State witnesses offered political posts for testimony, says MP Nazim

Ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nazim has alleged state witnesses were offered jobs in exchange for testifying against him in a corruption trial.

The former Deputy Speaker of Majlis was charged with four counts of corruption in late 2009 for allegedly conspiring to defraud the former Ministry of Atolls Development.

In February 2014, the High Court upheld the Criminal Court’s dismissal of all four counts of corruption.

The appellate court upheld the Criminal Court’s refusal to accept testimony by Nazim’s former employees, referring to a Supreme Court precedent which established that accomplices to a crime could not testify for or against an alleged partner to the crime.

Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin appealed the High Court’s decision with the Supreme Court in July 2014, months after the 90-day appeal period expired.

“The two main state witnesses were bribed with political posts within the government. These charges are politically motivated,” Nazim told the Supreme Court today.

The atolls ministry scam – first flagged in a 2009 audit report – involved paper companies allegedly set up by Nazim to win bids for projects worth over US$400,000, including the fraudulent purchase of harbour lights, national flags, and mosque sound systems.

At the time, police alleged Nazim ordered his staff at Namira Engineering to set up paper companies to bid for public tenders, and channeled the money to Nazim through Namira and other unregistered companies

When Justice Adam Mohamed today asked state prosecutors why Nazim must be held responsible for fraud committed by Namira, state prosecutor Abdulla Rabiu pointed out the MP was the Managing Director of the company at the time and oversaw its daily activities.

All the money from the scam had gone to Namira’s accounts, he added.

Nazim’s employees had also testified they submitted bogus bids on the MP’s orders, in the name of nonexistent companies or in the name of other companies, without their knowledge, Rabiu said.

In response, Nazim’s lawyer Husnu Suood said an audit was necessary to prove the money was deposited into Namira’s accounts and claimed Nazim could not be held responsible for corrupt transactions carried out by the company.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed concluded today’s hearing stating the apex court would issue a verdict at the next hearing.

Nazim who was a close associate of President Abdulla Yameen appears to have fallen out of favour with the government, with the police withholding his passport on charges of blackmail in October.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb at the time blamed Nazim for a damning report implicating the minister in a US$6million corruption scandal. Adeeb accused Nazim of attempting to defame him due to his refusal to support Nazim’s bid for the Majlis Speakership.

At the Supreme Court’s first appeal hearing, Nazim told the court his former lawyers Adam Asif and Ahmed “Reynis” Saleem had said the current political environment was “too dangerous” to represent him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The appeal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The defence

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

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

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

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

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

Scam allegations

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

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

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

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

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

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

At a press conference in August 2009, police exhibited numerous quotations, agreements, tender documents, receipts, bank statements and forged cheques showing that Nazim received over US$400,000 in the scam.

A hard disk seized during a raid of Nazim’s office in May 2009 allegedly contained copies of forged documents and bogus letterheads. Police alleged that money was channeled through the scam to Nazim, who then laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies.