High Court concludes hearings of Deputy Speaker Nazim’s case ahead of final verdict

The High Court today concluded hearing witness statements in the state’s appeal of Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim acquittal by the Criminal Court on charges of corruption, ahead of delivering a final verdict at a later date.

Nazim stands accused of receiving more than US$400,000 through fraudulent transactions made by a company he was found to own.

At today’s hearing, the prosecution lawyer noted that the Criminal Court had previously dismissed the testimonies of witnesses submitted by the state against Nazim. The High Court would now decide on whether to take the witness statements into account before a final verdict on the case is delivered.

The Criminal Court ruled in February last year that the witnesses submitted to the court were all staffs at a company called NAMIRA, which is owned by Nazim and at the centre of the alleged corruption.  The court concluded at the time that staff involved in the alleged fraud could not be presented as witnesses and dismissed their statements.

At today’s hearing, the prosecution lawyer was reported as stating to the court that it was apparent that staff at NAMIRA had not benefited at all from the alleged corruption. The lawyer argued that they therefore would not have had any involvement in the case had they not been asked by Nazim himself.

Before concluding today’s hearing, the presiding judge announced that unless the court required clarification on any further details of the trial, a verdict on the case would be delivered during the next hearing.

Deputy Speaker Nazim was not responding to calls at time of press.

In late 2009, Nazim was charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the former Atolls Ministry.

However, in February 2012, the Criminal Court dismissed the case against Nazim and ruled that there were no grounds to prosecute him.

The alleged corruption at the centre of the trial – first flagged in an audit report released in early 2009 – involved paper companies allegedly set up by the defendant to win bids for projects worth several hundred thousands dollars.

The case began in late 2009, after police uncovered evidence that implicated Nazim in a number of fraudulent transactions.

At a press conference in August 2009, Chief Inspector Ismail Atheef said police had uncovered evidence that implicated Nazim in fraudulent transactions worth over US$260,000 (Mrf 3,446,950).

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

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 further alleged that MP ‘Red Wave’ Saleem actively assisted from the atoll ministry. Meanwhile, Nazim’s wife, Zeenath Abdullah, was accused of abusing her position as a manager of the Bank of Maldives’ Villingili branch to deposit proceeds from the scheme.


Third man arrested in Arturs brothers case charged with fraud, forgery

The police have charged 28 year-old Mohamed Vishal of Everchance in Henveiru with fraud and forgery, confirmed Criminal Court media official Ahmed Mohamed Manik.

Manik confirmed that Vishal was brought before the judges last night, where his pretrial detention period was extended by 15 days.

Manik said Vishal had been accused of obtaining over US$32,000 from a company called company called ‘King Global Development Private Limited’, owned by a Thai national. It is currently unclear as to how the charges relate to this company or the money.

According to its website, the company deals in seafood, aviation services, dietary supplements and jewelry.

Visham is the third suspect along with fellow Maldivian Ahmed Nishan and French national Godzine Sargsyan to be detained by police in relation to investigation into the Artur Brother’s presence in the country.

A company named ‘Artur Brothers World Connections’ was registered in the Maldives in October 2012, with the Artur brothers holding an 80 percent share in a 61-19 percent split.

French nationals identified as Godzine Sargsyan and Edga Sargsyan had a 10 and 7 percent share, while a Maldivian national Ismail Waseem of H. Ever Chance was listed as holding the remaining 3 percent.


Maleesha Hajj Group owner denies fraud charges in court

Maleesha Hajj Group owner Islmail Abdul Latheef ,who is being accused of fraudulently collecting funds from Maldivians who wanted to perform Hajj in Mecca last year, has denied charges against him in the Criminal Court.

Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed today asked Ismail Abdul Latheef to state the reasons as to why he had denied the charges. Latheef requested he be given time to respond.

Judge Abdulla Mohamd asked Ismail Abdul Latheef to state his reasons during the next hearing held.

At today’s hearing the state was given the opportunity to produce evidence against him, however the state attorney refused to produce the evidence before Ismail Abdul Latheef stated his reasons as to why he was denying the charges.

The PG has alleged that Latheef had fraudulently obtained MVR 8 million (US$519,000 ) from many people after they made payments to the Maleesha Hajj Group to travel to Mecca to perform Hajj.

Latheef was arrested in Colombo, Sri Lanka in November 2012, a month after police issued an Interpol red notice to locate and apprehend him. Authorities were reported to have arrested Latheef while he was in the Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo.

Hajj groups are authorised by the government to provide transport and accommodation for pilgrims in Mecca, as well as offering guidance in helping them complete the religious rituals.

At the time, Sri Lankan police told local newspaper Haveeru that Abdul Latheef was suspected of being involved in a Sri Lankan money laundering ring as well, and that he was also suspected of collecting money from Sri Lankans.

Latheef’s father is the head of the Athama Hajj Group.


Seven people charged in Sheesha Brothers MVR 18 million fraud case

The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) has pressed charges against seven people in a case involving MVR 18 million (US$1.2 million) that went missing from the State Bank of India (SBI) account of the owners of local motorcycle retailer Sheesha.

On November 24, 2011, the Sheesha owners discovered that several unauthorised transfers had been made from their joint personal savings account to an unidentified recipient.

The PGO pressed charges today against Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) Retired Colonel Shaukath Ibrahim and two female staff from SBI, Sulthana Hussain of H Miureksand Aishath Hussain from Kelaa Island in Haa Alif Atoll. Additionally, Ibrahim Shaheed from Thulhaadhoo Island in Baa Atoll, Mohamed Musthafa and Mohamed Musthaumid from Lhaimagu Island in Lhaviyani Atoll, and Ali Ashraf of Rasmaadhoo Island in Raa Atoll were also charged.

Retired Colonel Shaukath Ibrahim’s bank account was used to transfer the money and withdraw it, according to local newspaper Haveeru.

Following the Sheesha brothers’ – Ahmed Hassan Manik, Hussain Husham and Ibrahim Husham – discovery, they told local media the SBI transfer had been made to a Bank of Maldives account with a forged document faxed to SBI with Manik’s name and signature. The brothers said they would sue SBI and requested the bank take full responsibility for the theft.

In November 2011, Hussain Husham told local media that the total amount of MVR 18 million was taken in two transactions.

The first transaction was made on November 9, 2011, with the amount of MVR 8.5 million (US$551,000) withdrawn. On December 20, the culprits withdrew an additional MVR 9.5 million (US$616,000) from the Sheesha brothers’ account.


Deputy Speaker Nazim “mastermind” of scam to defraud atolls ministry: state prosecutors

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim was the “mastermind” of a scam to defraud the now-defunct Ministry of Atolls Development, state prosecutors told the High Court today.

Attorneys from the Prosecutor General (PG’s) Office claimed at today’s appeal hearing that Namira Engineering Private Limited – of which Nazim was a former board director – had won bids from the atolls ministry with fraudulent documents and paper companies.

The prosecutors argued that the MP for Meemu Atoll Dhiggaru, as a board director, was ultimately responsible for any corrupt dealings involving the company.

Contacted by Minivan News for comment today, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim said he was “too busy to comment on the matter”.

In February 2012, the Criminal Court dismissed four corruption charges against Nazim. The decisions came just days after the controversial transfer of power on February 7 that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed to office, with the court ruling that Nazim’s “acts were not enough to criminalise him.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office (PG) however appealed the rulings at the High Court in June 2012.

The appeal

During the first hearing of the appeal today – concerning Nazim’s Namira Engineering Private Limited winning a bid to provide 15,000 national flags – state prosecutors accused the defendant of setting up paper companies for the scam.

The bogus businesses were then used to win bids for projects worth several hundred thousand dollars, the state prosecutors argued.

State Prosecutor Abdulla Raabiu contended that board directors of a company should be liable for criminal transactions carried out in the name of a company under the Companies Act of Maldives.

Raabiu also asserted that Nazim was the “mastermind” behind the fraud and had fully benefited from the deal.

Highlighting apparent lapses during the previous trial against Nazim, Raabiu alleged that the Criminal Court had refused to hear witnesses produced by the state, referring instead to previous statements they had given to the police.

Furthermore, he stated that the court had dismissed the state’s witnesses as suspects of the same crime.

Raabiu argued that it was a familiar practice for the prosecution to withhold charges against suspects with lesser degrees of criminal liability in order to ensure successful prosecution of a prime suspect in a criminal case.

The prosecution said it believed the prime suspect would have a greater degree of criminal liability in the same case.

The state prosecutor also alleged that the case had been decided based solely on Nazim’s word and that the court had refused to give the opportunity to the state to prove its case against the defendant.

Requesting an order for a retrial, Raabiu claimed that the case was concluded in violation of the constitutional stipulation demanding equity in hearing both sides of a case.

The defence

Responding to the allegations by the state, Nazim’s defence counsel Aishath Shizleen contended that it should not be Nazim, but those involved in drafting the bid documents that should be held liable.

Instead of prosecuting the real wrong-doers, she argued, the state had produced them as witnesses against Nazim even when the investigation had clearly found the witnesses had themselves produced the fake documents.

Furthermore, Nazim’s lawyer argued that a witness needed to have certain standards as per a Supreme Court ruling, which had explicitly stated that evidence given by a witness who had even the slightest involvement in a crime could not be accepted to the court.

The lawyer said that the stipulation was also prescribed in the Quran.

This, she said, was the reason for which the Criminal Court had decided to reject the witnesses produced by the state. Nazim’s defense counsel requested the High Court to declare that the decision reached by the Criminal Court was valid and that no retrial was required.

Scam allegations

Along with Deputy Speaker Nazim, MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem (then-finance director at the ministry) and Abdulla Hameed, former Atolls Minister and half brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, were charged in late 2009 on multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the Atolls Ministry.

The scam – first flagged in an audit report released in early 2009 – involved paper companies allegedly set up by the defendants to win bids for projects worth several hundred thousand dollars, including the fraudulent purchase of harbour lights, national flags and mosque sound systems.

According to the report, the documents of Malegam Tailors, the company which won the bid, showed that it shared the same phone number as Namira. Fast Tailors, another company that applied, also shared a different phone number registered under Namira.

The other company Needlework Tailors, which submitted the bid had an employee of Namira sign the documents under the title of general manager, while the fourth company named ‘Seaview Maldives Private Maldives’ did not have any record of its existence, according to the report.

However, the auditors had noted that the Seaview bid documents had an exact date error also found on Fast Tailors documents.  According to the auditors, the error was sufficient to prove the same party had prepared both company’s bids.

The prosecution began in late 2009, after police uncovered evidence that implicated Hameed, Saleem and Nazim in a number of fraudulent transactions.

At a press conference in August 2009, 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 letterheads. Police alleged that money was channeled through the scam to Nazim, who then laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies.


Police investigating ‘Xpress Money’ transfer fraud

Police have launched a fraud investigation concerning the transfer of MVR388,000 (US $25,162) out of the Maldives after a service called ‘Xpress Money’ was alleged to have been hacked by thieves.

According to local newspapers, individuals are suspected of stealing the money by hacking into the Xpress Money website and transferring the funds overseas.

Xpress Money, which is operated in association with Maldives Post Limited (MPL), provides money transfer services to Pakistan, Bangladhesh, Nepal and the Philippines, according to Maldives Post Limited’s own website.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today (April 11) that a case had been filed with the police on April 8 regarding the transfer, which formed part of several investigations into fraudulent transfer payments.

Haneef said the police were now analyzing all the available data.

‘’Since it is a cybercrime case revealing more information at the time might interrupt the investigations,’’ he added.

‘’We are investigating this case along with the Moneygram [fraud] case.”

On March 26, the Maldives Police Service announced it was investigating a MVR49.9 (US$3.2 million) fraud case believed to have been impacted transfer organisation Moneygram.  Moneygram also operates in association with the Maldives Post service.

According to the Maldives Post website, MPL in association with Moneygram provide money transfer services to 39,000 locations in 150 countries around the world.

Haneef confirmed that so far no arrests have been made in connection with either the Xpress Money or Moneygram cases.

Cyber crime

As of December 24 last year, the Maldives Police Service (MPS) said it had received 61 reports of suspected cyber crime in 2012 – a second consecutive annual increase in such crimes since 2010.

Back in September the same year, the MPS announced it would be forming a special Cyber Policing Department.

Police stated at the time that three units will be operating under the new department, including the cyber crime investigation unit, cyber forensics unit and cyber security unit.


Police investigating ‘Moneygram’ fraud worth MVR49.9 million

Police are investigating a MVR49.9 (US$3.2 million) fraud case involving money transfer organisation ‘Moneygram’.

Police told local media that the case was reported on March 13 was now under investigation.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef said the case was handed to the police cyber crime department as the fraud was conducted over the internet.

Chairman of Maldives Post Limited (MPL) Ahmed Nizam told newspaper ‘Sun’ that the company came to know about the missing money last week and reported it to police.

He told the paper that it appeared the money was stolen through hacking.

Maldives Post Limited has temporarily ceased offering money transfer through Moneygram “until the police investigation is concluded that the MPL is sure this sort of thing will not happen again.’’

Maldives Post Limited and police have not provided details of the case.

MPL website states that ‘’Moneygram is a person-to-person money transfer virtually to any place around the world. Moneygram is an extensive and proficient network, linked by computers, which will transfer your money around the world with care.’’

According to the Maldives Post website, MPL in association with MoneyGram provides money transfer service to 39,000 locations in 150 countries around the world.

The website also states that ”Moneygram is based in Denver, Colorado USA. It was started in 1988 and since then has emerged to become one of the world leaders in the electronic transfer of money around the world. Moneygram has developed top-end technological solutions for its business, which are highly secure and reliable.”


Forgeries, fraud and dead people appearing on party membership forms: Elections Commission

The Elections Commissions (EC) has said it has noticed a surge of discrepancies on membership forms submitted by certain political parties including forged documents, forms with false information and even forms filed under the names of dead people.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Vice President of the Elections Commission Ahmed Fayaz said the commission noticed the discrepancies after it received a large number of membership forms ahead of parliament’s decision that parties with under 10,000 members would be dissolved.

According to Fayaz, within the last few weeks the EC noticed that a large number of membership forms had major forgeries including forged signatures and duplicated national identity card numbers.

He also said the commission had received forms submitted in the name of people who no longer were alive.

Fayaz said the commission had now forwarded the cases to relevant authorities, including police and the Department of National Registration (DNR) to investigate the matter.

Speaking to Minivan News, Secretary General of Elections Commission Asim Abdul Sattar said the commission was now working to verify and validate all the forms that it had received from the parties.

He added that the commission felt the forged membership forms began appearing after the parliament previously ordered the commission to stop using fingerprint verification on membership forms.

In April 2010, the Elections Commission introduced a new political party registration form to avoid the recurrent problem of people being registered to political parties without their knowledge.

President of the Elections Commission Fuad Thaufeeq at the time said the commission had uncovered an estimated 900-1100 people registered to political parties without their knowledge, “from all political parties.”

The new form introduced required the person’s fingerprint, two witnesses and their signature. It came under heavy criticism from political parties alleging that the EC was biased in approving forms by certain political parties.

On November 2012, Parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee requested the Elections Commission cease requiring fingerprints on applications for political party membership.

The committee members questioned the efficiency of fingerprinting technology, arguing that no mechanism or database presently existed in the Maldives that could store the required amount of information.

Explaining the decision to discontinue the EC’s request for fingerprints at the time, Deputy Chairman of the Independent Institutions Committee, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Sameer, said the Maldives did not presently have a mechanism or system to collect and store such information.

“In regards to issues with the fingerprinting system, the EC, Department of National Registration and the Maldives Police Service all agreed they do not have enough records or verification systems available,” he told Minivan News at the time.

The DNR was also reported to have confirmed that no fingerprint database presently existed in the Maldives.

The EC Secretary General added that another factor causing the sudden boost in forged forms may have been the passage of Political Parties Bill, which requires parties to achieve a prerequisite of 10,000 members before being recognised as a political party – and receiving state funding.

“Some political parties began campaigns to achieve 10,000 members and during the process we started noticing such [invalid] forms. They may have predicted that the Political Parties bill would be passed,” he said.

Sattar admitted the commission was facing “technical difficulties”, such as the technology required to verify fingerprints.

“Now we are working to formulate political parties regulation under the newly passed act, and we believe that when this regulation comes into force, it will significantly lower the problems the commission is currently facing,” he said.

However, Sattar declined to reveal the names of the parties that were involved in the scandal, stating only that “the commission will decide whether to reveal the details after investigations by relevant authorities conclude.”

Following the parliament’s decision to speed up the drafting of political parties bill, several smaller parties began membership sprees to reach the limit of 10,000 members, including President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP), business tycoon MP Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhoree Party and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP).

Waheed’s GIP was accused of trying to induce people to join through illegitimate means, in a bid to shore up the party’s membership base. The inducements included offering “music equipment and a place to play for free” as well as “hosting shows and parties” for young people.

Apart from luxurious parties and entertainment, GIP also allegedly promised highly paid government jobs and promotions in return for joining the party.

Meanwhile, contrary to GIP’s approach, the Adhaalath Party (AP) employed a more conservative approach running membership campaigns under slogans such as “Join Adhaalath to defend Islam” and “Adhaalath, the path to paradise”.

At the time of the ratification of Political Parties Act, the Adhaalath Party managed to attain 10,000 members along with the Jumhoree Party (JP), while GIP failed and was removed from the list of political parties.

The Elections Commission has called on the public to be wary of the situation and report to the commission as soon as anyone noticed they were registered to a political party without their knowledge.


Court extends detention of former Immigration Controller, three others

The Criminal Court has extended the detention period of Former Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid, brother of Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Shahid, and three others who were arrested in connection with an alleged fraud case concerning the Disaster Management Centre, worth MVR 24 million (US$1.57 million).

The five were taken to the Criminal Court last Friday, which extended their pretrial detention period to 15 days.

Meanwhile, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid tweeted that the police officers who went to arrest his brother violated the sanctity of his house and entered his parent’s bedroom.

‘’I strongly condemn the violation of the sanctity of my residence and my parent’s bedroom by Maldives Police SO (Special Operations) today,’’ Shahid tweeted on Thursday.

Following the speaker’s allegations, police held a press conference on Friday evening during which Police Superintendent Abdulla Nawaz denied allegations that police had violated the sanctity of Abdulla Shahid’s residence.

Nawaz told the press that the police officers went to Shahid’s house and first called his brother Mohamed Shahid. He came downstairs and told the police officers that he needed to see his parents before leaving.

According to Nawaz, police officers went inside with Shahid when he went to see his parents. He expressed concern that the media was misleading the public over the incident.

The case involving the Disaster Management Centre fraud concerns an audit report into the Centre produced by the Auditor General. In the report, the Auditor General alleged that the MVR 24 million was fraudulently obtained from the budget allocated for the Centre for the years 2009 and 2010.

The Auditor General’s special report into the case alleged that the Disaster Management Centre had photocopied, edited and reused ‘Credit Purchase Order Forms’ used in 2005, to withdraw the MVR 24 million from the Centre’s budget at the Finance Ministry.

The ‘Credit Purchase Order Forms’ were originally given to the Disaster Management Centre in 2005 to withdraw cash from the Tsunami Recovery Fund. The Auditor General’s report also suggested that the Finance Ministry was complicit in the alleged fraud.