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.


Morning Star crew free to return to the Maldives after seven month wait

The crew of a Maldivian ship detained in the Indian port city of Kochi have been told they can finally return to the Maldives after a seven month wait.

The owner of the vessel, Managing Director of Mallinks Pvt Ltd Ibrahim Rasheed, had told crew members back in January that they must attempt to sell the ship or risk being stranded in India indefinitely.

MV Morning Star had been detained by Indian authorities in July 2012 after the vessel it had been towing from the Maldives sank in Indian waters.

Transport Authority Chairman Abdul Rasheed Nafiz said on Monday (March 18) that the ship had now been sold by the Indian courts and the crew will be able to return to the Maldives.

“The crew can return back any time now, but at present they are waiting to receive the money they are owed from the sale of MV Morning Star,” Nafiz said.

The Transport Authority Chairman told Minivan News earlier this year that the crew had gone without pay for over five months prior to January, and had been relying on a union in India to provide them with food.

“The same union is taking care of the crew at the moment whilst they wait for their pay,” Nafiz confirmed today.

Following the sinking of the vessel back in July, a ruling by the Indian Judiciary stated that the ship, along with the crew, would not be allowed to sail out of the port until the sunken vessel had been salvaged.

The ship’s crew had been advised by Rasheed in January to sell the vessel as he could not personally afford to pay for their return.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Rasheed confirmed that the Indian courts had reached a verdict to sell the vessel for US$165,000.

“The captain and crew of the ship can deduct their salaries from the sale of the ship. I spoke to the captain yesterday (March 17) and he told me he will pay the crew,” Rasheed said.

“The unions who helped support the crew will also be able to take their share of owed money,” he added.

Rasheed previously claimed that MV Morning Star would have been able to sail out of the port had the sunken vessel – MV Sea Angel – been salvaged.

According to Rasheed, both ships had been insured by Allied insurance and it had been the insurance company’s responsibility to salvage the sunken ship.

“We had fully insured both ships. The insurance company gave us a wage policy and in the policy they have written, ‘within 40 days we have to sail the vessels’, which we did.

“The insurance company needs to take responsibility, but they are saying no,” Rasheed said back in January.

MV Morning Star had been towing MV Sea Angel to a port in India for it to be scrapped, however just eight miles from Kochi, the 26 metre vessel began to sink.

Speaking today, Rasheed said that he had now filed a case against Allied Insurance, and is currently waiting for the next hearing to be scheduled in court.


US citizen arrested for funding Maldivian terrorist in Lahore bombing

A US citizen has been charged in the States with conspiracy to provide material support to a Maldivian terrorist who helped carry out a deadly attack in Pakistan in 2009.

48-year-old Reaz Qadir Khan, a waste water treatment plant operator for the city of Portland, US, was arrested on Tuesday (March 5) on a charge of providing advice and funds to Maldivian national Ali Jaleel.

On May 27, 2009, Jaleel – along with two other men – stormed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters in Lahore and detonated a car bomb that left around 23 people dead and a further 300 injured.

Prior to the attack, US media reported that in 2006 Khan had received an email from Jaleel “goading” him about his past devotion to seek martyrdom for Allah.

“Where are the words you said with tears in your eyes that ‘we shall strive until Allah’s word is superior or until we perish’???” the email stated, according to US publication The Oregonian.

Following the message, Khan had then allegedly communicated and provided financial backing through email to Jaleel and his family, making it possible for the Maldivian to attend a training camp in Pakistan ahead of the 2009 bomb attack.

The emails cited in the indictment against Khan – sent in October and November 2008 – were said to have included a coded note from Jaleel telling Khan that he needed US$2,500 to pay for admission into a terrorist training camp.

The Oregonian reported that Khan had replied to Jaleel instructing him to pick up the training camp money from one of his associates.

Jaleel, who later responded saying he only needed US$1000 of the US$2,450 that had been sent, was then advised by Khan to send the remaining money to his two wives in the Maldives, The Oregonian reported.

The indictment does not cite that there had been any other emails between November 2009 and the May 27, 2009 ISI attack.

However, US media reported that less than a week after the bombing, US$750 was wired from Khan to one of Jaleel’s wives from an Oregon store.

Khan, who has pleaded not guilty during a court appearance on Tuesday, could face life imprisonment if he is convicted at trial, US media reported.

According to The Oregonian, Khan must now remain in his Portland home until his trial on the terrorism-related charge begins.

Local media reported that Jaleel, who lived at H.Moscowge in Male, featured in a video on the internet showcasing his terrorist training and subsequent attack.

A member of Jaleel’s family told local newspaper Haveeru back in November 2009 that he had left “around a year ago” and that there had been “no further communication with him”.

Jaleel had been caught once before whilst on jihad and was sent back to Maldives. On 26 December 2006, he was also sentenced to two years’ house arrest for giving religious sermons and preaching without a licence, local media reported.

“Martyrdom was certain”

In a video released by Al Qaeda’s media outlet, 30-year-old Jaleel, referred to as Mus’ab Sayyid, can be seen speaking in front of the camera surrounded by an assortment of weaponry.

Jaleel calls for his teachers and those he knew who had taken the status of scholars to visit the Mujahideen and make “decisions” based on what they saw.

“I want my blood to be the bit of the carpet which the Mujahideen have painted from their blood. The red carpet which would take the Umar to its glory,” Jaleel says in the video.

The footage shows Jaleel going through various stages of training, including throwing what appears to be a hand grenade and firing various weapons. The video then cuts to footage of the attack.

A white van carrying armed men pulls up to what appears to be a police check point, before two men disembark and open fire on various individuals manning the post.

The van continues through the checkpoint before briefly stopping beside two men who had hidden behind a barricade, at which point the armed men appear to shoot them from inside the vehicle.

The video then shows the same white van pulling up to a large gate, before detonating the explosives.

The Pakistani government said at the time that the car bomb attack was carried out in apparent revenge for an army offensive against Taliban militants in that nation’s north-western Swat region.


Finance Ministry not working to recover funds lost through state incompetence: AG

The Finance Ministry has not been working to recover lost funds from the state, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim has alleged.

Speaking to local media, Niyaz said  the state treasury has suffered huge losses due to incompetence from state employees.

Despite audit reports revealing where money has been wrongly spent, Finance Ministry has not been working to recover the funds, Niyaz told local media.

“We are sending a copy of the audit reports from each institution to the Finance Ministry. We recommend the finance ministry to take action against them in which the ministry is involved.

“However there has not been enough work towards taking action against them, especially in the cases where the incompetence of some employees and other loss,” Niyaz was quoted as saying in local newspaper Haveeru.

The Auditor General said that transactions made against the state finance act and violations of travel procedures in government offices were common issues repeated in the audit reports.

Niyaz added that as some offices are repeating these mistakes, there will be a period of three months whereby the offices have to improve prior to an assessment at the end of the time period.

Cases of incompetence or deliberate acts of fraud resulting in losses of state funds are also being submitted to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) by the Auditor General, according to local media.


Finance Ministry orders government institutions to reduce budgets by 15 percent

The Finance Ministry has ordered all government institutions to immediately reduce their budgets by 15 percent, in a circular sent out by Minister Abdulla Jihad.

Independent and government institutions were in early June  instructed to reduce their budgets by June 20 and June 15 respectively.

According to Haveeru, only 14 of the 35 government offices met the deadline.

“Even though we have not received any complaints so far, they did express concern over reducing the budgets. Some offices will face difficulties. But we don’t have a choice,” Jihad told the paper.

In a statement, the Minister said that the state budget had to be decreased by 15 percent as income estimated for 2012 had fallen short of expectations.

Despite the order to cut budgets, a circular issued by the Finance Ministry on July 19 ordered all government offices to repay the amount cut from civil servant salaries from January 2010 to December 2012 by the former government, starting from July onwards.

The circular said the money should be paid monthly and not in a lump sum, and advised all institutions to pay the amount from the annual budget for wages. If the money in budget was not enough, the finance ministry advised the institution to cut the money from the budget allocated for other expenses.

The wage repayments, amounting to Rf443.7 million (US$28.8 million), has not been accounted for in this year’s state budget, contributing to a 27 percent budget deficit that has already drawn concern from the International Monetary Fund.

Besides a crippling deficit, the Maldives is also facing a foreign currency shortage, plummeting investor confidence, spiraling expenditure, and a drop off in foreign aid.

MIRA revenue

The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) has meanwhile published its second quarter report for 2012, detailing the majority of government revenue (with the exception of import duties).

The MIRA report highlights a 16.8 percent increase in revenue collected compared to the same period for 2011, attributable to the increase in tourism GST from 3.5 percent in 2011 to 6 percent in 2012.

Tourism land rent collected for the period was MVR 465.4 million (US$30.2 million)  – a drop of 24.9 percent that was 12.3 percent lower than expected.

Airport Service Charge revenue meanwhile fell 18.6 percent, to MVR 172 million (US$11.2 million).

Total revenue collection for the first half of the year was MVR 3.5 billion, an increase of 59.2 percent compared to the corresponding period of 2011 but 8.4 percent lower than projected.


Aasandha finances almost depleted: MD Shafaz

The government-owned corporation running the Aasandha universal health insurance scheme has warned that is nearly bankrupt, reports Haveeru, following a delay in payment by the government.

Aasandha Mohamed Shafaz was reported as saying that the last payment received by the corporation was in February.

“Earlier the Finance Ministry used to give us around four payments every month. But since February we are yet to receive a single payment. They have said that they would make the payments soon. At present we are using our own funds to cover Aasandha expenses,” Shafaz was reported as saying.

Asandha payments to government institutions had been halted, he said.

“We are only making payments of private and institutions in the islets. The reason is that if the islets don’t receive payments the services in the entire island would be disrupted,” he said.


Three men and a woman arrested with large amount of cash and drugs

Three men and a woman have been arrested in possession of illegal drugs and a huge amount of cash, according to police.

Police said the four were arrested yesterday afternoon at about 2:40pm in a special operation conducted following a report received by police intelligence.

The police have not identified the house and the arrested persons but have said a 20 year-old man, 27 year-old man, 27 year-old man and a 29 year-old woman were arrested.

According to police, 10 packets of illegal drugs were found inside a cupboard in the house and the Rf 30,000 (US$1950) was found when the police searched the 20 year-old man.

US$1100 and Rf 3000 (US$195) was found on the 27 year-old man, police said.

The Police Drug Enforcement Department is further investigating the case.

Furthermore, police today said that the case, in which three men broke open a motorbike’s seat and stole Rf 200,000 (US$13,000) stored under it, to the Prosecutor General after concluding the investigation in to the case.

The three suspects involved in the case were identified by the police as Ahmed Areesh, 26, of Maafannu Gulsampaage, Afir Mohamed of Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Rathafandhoo, and Wafir Mohamed.

The three were arrested on May 30 in a operation police conducted to capture them. They were arrested along with valuable items they had bought with the money. The remainder was recovered, police said.


Police recover Randheli Resort safe containing US$50000 and Rf100,000

Police have recovered the safe of Randheli Island Resort along with the money inside, 19 hours after it was reported missing.

The safe contained US$50,000 and Rf100,000 (US$6500) when it was stolen.

The safe was reported missing yesterday morning at 9:00am and 10 minutes later a team of police officers consisting of forensic officers and investigative officers were dispatched to the island, police said.

According to police the safe was found hidden inside some woods on the island at 4:30am early this morning.

Police said crimes of this type had increased lately, and said the Police Public Affairs Department had been having meetings with businessman to advise them on strengthening security of their businesses.

Police are trying to find those involved in the case as the investigation continues.

Randheli Resort is a resort under construction located in Noonu Atoll – a resort developed by the French company LVMH Moët Hennessy, according to local newspapers.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef today said that one man had been arrested in connection with the case.

‘’Police have figured out three others involved in the case and are currently trying to arrest them,’’ Haneef said.

Haneef said police could not disclose further information at the time as the investigation was not yet concluded.


“Dire economic outlook” as budget deficit estimated to reach 27 percent of GDP

Parliament’s Financial Committee has projected that the Maldives budget deficit will reach  27 percent of the GDP by the end of year 2012, a 175 percent increase on earlier forecasts.

While the 2012 budget put the deficit at less than 9.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP),  the figures revealed by the committee last week shows that the amount will increase up to a staggering 27 percent.

These figures confirm the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s earlier warnings that the Maldives had “substantially understated” its budget deficit, by underestimating its spending and “probably” overestimating tax revenues.

Head of the Majlis’s Financial Committee, Deputy Speaker and People’s Alliance (PA) MP Ahmed Nazim, revealed to the reporters that government revenue for 2012 will be Rf2.6 billion (US$168.6 million) less than the projected amount of Rf10.87 billion (US$704 million) – a 23 percent plunge.

Meanwhile, government spending in 2012 is expected to increase by almost 24 percent, reaching Rf17.45 billion (US$1.13 billion) at the end of the 2012.

With the shortfall of revenue and increased government spending, Nazim observed that the budget deficit will exceed from Rf 3.9 billion (US$ 252 million) to Rf9.1 billion this year (US$590 million), amounting to 27 percent of the country’s GDP.

“The information shared by the Finance Minister Abdullah Jihad shows a dire economic outlook for the Maldives,” he warned, echoing the IMF’s recent predictions on the Maldives’ economic frailty.

Chief of the IMF mission in the Maldives, Jonathan Dunn, warned parliament in April  that if the country does not reduce its expenditure, it risks running out of reserves and miring the country in poverty.

Although 2012 budget put the deficit at less than 10 percent of GDP, Dunn told Minivan News that “the IMF team sees the figure as more likely to be 17.5 percent of GDP, and perhaps larger than this.”

As a result of this, he warned that the economic growth and stability in the Maldives were unlikely to be maintained “in the medium term” unless the government substantially cut spending.

Dunn emphasised that the only sustainable solution was for relevant parties to rationalise the budget by boosting revenues and cutting expenditure, despite the political difficulties.

“These may be politically difficult measures, but the consequences of not reducing the budget deficit are likely to be even more difficult,” he warned.

New government increases spending

Despite urgent calls to reduce spending to curb widening deficits, parliament’s finance committee projects the government spending will have to be increased to cover additional costs which were not included in 2012 projections.

These expenses include food subsidies worth Rf270 million (US$17.5 million), electricity subsidies worth Rf250 million (US$16.2 million), capital expenditure by government institutions Rf735 million (US$47.6 million) and an allocation of Rf200 million (US$12.9) to the Aasandha Health Insurance  scheme’s budget, according to Nazim.

Visiting Hirimaradhoo island last weekend, President Waheed said he would allocate Rf 30 million (US$1.9 million) in the 2013 state budget for development.

A total of Rf3.4 million (US$220,500) is also said to be allocated as benefits to former President Mohamed Nasheed of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) which alleges that Nasheed was ousted in a coup on February 7.

However, committee member and MDP MP for Kulhudhufushi, Abdul Ghafoor Moosa, told reporters that unplanned spending on police and military personnel and  planned reimbursement of civil servants pay cuts  in 2010, are both significant causes for rising costs to the government.

He observed that the largest shortfall in revenue is a direct result of the US$135 million pulled out from the budget with new government’s recently revised policy on lease extension payments for resort islands.

Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) anticipated receiving a total of Rf375 million (US$ 24 million) for lease extensions, however the income received dropped to Rf23 million (US$1.5 million) as a result of the decision to accept the lease extension fees in an annual installment instead of a lump sum as decided by former  administration.

The loss of concession fees from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), the result of a successful Civil Court case to block the Airport Development Charge (ADC) filed by the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) while it was in opposition, also saw the government receive only US$525,355 from the airport for the quarter, compared to the US$8.7 million it was expecting.

The government-aligned PA’s Deputy Leader Nazim however contended that the the 23 percent drop in government income was caused by unrealised revenue from privatisation schemes and a shortfall of Rf 166.7 million and Rf435 million (US$28 million) from the projected dividends of Dhiraagu and import duties respectively.

He noted that the committee has decided to increase the treasury bond limit up to Rf1 billion following a request by the  Finance Ministry to increase the limit from Rf727 million to Rf 1.5 billion. The ministry says that all monetary transactions will be halted if the limit is not extended, according to Nazim.

The IMF’s Dunn has however stated that further domestic borrowing “will be difficult to achieve, as it is unclear whether the banks have much more appetite for buying treasury bills.”

Meanwhile,  in a bid to address spiraling costs, the committee is reviewing the Aasandha universal health scheme to block the Rf200 million extension of its budget, cut the budget of all institutions by 10 percent to save nearly Rf 1.5 billion, and save a further Rf300 million by issuing a moratorium of the further employment of staff.  These measures will reduce state costs by Rf 2.2 billion (US$142 million), Nazim estimated.

However, recently released figures from Finance Ministry show that between January 1 to April 26, state expenditure exceeded over Rf 4 billion (US$259 million) while the income remained at Rf 2.10 billion (US$136 million), a deficit of Rf 1.5 billion (US$100 million).