Corruption allegations a political attempt at defamation, says Tourism Minister

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has denounced corruption allegations publicised by local media as a “political attack” aimed to defame him.

A case filed at the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) last week alleged Adeeb abused his position of power to obtain MVR 77.1 million (US$5 million) from Maldives Ports Limited and US$1 million from Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

It is alleged that Adeeb subsequently loaned the funds to relatives and friends via state-owned tourism promotion company the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

The complainant claimed the MMPRC had obtained Maldivian Rufiyaa from the MPL in the guise of buying dollars with a promise to reimburse the amount four months later. However, two repayment cheques dated May 10 and 15 bounced due to insufficient funds.

The US$1 million reimbursement dated check for MTDC also bounced, they added.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Adeeb did not deny involvement in the transfer but said such transactions were routine between state owned companies in order to avoid purchasing dollars on the black market.

“The problem here is that I am being singled out and targeted,” he said, suggesting the unfair “defamation attempt” was linked to his refusal to support certain individuals for the position of speaker of the 18th People’s Majlis.

“There is absolutely no room for anyone to say that I fled with the MMPRC’s coffers,” he continued.

The minister confirmed cheques had bounced, but said the MTDC’s US$1 million had been reimbursed, while MPL had been paid one- third of the owed amount in dollars. The remaining two thirds are due in June, he added.

The ACC and the auditor general have confirmed they are investigating the case.

Suspicious transactions

Leaked documents filed at the ACC include an MMPRC letter to MPL CEO Mahdi Imad on February 24, in which the company’s Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath asked the MPL for the rufiyaa equivalent of US$5 million. The amount was to be paid back in dollars in four months through dated checks.

“Reference is made to the meeting held between the Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Maldives Ports Limited CEO Mahdi Imad,” the letter said

“An agreement is to be drafted by MPL for this transaction whose purpose is to provide foreign currency support to MPL through other government companies,” it read.

The complainant, however, questioned the justification, claiming: “The MMPRC is run on state funds, and as the company does not earn in dollars, it is highly questionable that the MPL gave the company money to buy dollars,”

MPL had also transferred rufiyaa to MMPRC at a time when the company had failed to pay dividends to the government. The company had argued it did not have money in its accounts, the complainant said.

They further alleged the MMPRC Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath personally went to MPL with the company’s seal to collect the cheques, demonstrating “the act was a planned act, for personal gain by the leaders of MPL and MMPRC.”

“When one company’s MD personally goes to receive funds from another company, it is evident this act is committed in secrecy, behind the company’s employees’ backs.”

The accuser also questioned why a company set up for tourism promotion was engaging in dollar sales. They also said it was against procedures for the MPL to release the money without any security measures.

In response, Adeeb said that as Tourism Minister he had also helped the state’s primary wholesaler State Trading Organisation (STO) obtain dollars to import goods.

He further pointed out the transactions took place between the companies via board resolutions and official letters, not through documents he had signed. He claimed the MPL needed dollars to buy equipment such as barges.

MPL’s Mahdi Imad was not responding at the time of press and an MMPRC official said Abdulla Ziyath was on leave today.

Loans to relatives

The complainant said as soon as the MMPRC obtained the money, it was transferred in two installments to a company owned by Adeeb’s friend called Millennium Capital Management without any bank checks or security procedures.

The US$1 million obtained from MTDC was loaned to a company owned by Adeeb’s father called Montillion International Pvt Ltd. Adeeb used to own majority of the shares in the company, but on becoming tourism minister in 2012, transferred all of his shares to his father Abdul Ghafoor Adam.

The complainant does not appear to have submitted any supporting evidence for the transfer of funds from MMPRC to the two companies.

When asked if the MMPRC had indeed transferred the funds to companies owned by his friends and relatives, Adeeb did not deny the claim and said he does not hold any business interests and is not a board member of any company.

“If you look at a 360 degrees, the case is very clear,” he said claiming the media was very “judgmental.”

Adeeb has previously been accused of involvement with an infamous pair of Armenian brothers linked with drug trafficking, money laundering, raids on media outlets and other serious crimes in Kenya.

Photos of the Arturs in the company of Adeeb and Minister of Defense Mohamed Nazim Maldivian ministers emerged on social media in April 2013, apparently taken during the Piston Motor Racing Challenge held on Hulhumalé between January 25 and 26.

One photo showed Artur Sargsyan next to Adeeb and Nazim, while another has him apparently starting one of the motorcycle races at the event, which was organised by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). Another image showed Sargsyan at the red carpet opening for the Olympus Cinema.

Adeeb acknowledged meeting the brothers during the event, but said he had no personal links with them, saying the brothers had come to see him over a business dispute with members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

He had asked the brothers to leave “for the good of the country.”

However, letter from the Tourism Ministry to immigration authorities requesting a residency visa for Margaryan and Sargayan Artur – dated January 27 and signed by Adeeb – was subsequently leaked on social media.