Gayoom’s son seeks PPM ticket for Dhiggaru by-election

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s eldest son, Farish Maumoon, is seeking the ruling party’s ticket for the upcoming by-election for the vacant Dhiggaru constituency parliament seat.

The by-election, scheduled for June 6, was triggered by the conviction of former Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nazim on corruption charges. The Supreme Court sentenced Nazim to 25 years in prison on April 6 for defrauding the state of MVR1.4 million (US$91,400).

Ahead of a 4:00pm deadline today, four others have submitted applications to contest the primary, including Meemu atoll councillor Moosa Naseer, Imran Ismail, Moosa Naseer Ahmed, and deputy environment minister Mohamed Hanim.

The candidates are to be first vetted on their loyalty to the party, role in campaigning for the party’s candidate in the 2013 presidential election, and the duration of membership in the party.

A primary will only take place if more than one candidate receives over 75 percent or higher.

The opposition coalition, made up of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, religious conservative Adhaalath Party, and leaders of the Jumhooree Party, are meanwhile holding discussions on fielding a single candidate.

Adhaalath spokesperson Ali Zahir told the press today that he will contest the by-election.

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Dhiggaru by-election brought forward to June 6

The Elections Commission has brought forward the by-election for the vacant parliament seat for the Dhiggaru constituency to June 6.

The commission previously scheduled the election for June 13 after ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim was found guilty of defrauding the state of MVR1.4 million (US$91,400).

The Supreme Court sentenced Nazim to 25 years in prison on April 6, overturning lower court rulings that dismissed the corruption charges against the former deputy speaker of parliament.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has invited interested candidates to seek the party’s ticket while the opposition alliance has said it will field a single candidate.

The opposition Maldivians Against Brutality coalition, made up of Adhaalath Party, Maldivian Democratic Party, and members of the Jumhooree Party, said they are holding discussions on fielding a single candidate against the PPM.

Adhaalath spokesperson Ali Zahir and a PPM member on the Meemu atoll council, Moosa Naseer, have expressed interest in standing for the vacant seat.

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Opposition to field single candidate for vacant Majlis seat

The opposition coalition is holding talks to field a single candidate for a vacant parliament seat after the incumbent MP was sentenced to life in jail on corruption charges.

The Elections Commission has scheduled the by-election for the Dhiggaru constituency for June 13. The call for applications will be open from April 15 – 25.

Though the “Maldivians Against Brutality” coalition is made up of parties with vastly different ideologies, they are confident of fielding a single candidate against the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Former PPM partners, the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party, allied with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party following what they called a government crackdown on opposition politicians including former President Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The two were sentenced last month to 13 years and 11 years in jail for terrorism and weapons smuggling, respectively.

Meanwhile, JP leader Gasim Ibrahim is facing a US$100million fine that may bankrupt his Villa Group.

Adhaalath spokesperson Ali Zahir and a PPM councilor for of Meemu atoll council Moosa Naseer have expressed interest in standing for the vacant seat.

The former Dhiggaru MP Ahmed Nazim lost his seat on Monday after the Supreme Court convicted him of defrauding the former atolls ministry.

Ex-MP Nazim, a former deputy speaker of the Peoples Majlis was convicted of defrauding the state of MVR 1.4 million (US $91,400) by submitting bids on behalf of non-existent companies to supply 15,000 national flags to the now-defunct atolls ministry.

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Politicians line up to replace jailed MP

Would-be candidates are already setting out their stalls for the parliamentary by-election in Meemu atoll Dhiggaru after the seat’s previous incumbent was jailed for 25 years yesterday.

Ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim, a former deputy speaker of parliament, was found guilty on Monday of defrauding the state of MVR 1.4 million (US $91,400) and sentenced to 25 years.

Members of both the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the opposition have expressed an interest in replacing him in the Majlis (parliament).

Among these are Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) member and Meemu atoll Muli island councillor Ibrahim Zaki, ruling party member and Meemu atoll councilor Moosa Naseer, and Adhaalath Party spokesperson Ali Zahir.

“I have decided to run for Dhihgaru constituency and I will apply as soon as the elections commission gives notice,” said Ali Zahir.

Elections must be held to fill parliamentary vacancies within 60 days under the constitution.

Meanwhile, the MDP has condemned Nazim’s conviction, saying several aspects of the process violated his rights.

“The lower court and the High Court threw out the case. So the state had appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. But instead the Supreme Court ruled on the case,” said MDP MP and spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy.

“So literally Nazim did not have a chance to defend himself,” Imthiyaz added.

He noted that former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, accused of plotting to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen, and ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, accused of terrorism over the arrest of a judge, received shorter sentences than Ahmed Nazim.

“[They] were charged with more serious crimes. So I don’t see the fairness in this conviction,” he said.

“It seems that the courts had all ruled in favor of Nazim when he was in favor with the government. But after his spat with [Tourism Minister Ahmed] Adeeb, the courts had turned against him,” Imthiyaz said.

Nazim, an ex-deputy speaker of parliament, was found guilty of defrauding the state by submitting bids on behalf of non-existent companies to supply 15,000 national flags to the now-defunct atolls ministry.

He faces three more outstanding corruption charges.

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Ruling party MP Nazim jailed for 25 years

The Supreme Court today sentenced ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim, a former close associate of the president, to 25 years in jail on corruption charges, stripping him of his parliamentary seat.

Nazim, an ex-deputy speaker of parliament, was found guilty of defrauding the state of MVR 1.4 million (US $91,400) by submitting bids on behalf of non-existent companies to supply 15,000 national flags to the now-defunct atolls ministry.

The conviction completes Nazim’s fall from grace at a time when the opposition has accused the government of targeting political rivals. Nazim, who helped President Abdulla Yameen found a party in 2008, appears to have fallen out of favour with the government.

The High Court in February 2013 acquitted Nazim on the basis that the witnesses, who had been his employees, were not credible, based on a Supreme Court precedent that testimony by accomplices to a crime is inadmissible .

However, the Supreme Court today unanimously ruled the employees were simply following Nazim’s orders in the scam, which took place in 2004.

Nazim’s downfall will trigger a parliamentary by-election in Meemu atoll Dhiggaru.

There are three more outstanding corruption charges against Nazim, which also involve the use of “paper companies” to win bids for the procurement of 220 harbor lights, sound systems for mosques and an additional 15,000 flags.

The police have previously said Nazim gained US$400,000 in total from the scams.

Police in October withheld the MP’s passport on unrelated charges of blackmail.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb at that time blamed Nazim for a damning report implicating him in a separate US$6million corruption scandal, and also accused Nazim of defamation following his refusal to support Nazim’s bid to become Speaker of parliament.

Scams

The scams, first flagged in an audit report in 2009, also involved ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP ‘Red Wave’ Ahmed Saleem and President Yameen’s half-brother Abdulla Hameed. Their cases are still pending at the High Court.

Saleem was the director of finance at the atolls ministry and Hameed was the minister at the time, while Nazim ran a company called Namira Engineering. Saleem and Hameed are charged with abuse of power and violation of state finance regulations.

During the original trial held at the Criminal Court, the then-employees of Nazim’s Namira Engineering testified under oath that they were instructed by Nazim to bid for the projects – however, the presiding judge concluded from their testimonies that they were responsible for the procurement fraud and therefore dismissed the testimonies against Nazim on all counts.

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

Another company, Needlework Tailors, which submitted the bid, had an employee of Namira sign the documents under the title of general manager, while a fourth company named ‘Seaview Maldives Private Maldives’ did not exist.

Auditors noted that the Seaview bid documents had an exact date error also found in Fast Tailors documents, and said the error was sufficient to prove the same party had prepared both 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.

Police further alleged that MP Saleem actively assisted from the atoll ministry, while Nazim’s wife Zeenath Abdullah abused her position as a manager of the Bank of Maldives’ Villingili branch to deposit proceeds of the fraudulent conspiracy.

Police said Hameed as minister played a key role in the fraud by handing out bids without public announcements, making advance payments using cheques against the state asset and finance regulations, approving bid documents for unregistered companies and carrying out discriminatory treatment of bid applicants.

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 channelled through the scam to Nazim, who then laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies.

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Adeeb denies corruption allegations as MDP calls for prosecution

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has denied allegations of corruption in a special audit report of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC) while the opposition has called on the prosecutor general to press charges.

The report (Dhivehi) – made public on Thursday (October 30) – implicated Adeeb in corrupt transactions worth US$6 million between the MMPRC and the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) and the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

The MMPRC obtained MVR77 million (US$5 million) from MPL to be paid back in dollars and US$1 million from MTDC as a loan, which was immediately transferred to two companies – Millenium Capital Management Pvt Ltd and Montillion International Private Ltd, both with ties to Adeeb.

Speaking at a press conference at private broadcaster DhiTV’s studio last night (October 31), Adeeb insisted that the MVR77 million was not a financial loss to the state, noting that US$3 million has been repaid to MPL with the remainder due in December.

“Under my [tenure] as tourism ministry, in order to avoid state companies going into the dollar black market, I have obtained dollars for the state from one state company to another, the tourism industry, and various private parties,” Adeeb said.

Adeeb claimed to have arranged for local businessmen to purchase treasury bills worth MVR800 to 900 million as of October 2013 to ease the government’s cash flow problems.

The agreement between MMPRC and MPL was approved by the respective boards of the state-owned enterprises, the ruling Progressive of Party of Maldives’ (PPM) deputy leader stressed.

The MVR77 million from MPL was not embezzled or misappropriated, he insisted, claiming that the government routinely converts rufiyaa into dollars through private parties.

On the allegation that the tourism ministry awarded an italian-owned company an island for resort development to pay back US$2.25million of the US$6million MMPRC owed to MPL and MTDC, Adeeb claimed that Dhaalu Maagau was used as a picnic island by PPM MP Ahmed Nazim’s friends.

The former deputy speaker of parliament had repeatedly sought to secure the island, Adeeb said, dismissing the allegation that the Italian paid the lease rent for the island through Adeeb’s father’s Montillion company.

Adeeb also pledged to release his financial statement to the media on Sunday (November 2) and denied failing to declare assets.

According to the audit report, Adeeb has failed to declare assets as stipulated by Article 138 of the Constitution since he was appointed tourism minister in 2012.

Counter-allegations

When the US$6 million corruption scandal first surfaced in May, Adeeb told Minivan News that the “defamation attempt” was linked to his refusal to support certain individuals for speaker and deputy speaker of the 18th People’s Majlis.

Minivan News understands MP Ahmed Nazim was involved in leaking documents related to the case to online news outlet CNM, which first broke the story of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigating the transactions.

Nazim’s passport was withheld last week, but he left the country on the date the court order was issued.

In May, Adeeb confirmed to Minivan News that two repayment cheques dated May 10 and 15 bounced due to insufficient funds.

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

At last night’s press briefing, Adeeb alleged “extraordinary ties” between Nazim and Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim.

Following his refusal to support Nazim for the deputy speaker’s post, Adeeb said Nazim threatened to put out audit reports implicating him as well as family members in corrupt dealings.

Moreover, the auditor general’s office neither sought a statement from him nor posed any questions regarding the transactions, Adeeb said.

“I am most saddened that professionals, specialised people, are brought in between our political rivalry in the political arena,” he said.

“Unconstitutional”

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile released a press statement yesterday condemning the government’s “unconstitutional” and “unlawful” attempts to replace the auditor general before the end of his seven-year term.

Last week, parliament passed amendments to the Audit Act requiring the president to reappoint an auditor general within 30 days of ratifying the amendments.

President Abdulla Yameen ratified the amendments on Thursday.

The MDP contended that the auditor general could only be removed from office through the process specified in the Constitution, which was “(a) on the ground of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence; and (b) a finding to that effect by a committee of the People’s Majlis, pursuant to article (a) and upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting, calling for the Auditor General’s removal from office”.

The attempt to remove the auditor general shows the level of corruption in the current administration, the press release stated, adding that the government was undermining independent institutions.

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MDP sets eight conditions for backing candidate for Majlis speaker

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has set eight conditions for supporting a candidate for the Speaker of the 18th People’s Majlis.

Following a meeting of the party’s executive national council in Addu City, the MDP revealed in a statement yesterday (May 23) that the party’s 25 MPs-elect would back a candidate who supports eight main policy objectives:-

  • Removing obstacles for access to justice and reforming the judiciary
  • Empowering local councils and amending the Decentralisation Act to enable councils to generate income
  • Establishing a minimum wage
  • Strengthening social security and the ‘Aasandha’ health insurance scheme to ensure coverage for all citizens
  • Assuring investor confidence in business transactions with the state
  • Working with the MDP to “resolve the international problems that have arisen due to the cancellation of the contract to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.”
  • Introducing an income tax, maintaining the Tourism Goods and Services Tax at eight percent and eliminating import duties
  • Removing obstacles to expanding the guest house business, which is the “quickest route to eradicating poverty.”

The main opposition party contested the parliamentary elections in March on a platform of judicial reform and empowerment of local councils.

With the next speaker due to be elected through secret ballot at the first sitting of the newly-elected parliament on Wednesday (May 28),  the question of which party should control the post of speaker has led to tension within the ruling coalition.

While Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim has announced his bid for the speaker’s post, President Abdulla Yameen has said repeatedly that the speaker should be a member of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The Progressive Coalition – made up of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Jumhooree Party (JP) and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) – secured 53 out of 85 seats in the March 22 parliamentary polls.

The MDP won 26 seats while independent candidates won five seats and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party won one seat.

Three independent candidates along with MDP MP-elect for the Thimarafushi constituency, Mohamed Musthafa, have since signed for the PPM, bringing the ruling party’s numbers up to 37 and securing a two-thirds majority for the coalition.

However, neither party on its own has enough MPs-elect to reach the 43-vote simple majority.

While the PPM and MDA is one vote short of the simple majority with 37 seats and five seats respectively, the JP and MDP falls three votes short with 40 seats.

Meanwhile, PPM MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Ahmed Nihan revealed in the wake of the parliamentary elections that the pair had pledged their support for Gasim’s bid to become speaker during negotiations for forming the Progressive Coalition ahead of last year’s presidential election runoff.

Moreover, former President Mohamed Nasheed – acting president of the MDP – signalled the opposition party’s support for Gasim following a meeting at the business tycoon’s residence last month.

The PPM has meanwhile yet to announce the party’s choice for the speaker’s post. However, PPM MPs-elect Ahmed Nazim – deputy speaker of the outgoing parliament – and Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed have expressed interest in becoming the next speaker.

The ruling party appears to be divided over which MP to nominate for the post with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb – deputy leader of the PPM – claiming  that allegations of corruption that surfaced in the press last week were linked to his refusal to support certain individuals for the speaker’s post.

Speaking to Minivan News on Thursday, Adeeb dismissed the allegations as an unfair “defamation attempt.”

Adeeb later told newspaper Haveeru that PPM MP Nazim was behind the corruption allegations, which are currently under investigation by both the Anti-Corruption Commission and auditor general’s office.

Adeeb said he could not back Nazim’s bid to become speaker as he was suspected of “blackmail” and “corruption” and declared his support for Maseeh.

“This problem [corruption allegations] has come up because my stand is strong inside the PPM. I am accused of these things because I take the stand that is most beneficial to the country. And because I have influence within PPM,” he alleged.

“This is a political ploy to defame myself, PPM and the government. This has been done to blackmail me in order to politically twist the Majlis speaker issue a certain way.

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Government agreed to waive taxes for Nexbis, reveals Parliament’s Finance Committee

The Maldivian government agreed to waive taxes for Nexbis as part of the controversial border control agreement signed with the Malaysia-based mobile security provider, parliament’s Finance Committee has revealed.

The People’s Majlis secretariat explained in a statement yesterday (December 11) that the committee has sent a letter to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik noting the findings of an inquiry to determine the possible financial burden on the state due to the Nexbis deal.

“The Finance Committee told the President that the ties and cooperation between state institutions necessary for the border control system was non-existent,” the Majlis press release read.

The Finance Ministry meanwhile informed the public accounts oversight committee on November 13 that it has yet to receive a copy of the border control agreement.

The committee observed that the government had “not considered” that tax exemption was within the legislative powers of parliament.

Moreover, the committee noted that “no government department has to date” initiated any effort to approve waiving taxes for the Malaysian company.

The Finance Committee also informed the President that the relevant government authorities lacked “authentic and valid information” of the border control project.

The committee further noted that the relevant authorities did not offer “adequate cooperation” in providing information for the inquiry.

In a letter to the Finance Committee on November 1, the Immigration Department explained that the border control system agreement was signed before the Business Profit Tax (BPT) came into effect.

However, the government agreed to exempt Nexbis from the tax with a final decision to be made by the Finance Ministry, the Immigration Department said.

Nexbis deal

Speaking at a rally last month, parliament’s Minority Leader MP Abdulla Yameen called on the government to “immediately” terminate the agreement with Nexbis and contended that the project was detrimental to the state.

The parliamentary group leader of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) also criticised the government’s “hesitancy” to cancel the agreement despite the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC’s) findings of alleged corruption in the deal.

Local media meanwhile reported that the Finance Committee had decided during a closed-door session last month to instruct the executive to halt the project.

The decision would however have to be approved through a vote on the Majlis floor following consideration of a report by the committee.

In September, the ACC informed the committee that the deal would cost the Maldives MVR 2.5 billion (US$162 million) in potential lost revenue over the lifetime of the contract.

Following its investigation into alleged corruption in awarding of the contract to Nexbis, the ACC requested the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) press criminal charges against former Controller of Immigration Ilyas Hussain, brother-in-law of President Waheed.

Almost a year after the case was forwarded to the PGO however, no charges have been pressed against the former immigration chief to date.

The ACC alleged that Ilyas Hussain had abused his authority for undue financial gain.

Ilyas – a senior member of Dr Waheed’s Gaumee Ihtihad Party (GIP) – was transferred from the post under former President Mohamed Nasheed when the corruption allegations first surfaced.

His successor Abdulla Shahid expressed concern with both the cost and necessity of the project, calculating that with continued growth in tourist numbers, Nexbis would be earning US$200 million in revenue over the 20-year lifespan of the agreement.

Following Dr Waheed’s swearing-in as president on February 7, Ilyas was reappointed controller of immigration. He was however replaced in May with Dr Mohamed Ali and appointed State Minister for Defence.

Former President Nasheed meanwhile alleged in a rally last month that Dr Waheed’s GIP’s Deputy Leader Mohamed ‘Nazaki’ Zaki was complicit in any alleged corrupt dealings in his role as Ambassador to Malaysia.

“Before the [border control] system was established, before there was even a contract in effect, I later heard that equipment was kept in some warehouses in Male’,” he said, claiming that the warehouses were owned by Nazaki Zaki.

Nasheed added that he “agreed completely with Yameen” that the allegations should be investigated.

The border control system is now up and running at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), after a Supreme Court ruling in September in favour of Nexbis ended almost two years of efforts by the ACC to block the project.

Under the ‘build operate and transfer’ (BOT) agreement with Nexbis, the government is obliged to pay the security firm US$2 for every foreign passenger processed and US$15 for every work permit for the 20 year lifespan of the contract. Nexbis remains responsible for the upgrading, servicing and administration of the system.

Nexbis has continued to dismiss accusations of corruption within its deal with the Maldives government. The mobile security solutions vendor last year threatened to take legal action against any party in the Maldives alleging that the company was involved in corruption. Nexbis claimed at the time that the speculation over corruption in the deal was “politically motivated” and had “wrought irreparable damage to its reputation and brand name.”

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MTCC made annual loss of US$5.7 million, claims Finance Committee Chair

The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) recorded an annual loss of Rf89 million (US$5.7 million) for 2011, parliament’s Finance Committee Chair MP Ahmed Nazim revealed this week.

Local daily Haveeru reported that Nazim revealed the figure at yesterday’s Finance Committee meeting based on information requested through the parliament secretariat.

Nazim further claimed that the company finances showed losses of US$2.7 million with no documentation on the loss-making transactions.

However Nazim’s proposal to table the issue in the Finance Committee agenda did not receive support from a majority of MPs on the committee.

In lieu of inquiring into MTCC finances, Haveeru reported that the MPs urged the chairman to bring the report reviewing the government’s pay structure to the committee for a final decision before submission to the Majlis floor.

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