim Aimon reportedly revealed that the Auditor General’s Office suspected former State Minister Abdulla Shahid, who was in charge of the DMC at the time, along with DMC Director General Mohamed Shahid and Deputy Director General Moosa Ali Kaleyfan as well as former State Minister for Finance Ahmed Assad and Finance Controller Ahmed Mohamed, were culpable in the scam or guilty of gross negligence.

Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim told members of the Finance Committee that the negligence of the DMC and Finance Ministry in the embezzlement of funds was “very serious.”

Minivan News is seeking comment from the accused senior officials.

ABCs

On October 11, the Auditor General’s Office made public a special audit report (Dhivehi) of an investigation into misappropriation of MVR 24 million from the DMC, uncovered in the centre’s 2010 audit.

In the 2010 audit of the DMC, auditors discovered that payments were made for “hundreds of invoices from 2005”. As the DMC refused to comply with a request for all documentation relating to the transactions, the report noted that the files were eventually obtained from the Finance Ministry.

In 2005, the report explained, the DMC bought construction material for tsunami-related reconstruction from local businesses with “credit purchase order forms.”

The Finance Ministry paid the bills for credit purchases from the “tsunami recovery fund (TFR).”

A company named Allocate Business Company (ABC) was issued “a large number of purchase orders in 2005,” the report found, noting that the company was about a year-old and was not an importer or seller of construction material.

“Therefore invoices for all the purchase order forms released to ABC were submitted under the names of ‘Apollo Hardware Store’ and ‘Apollo Holdings Pvt Ltd,” the report stated, adding that the payments were made to Apollo in 2005 for the ABC purchase order forms.

The invoices submitted by Apollo Hardware and Apollo Holdings included references to the purchase order forms released to ABC, the report noted.

“Therefore it is believed that these two companies are strongly linked,” the report stated.

The scam

Meanwhile, in 2009 and 2010, ABC submitted over 700 new invoices to seek payments from the state with photocopies of the original purchase orders taken from the Apollo invoices.

The audit found that MVR 24,008,503.75 was paid out for 571 of the invoices.

The Finance Ministry prepared payment vouchers for the DMC and made the payments in four cheques between August 2009 and April 2010.

The fourth and final payment of MVR 13 million (US$843,060) was issued on April 27, 2010 for 193 fraudulent invoices.

While over 700 invoices were sent over by the DMC, the report noted that the Finance Ministry rejected 140 invoices worth over MVR 10 million (US$648,508) after the public accounting system showed that payments had already been made.

“Therefore, this showed that ABC attempted to obtain funds using invoices for which payments had been made [to the company],” the report noted.

“From one perspective, ABC was offered the opportunity to embezzle funds so openly because the company knew of the faulty arrangement between the Disaster Management Centre and and Ministry of Finance for issuing funds and took advantage of it. Or [it is because] the scam was carried out with the collaboration of senior officials of the Disaster Management Centre and Ministry of Finance and Treasury.”

Negligence or involvement of senior officials

The report added that the issuing of funds for forged invoices accepted by the public accounting system “raises serious questions regarding the integrity and capability of those entrusted with spending public funds.”

Moreover, the case demonstrated “extreme irresponsibility” on the part of the public officials, the report stated.

Among the reasons listed for suspecting either involvement or gross negligence of senior government officials, the report noted that as a rule public funds were released only for original documents, whereas the invoices in the DMC case contained photocopies of purchase order forms.

The Auditor General’s Office therefore believed that “this was done deliberately and with a plan rather than out of ignorance or because of mistakes.”

The report also noted that it was highly unlikely that either the state would have held payments owed to a private company without any reason or that the company would have waited four or five years to demand payment with no record of complaint or a court case.

The audit further discovered that officials from the DMC met with the state minister for finance regarding the payments to ABC, “however neither minutes nor any documentation of the discussion was maintained for any of these meetings.”

Moreover, the audit found that the Finance Ministry had rejected some invoices forwarded by the DMC that lacked purchase order forms. However, the audit investigation found that a Director General at the DMC instructed an employee to photocopy purchase order forms and attach the bill to the invoices, which were then sent again to the Finance Ministry.

In conclusion, the Auditor General recommended further investigations by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Maldives Police Service (MPS) for prosecuting the directors of ABC Pvt Ltd as well as the culpable government officials.

According to local media reports, police have since arrested two individuals in connection with the ongoing investigation into the DMC scam. Police have however not revealed the identity of the suspects in custody.

At a press briefing on Thursday, parliament’s Finance Committee Chair MP Ahmed Nazim said that the committee has decided to summon Prosecutor General Ahmed Muiz and members of the ACC along with Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad and Finance Controller Ahmed Mohamed next week to discuss measures to prevent corruption and misappropriation of public funds.

Finance Controller Ahmed Mohamed is among the officials named by the Auditor General’s Office at the Finance Committee meeting last week.

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Gayoom’s half-brother acquitted of three-year old corruption charges

The Criminal Court on Thursday morning acquitted Abdulla Algeen Abdul Gayoom, half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, of corruption charges more than three years after the trial began.

Algeen, younger brother of MP Abdulla Yameen, was accused of embezzling US$177,460 of Japanese funding from the Department of Meteorology (DOM), where he was the Director.

Algeen allegedly sent three separate invoices to the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) between May 2006 and April 2007 on behalf of DOM.

All three invoices demanded payment to Algeen’s personal Bank of Maldives account.

In the verdict (Dhivehi) acquitting Algeen today, Judge Abdulla Didi ruled that the state could not prove that the money in question was owed by JAMSTEC to the government.

History

The first hearing of the corruption case was held on June 9, 2009 with Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed presiding. The second hearing took place over a year later on July 1, 2010.

Newspaper Haveeru reported on March 4 this year that the case was further delayed after the presiding judge was changed for a third time.

After the case changed hands from Judge Abdulla Mohamed to Judge Zubair Mohamed, it ended up with Judge Abdulla Didi, who held his first hearing of the case on March 4.

The local daily reported the judge as saying that although the trial had been completed and witnesses heard, he wished to hear the case again as there were certain points to clear up.

Prior to Judge Didi restarting the case, the last hearing was held on October 19, 2011 where the trial was concluded with closing statements.

Concluding the new hearings on April 11, 2012, Judge Didi had said he would issue a verdict in two weeks.

The case against Algeen

In August 2007, Minivan News reported leaked documents showing JAMSTEC was funding a two year DOM research project into the oceanography and meteorology of the Indian Ocean.

In a Memorandum of Understanding signed in early May 2006, JAMSTEC agreed to meet “all expenses incurred in connection” with the project.

Later that month an agreement was signed requiring JAMSTEC to transfer $92,000 dollars to the DOM. In April 2007, the agreement was renewed for a year, with a payment of $70,000 required.

Both the 2006 and 2007 agreements require JAMSTEC to transfer money to a “bank account… designated by DOM.”

Algeen was the sole signatory on behalf of DOM for both agreements.

He issued the $92,000 dollar invoice on May 22, three days after signing the 2006 agreement, and the $70,000 dollar invoice on April 8, 2007, the same day he signed the 2007 agreement. A third invoice for a balance amount of $13,248.34 was issued on 22 December, 2006.

All three invoices were issued on DOM letterheads and the two most recent had Government of Maldives stamps. The bank account quoted was Algeen’s personal one.

“Wiping the slate clean”

Following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, the Criminal Court dismissed corruption charges against Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim and Eydhafushi MP Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem.

On February 20, the Criminal Court ruled that Nazim could not be prosecuted on charges of defrauding the now-defunct Ministry of Atolls Development, in the purchase of 220 harbour lights worth MVR1.95 million (US$126,000) in 2004.

Nazim, leader of the People Alliance (PA), along with MP Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem (then-finance director at the ministry) and Abdullah Hameed, former Atolls Minister and half brother of Gayoom were charged in late 2009 on multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the Atolls Ministry.

Eight days after Nazim’s case was dismissed, the Criminal Court acquitted MP Saleem – now a member of former President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – of involvement in the scam.

Following the verdict, the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) accused President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik of being controlled by supporters of former President Gayoom, who were “intent on purging the People’s Majlis of MDP MPs and MDP-leaning MPs in order to secure a controlling majority.”

“Recent days have seen cases against three MDP-supporting MPs fast-tracked in order to disqualify them from parliament while serious corruption charges have been dropped for opposition leaning MPs,” the party said in a statement, noting that MP Saleem’s case had been “unreasonably delayed in the court process since 2009.”

On February 20, the Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling disqualified MDP MP for Thimarafushi constituency, Mohamed Musthafa over a decreed debt and stripped him of his seat.

“While in government, MDP consistently maintained that key parts of the judiciary are in the hands of the supporters of former President Gayoom. Now we are seeing the truth of that claim. Dr Waheed regime is using the courts to settle old scores, to reduce MDP’s parliamentary majority and to wipe the slate clean for government supporters,” MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said at the time.

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New members for Presidential Commission investigating alleged embezzlement

The Presidential Commission established in 2009 to investigate alleged embezzlement of state funds and resources was reconstituted by President Nasheed yesterday.

The commission will now be chaired by Sarangu Adam Manik and Hussain Rasheed Ahmed. The other two members are Mohamed Aswan and Abdulla Haseen.

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