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.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed formed the presidential commission in May 2009 to investigate alleged corruption during his predecessor’s 30-year reign.
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.
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.
The Maldivian government has reportedly been paying millions of dollars in penalty fees to forensic accountancy firm Grant Thornton, after last year terminating its contract to recover assets allegedly stolen during the 30 year regime of 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.
Azima had not responded at time of press, but Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad confirmed to Minivan News last week that the government has been paying the charges, though he said he did not have the exact amounts to hand.
Minivan News understands from a source familiar with the matter that 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.
According to the source, the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) remitted these monthly payments to Grant Thorton on May 22, June 27 and July 17.
“As of February 2012, Grant Thorton were ready with a criminal complaint, having obtained a number of documents relating to financial dealings from Singapore banks through court orders issued by Singapore courts,” stated Dr Ahmed Shaheed, former Foreign Minister and head of the Presidential Commission, shortly after the contract’s termination.
Yameen is contesting the presidential run-off against Nasheed on September 28. He has publicly dismissed the allegations on repeated 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, 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.
That article drew heavily on a leaked draft of an investigation report by Grant Thorton, dissecting the contents of three hard drives containing financial information regarding transactions from 2002 to 2008. No digital data was available before 2002, and the paper trail was described as “hazy”.
In the lead up to the first round of the presidential election – in which the Jumhoree Party (JP) narrowly missed second place in the run-off to Yameen – JP vice presidential candidate Dr Hassan Saeed vowed to “reopen” the investigation into the STO oil case “as an issue of the highest priority.”
Dr Saeed was President Waheed’s Special Advisor at the time the Presidential Commission was dissolved, and the Grant Thornton contract terminated.
“Abdulla Yameen’s case was started under the previous government. While it was being investigated this government came into office, canceled the contract [with Grant Thornton] and paid 4.6 million pounds on the condition that it not proceed with the investigation, of which a large portion has now been paid,” Dr Saeed declared, during a press conference on August 31.
Saeed claimed that Grant Thornton attempted to communicate with Dr Waheed’s administration regarding the investigation but had received no reply. The accounting firm therefore decided that the contract was at an end and hired a debt collection agency, he revealed.
Asked by media if he had any role in terminating the contract as Waheed’s special advisor, Saeed claimed the contract was already cancelled when he became aware of it.
He further claimed that Dr Waheed was forced to reappoint STO Maldives Singapore Pvt Ltd and Maldives National Oil Company (MNOC) Managing Director Ahmed Muneez because of “pressure from Yameen.”
“Dr Waheed said he had to do it because of extreme pressure from Yameen,” Saeed said.
“I say this because in my opinion, the best path for this country cannot be the weakening of the constitutional framework, breaking the law, arson, or the creation of conflict,” Waheed said, explaining his decision to back Yameen in a statement published on the President’s Office website.
A leaked draft of a report into the Bank of Maldives’ (BML) lending practices prior to 2008 has identified those behind potentially destabilising breaches of both BML and Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) guidelines.
The asset recovery investigation by forensic accounting company Grant Thornton, drawing on the 2008 Attorney General’s report on BML, concludes that it would have been “impossible for the [BML] board to not have been influenced” in the granting of significant exposures in the form of credit to a select coterie of Gayoom-era affiliates.
The document reveals well-connected individuals bypassing BML rules regarding the handling of non-performing assets, with a number of large companies belonging to politically-active businessmen continuing to receive credit despite failing to satisfactorily meet previous repayment obligations.
“The large exposures that BML held, were in the main, due to members of the board or their relatives,” the report found.
“Due to the fact that the largest exposures of the bank were from Board members and/or their families, it would be unrealistic for the Board to provide any clear independent review of the banking facilities provided, and would in [our] view form conflict of interest issues for those Board Members involved,” it added.
The report names a number of individuals and business groups who benefitted from the state bank’s loan and overdraft facilities towards the end of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30 year tenure as head of state.
The government was handed a US$10million (MVR 154.2 million) invoice from Grant Thornton last year in what former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed told Minivan News was a penalty fee for stopping the investigation initiated under Gayoom’s successor Mohamed Nasheed.
Prior to the alleged request from the current government to halt the investigation, Grant Thornton had uncovered evidence of an alleged US$800 million oil trade involving former head of the State Trading Organisation (STO) and current presidential hopeful Abdulla Yameen. Shaheed alleged that the accounting firm was contracted to receive a percentage of any assets recovered as a result of its work.
The private parties named in Grant Thorton’s BML assessment include the Sun Group, Lily Group, Sultans of the Seas, VA Group, Afeef Group, Villa Group, Thasmeen Ali, VB Group, and Rainbow.
“Many of the above parties benefited from loans that were used to assist in purchasing leases for resorts, related tourism businesses etc, of which would not have been achieved without the connections held by certain individuals,” the report said.
The report also makes particular mention of the role of Ibrahim Gasim, both Finance Minister and non-executive BML board member at the time of the majority of cases documented within the Grant Thornton report.
Gasim, who is also standing as the Jumhoree Party (JP) presidential candidate in next month’s election, would have been responsible for the appointment of the majority of the BML board at this time.
Grant Thornton’s report revealed that Gasim’s Villa Group had been loaned MVR481,299,571 (US$37,601,520) as of October 31st 2008, representing 32.4 percent of the bank’s entire capital.
This represents one of a number of examples of such exposure featured in the report, despite the Bank’s acquiescence in 2006 to an MMA request to reduce any credit guaranteed to individual or related group borrowers to 30 percent of overall capital.
After repeated lobbying, the MMA increased this amount to 40 percent. Grant Thornton suggested that this extension request was due to the fact that a number of the groups mentioned in its report were already exceeding the original lower limit.
In rejecting one of BML’s requests for an increased credit exposure limit, the MMA wrote that “such concentration of credit is far in excess of the legal lending limits of the bank and it could seriously threaten the bank’s position, and the stability of the whole financial sector,” the leaked document stated.
Even with this increase, Sun Group is reported to have exceeded this limit after January 2008, with loans and overdraft facilities reaching MVR 607,345,442 (US$46,879,400) as of 31 October 2008.
“This amounted to 40.8 percent of the Bank’s capital as at 31 October 2008,” the report observed.
Loans and overdraft facilities provided to Afeef Group totalled MVR 245,123,414 (US$19,150,266) as of October 31, 2008 – approximately 16.5 percent of BML’s total capital at the time.
Sun Group Chairman and majority shareholder Ahmed Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) meanwhile this week announced its decision to form a coalition the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), headed by former President Gayoom.
Alterations to BML’s internal loan approval mechanisms for board members in May 2007 resulted in the bypassing of the bank’s Credit Committee.
“This effectively meant that those Board Members that had applied for credit facilities were approving their own loans,” stated the draft report.
BML board members complicit in self-approving their own credit lines include Mohamed Ahmed Didi (Sultans Group shareholder), Ahmed Hamza (Director of the VA Group), and Gasim (Chairman of the Villa Group).
Director Mohamed Adil also features prominently, being cited in one particular example of a board meeting in which he approved the re-financing of the Sultan Group’s debt at the same time as being the group’s major director/shareholder.
In the intervening years, BML wrote off multiple toxic non-performing assets and returned to profitability, largely by outright ceasing to pay dividends to shareholders for almost five years.
The Bank’s board approved a MVR 50 million (US$3.23 million) interim dividend to shareholders in July 2013, the first since 2008.
“This marks the end of a painful and challenging journey that began in 2009 when the bank reported record level non-performing loans. However, in recent years Bank of Maldives has reported record level earnings and operating profit and the company returned to profit in 2012,” read a statement from BML.
“The profitability and dividend payment will be sustainable going forward,” said Horton in the bank’s July statement. “This is an interim dividend and at MVR 9.29 [a share] for the half year places us in a strong position to pay the highest full year dividend in the Bank’s recent history at year end”.
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”.
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.
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.”
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.