“Help me gain my freedom”: ex-immigration chief’s passport held in stalled corruption charge

The criminal court has held former controller of immigration Ilyas Hussein Ibrahim’s passport for a third consecutive year over stalled corruption charges, preventing him from visiting his family in New Zealand or sending them money through banks.

Ilyas, who served as the controller from 2008 – 2012, is accused of abusing authority for undue financial gain in a US$39 million border control system project. The charge carries a penalty of imprisonment, banishment or house arrest not exceeding three years.

“But my liberties have been constrained for a period nearly as long as a guilty verdict. I’ve been deprived of seeing my family, of spending on them. I cannot send them any money,” Ilyas told Minivan News.

Ilyas’s wife and two daughters have been residing in New Zealand since 2011.

At the case’s last hearing in 2012, chief judge Abdulla Mohamed said a verdict would be delivered at the next hearing, but three years later, Ilyas was told a new judge was now in charge of the case.

Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf met with Ilyas and told him Judge Abdulla had failed to keep any record of case proceedings.

The case is symptomatic of the severe delays in completion of trials in the Maldives’ criminal justice system. In February this year, an Indian woman, arrested over the death of her child was released after four and a half years in pre-trial detention.

“I appeal to human rights organisations, both local and international, to empathise with my plight and help me gain my freedom,” Ilyas said.

He says he was threatened with death by anonymous sources when charges were first filed in 2012: “I cannot bring my family back here. If I do, I fear they too may be targeted.”

The criminal court was not responding at the time of going to press.

The prosecutor general’s office says it has no influence in expediting cases once charges are filed at the criminal court.

“We can only order the police to speed up investigations and file charges at the court promptly,” public prosecutor Ahmed Hisham Wajeeh said. “In a majority of criminal cases, liberties and freedoms are held. We would like to see cases reach completion as soon as possible. But there are delays with the criminal court, they do have a lot of challenges.”

Human rights NGO Maldivan Democracy Network said Ilyas’ case was an example of lack of justice in the Maldives. Serious corruption charges must be swiftly investigated and prosecuted, the organisation’s executive director Shahindha Ismail said, adding: ‘The court’s incompetence is no reason for the accused to suffer.”

Ilyas’ charges relate to the 2010 agreement signed between the Maldives and Malaysia-based Nexbiz Pvt Ltd for a border control system.

Under the agreement, the government has to pay Nexbiz US$2 for every foreigner processed through the system and US$15 for each work permit over the project’s 20-year life span.

The Anti-Corruption Commission ordered a halt to the project, claiming it would cost the Maldives US$162 million in potential lost revenue over the lifetime of the contract.

The ACC filed for an injunction and the Supreme Court in 2013 ruled the watchdog has no authority to suspend contracts. But by then, the parliament had voted to terminate the contract and replace it with the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) provided by the US government.

Ilyas was appointed as the state minister for defence months after his brother Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan assumed the presidency in 2012.

“My wish is to be free of the torture this brutal government is inflicting on me. To be able to live a dignified life with my wife and children,” Ilyas said.


Maldives National Movement to protest against Nexbis

The Maldives National Movement is to begin protesting against Nexbis and the Border Control System (BCS) project, should the GMR contract be annulled.

The National Movement was formed by government coalition parties who oppose the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) development being run by GMR.

Speaking at a press conference held at Traders Hotel today (November 26), Steering Committee member of National Movement and Minister of State for Tourism Ahmed Shameem said that the group aims to protest against all illegal agreements made.

“The names of our activities are constantly changing. We had to protest in the name of National Movement because these issues required action to be taken at national level.

“Our first target was to settle the airport issue. After that, we will not hesitate to take action against the Border Control System issue either. We will do that, we will protest against all issues that citizens do not accept,” he said.

Shameem stated that the National Movement is prepared to get the country on the right track, along with the help of Maldivian citizens.

“We have yet to find out if the ‘People’s Majlis’ is in fact a people’s Parliament. We will do that too, if you participate. Some members of Parliament believe that they control the whole country, that they can do whatever they want. So that’s also something we will protest against,” he said.

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has decided to ask the government to cancel the agreement on Border Control System project, a move supported by the Attorney General and Finance Ministry.


High Court rules Deputy Solicitor General cannot represent state in ACC lawsuit

The High Court has ruled that Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham cannot represent the Attorney General’s Office (AG) in a case forwarded by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) over the Nexbis border control contract.

In a hearing Monday, the High Court said Ahmed Usham, appointed by the AG’s Office to defend the state, was a member of the tender evaluation board that originally awarded Nexbis the contract . It ruled that Usham’s involvement in the process therefore represented a “conflict of interest”.

The High Court added that having Usham as a representative for the government would not be appropriate to continue the case, which was related to the tender evaluation process of the contract.

The court body said the decision was made was by the three presiding judges Dr Azmiraldha Zahir, Abdulla Hameed and Yousuf Hussain.

The case was first filed at the Civil Court after the previous government defied an ACC order to discontinue the Nexbis border control system project.  The ACC claimed that there might have been corruption involved in awarding the contract to Nexbis and asked parties to re-submit their bid for the contract.  Nexbis denies the allegations.

In a previous ruling, the Civil Court issued a declaration that there was no legal grounds for the Immigration Department to follow the ACC’s order to stop the border system.  The case has now been filed by the ACC at the country’s High Court.

Meanwhile, newspaper ‘Haveeru’ reported that a hearing was held yesterday where the state attorney told the High Court bench that the Home Ministry had asked the Immigration Department to stop the border control project.

The state attorney told the High Court bench that the Home Ministry had sent a secret letter to the Immigration Department.  The letter could not be given to the ACC, but was able to be shown to the presiding judges, reported Haveeru.

The paper also reported that lawyers for the ACC contended that the Immigration Department was still continuing with the Nexbis project.

Legal authority

The Civil Court in January 2012 ruled that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) did not have the legal authority to order the Immigration Department to terminate the agreement.  Judge Ali Rasheed said at the time that while the ACC Act gave the commission the authority to investigate corruption cases, it was not able to annul contracts.

Judge Rasheed asserted that it was “unfair” to contractors if the ACC could annul an agreement without their input, as this violated their protections under Maldives Contract Law.

In December last year, the ACC forwarded a corruption case against former – and now reappointed – Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PG).  The case, which also implicates Saamee Ageel, Director General of the Finance Ministry at the time, alleged that the pair had abused their authority for “undue financial gain” in giving US$39 million to Nexbis as agreed under the deal.