Yameen implicated in STO blackmarket oil trade with Burmese junta, alleges The Week

Singaporean police are reportedly investigating former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s half brother Abdulla Yameen for alleged involvement in an international money laundering racket thought to be worth up to US$800 million – if accurate, a staggering 80 percent of the Maldives’ annual GDP.

Yameen is an MP and leader of the People’s Alliance (PA) party, which in coalition with the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), of which Gayoom is the ‘honorary leader’, together maintain a parliamentary majority in the Maldives.

The allegation is central to an explosive piece in India’s The Week magazine by Sumon K Chakrabarti, Chief National Correspondent of CNN-IBN, who describes Yameen as “the kingpin” of a scheme to buy subsidised oil through the State Trading Organisation’s branch in Singapore and sell it on through an entity called ‘Mocom Trading’ to the Burmese military junta, at a black market premium.

“The Maldives receives subsidised oil from OPEC nations, thanks to its 100 percent Sunni Muslim population. The Gayooms bought oil, saying it was for the Maldives, and sold it to Myanmar on the international black market. As Myanmar is facing international sanctions, the junta secretly sold the Burmese and ‘Maldivian’ oil to certain Asian countries, including a wannabe superpower,” alleged Chakrabarti, who is writing a book on Gayoom’s administration and the democracy movement that led to its fall.

“Sources in the Singapore Police said their investigation has confirmed ‘shipping fraud through the diversion of chartered vessels where oil cargo intended for the Maldives was sold on the black market creating a super profit for many years,’” the report added.

Referencing an unnamed Maldivian cabinet Minister, The Week states that: “what is becoming clear is that oil tankers regularly left Singapore for the Maldives, but never arrived here.”

The article draws heavily on an investigation report by international accountancy firm Grant Thorton, commissioned by the Maldives government in March 2010, which obtained three hard drives containing financial information detailing transactions from 2002 to 2008. No digital data was available before 2002, and the paper trail “was hazy”.

According to The Week, Grant Thorton’s report identifies Myanmar businessman and head of the Kanbawza Bank and Kanbawza Football Club, Aung Ko Win, as the middleman acting between the Maldivian connection and Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, the second highest-ranking member of the Burmese junta – one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, perhaps exceeded only by North Korea.

Also allegedly implicated in the Grant Thorton report are Brigader-General Lun Thi, the junta’s Minister of Energy, Aung Thaung, the Burmese Minister of industry, “and his son, Major Pye Aung, who is married to Aye’s daughter, Nander Aye.”

“Another Burmese business couple, Tun Myint Naing (aka ‘Steven Law’) and his wife, were linked to the Gayooms,” alleged The Week.

According to a 2000 report on the Golden Triangle Opium trade by Hong Kong-based regional security analysis firm, Asia Pacific Media Services, “in 1996 Steven Law was refused a visa to the USA on suspicion of involvement in narcotics trafficking”, and several companies linked to him were blacklisted because of his suspected involvement in his father’s drug empire.

His father, Lo Hsing Han, also known as Law Sit Han, is named in the report as a notorious ‘Golden Triangle’ heroin baron turned businessman, with financial ties to Singapore. He was also responsible responsible for arranging a lavish wedding in 2006 for the daughter of Burmese dictator Than Shwe.

“Lo Hsing-han and his family set up the Asia World Company… involved in import-export business, bus transport, housing and hotel construction, a supermarket chain, and Rangoon’s port development,” APMS wrote.

According to The Week report, “Yameen was allegedly aided by Ahmed Muneez, former Managing Director of STO Singapore, and by Mohamed Hussain Maniku, former MD, STO. Maniku was MD from 1993 to 2008, and currently serves as the Maldives’ Ambassador to Washington.

The operation

According to The Week article, the engine of the operation was the Singaporean branch of the government-owned State Trading Organisation (STO), of which Yameen was the board chairman until 2005.

Fuel was purchased by STO Singapore from companies including Shell Eastern Petroleum Pvt Ltd, Singapore Petroleum company and Petronas, and sold mostly to the STO (for Maldivian consumption) and Myanmar, “except in 2002, when the bulk of the revenue came from Malaysia.”

The “first red flag” appeared in an audit report on the STO by KPMG, one of the four major international auditing firms which took over the STO’s audits in 2004 from Price WaterhouseCoopers.

The firm noted: “A company incorporated in Singapore by the name of Mocom Trading Pte Ltd in 2004 has not been discluded under Note No. 30 to the Financial Statements. There was no evidence available with regard to approval of the incorporation. Further, we are unable to establish the volume and the nature of the company with the group.”

In a subsequent report, KMPG noted: “The name of the company has been struck off on 20th April 2006.”

Investigators learned that Mocom Trading was set up in February 2004 as a joint venture between STO Singapore and a Malaysian company called ‘Mocom Corporation Sdn Bhd’, with the purpose of selling oil to Myanmar and an authorised capital of US$1 million.

According to The Week, the company had four shareholders: Kamal Bin Rashid, a Burmese national, two Maldivians: Fathimath Ashan and Sana Mansoor, and a Malaysian man named Raja Abdul Rashid Bin Raja Badiozaman. Badiozaman was the Chief of Intelligence for the Malaysian armed forces for seven years and a 34 year veteran of the military, prior to his retirement in 1995 at the rank of Lieutenant General.

As well as the four shareholders, former Managing Director of STO Singapore Ahmed Muneez served as director. The Week reported that Muneez informed investigators that Mocom Corportation was one of four companies with a tender to sell oil to the Burmese junta, alongside Daewoo, Petrocom Energy and Hyandai.

Under the contract, wrote The Week, “STO Singapore was to supply Mocom Trading with diesel. But since Mocom Corporation held the original contact, the company was entitled to commission of nearly 40 percent of the profits.”

That commission was to be deposited in an United Overseas Bank account in Singapore, “a US dollar account held solely by Rashid. So, the books would show that the commission was being paid to Mocom, but Rashid would pocket it.”

In a second example cited by The Week, investigators discovered that “STO Singapore and Mocom Trading duplicated sales invoices to Myanmar. The invoices showed the number of barrels delivered and the unit price. Both sets of invoices were identical, except for the price per barrel. The unit price on the STO Singapore invoices was US$5 more than the unit price of the Mocom Trading invoice. This was done to confuse auditors.”

As a result, “the sum total of all Mocom Trading invoices to Myanmar Petrochemical Enterprises was US$45,751,423, while the sum total of the invoices raised by STO Singapore was US$51,423,523 – a difference of US$5,672,100.”

Furthermore, “investigators found instances where bills of lading (indicating receipt of consignment) were unsigned by the ship’s master.”

Gayoom's half-brother and PA leader Abdulla Yameen

Money from the Maldives

Despite his officially stepping down from the STO in 2005, The Week referenced the report as saying that debit notes in Singapore “show payments made on account of Yameen in 2007 and 2008.”

Citing the report directly, The Week wrote: “The debit notes were created as a result of receiving funds from Mr Yameen deposited at the STO head office, which were then transferred to STO Singapore’s bank accounts. This corresponded with a document received from STO head office confirming the payments were deposited by Yameen into STO’s bank accounts via cheque.

The Week claimed that Yameen was aided by Muneez on the STO Singapore side, and by Mohamed Hussain Maniku, former STO managing director, on the Maldivian end until 2008.

“In conversation with Mr Muneez, this was to provide monies for the living expenses of his [Yameen’s] son and daughter, both studying in Singapore. Their living expenses were distributed by Mr Muneez,” the Grant Thorton report stated, according to The Week.

In an interview with Minivan News, Yameen confirmed that he had used the STO’s accounts to send money to his children in Singapore, “and I have all the receipts.”

He described the then STO head in Singapore as “a personal friend”, and said “I always paid the STO in advance. It was a legitimate way of avoiding foreign exchange [fees]. The STO was not lending me money.”

He denied sending money following his departure from the organisation: “After I left, I did not do it. In fact I did not do it 3 to4 years before leaving the STO. I used telegraphic transfer.”

Yameen described the wider allegations contained in The Week article as “absolute rubbish”, and denied being under investigation by the Singaporean police saying that he had friends in Singapore who would have informed him if that were the case.

The article, he said, was part of a smear campaign orchestrated by current President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, a freelance writer and the dismissed Auditor General “now in London”, who he claimed had hired the audit team – “they spent two weeks in the STO in Singapore conducting an investigation.”

Yameen said he did not have a hand in any of the STO’s operations in Singapore, and that if Muneez was managing director at the time of any alleged wrong-doing, “any allegations should carry his name.”

He denied any knowledge or affiliation with Steven Law or Lo Hsing Han, and said that as for Mocom Trading, “if that company is registered, Maniku would know about it.”

Asked to confirm whether the STO Singapore had been supplying fuel to Myanmar during his time as chair of the board, “it could have been – Myanmar, Vietnam, the STO is an entrepreneurial trade organisation. It trades [commodities like] oil, cement, sugar, rice to places in need. It’s perfectly legitimate. “

Asked whether it was appropriate to trade goods to a country ostracised by the international community, Yameen observed that the trading had “nothing to do with the moral high-ground, at least at that time. Even even now the STO buys from one country and sells to those in need.”

Asked why the President would hire a freelance writer to smear his reputation after the local council elections, “that’s because Nasheed would like to hold me in captivity.”

The only way Nasheed could exert political control, Yameen claimed, “was to resort to this kind of political blackmail”.

“Unfortunately he has not been able to do that with me. I was a perfectly clean minister while in Gayoom’s cabinet. They have nothing on me.”

Last time around

No love is lost between Yameen and the present Maldivian administration, which detained him and Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim in early July 2010 on accusations of bribery and, according to the police charge sheet, “attempting to topple the government illegally.”

President Nasheed’s cabinet had resigned en masse the week prior, in protest against what they claimed were the “scorched earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament, leaving only President Mohamed Nasheed and Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan in charge of the country. The move circumvented regulations blocking the arrest of MPs while no-confidence motions were pending against sitting ministers.

Several days later, audio recordings of conversations between several MPs, including Yameen and Gasim, were leaked to the media. The recordings carried implications of vote-buying within parliament, suggestions of collaboration with the officials in the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and details of a plan to derail the progress of a taxation bill.

Yameen defended the conversation at the time as “not to borrow money to bribe MPs… [rather] As friends, we might help each other.”

The issue quickly became one of invasion of privacy, and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) issued a statement to that effect.

Unable to get an arrest warrant extension for the pair through the Maldivian courts, the government quickly found itself facing international criticism and diplomatic urging to “stick to the rule of law”, after Yameen was detained by the military on the Presidential Retreat of Aarah purportedly “for his own protection.”

While in custody, Yameen told local media he did not wish to be detained in ‘protective’ custody. The military refused to present him before the court on a court order, raising more international eyebrows.

Later in July, the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News that the government had felt obliged to take action after six MDP MPs came forward with statements alleging Yameen and Gasim had attempted to bribe them to vote against the government.

The opposition PA-DRP coalition already has a small voting majority, with the addition of supportive independent MPs. However, certain votes require a two-thirds majority of the 77 member chamber – such as a no-confidence motion to impeach the president.

Zuhair told Minivan News at the time that given the severity of the allegations against them, neither could be considered prisoners of conscience.

“I cannot describe these people as political leaders – they are accused of high crimes and plots against the state,” Zuhair said.

“These MPs are two individuals of high net worth – tycoons with vested interests,” he explained. “In pursuing their business interests they became enormously rich during the previous regime, and now they are trying to use their ill-gotten gains to bribe members in the Majlis [parliament] and judiciary to keep themselves in power and above the fray.”

“They were up to all sorts of dark and evil schemes,” Zuhair alleged. “There were plans afoot to topple the government illegally before the interim period was over.”

Yameen was also one of many former and serving Ministers on an audit hit-list issued by Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, prior to his dismissal on March 29, 2010.

Naeem, who was appointed by former President Gayoom, had produced a damning report detailing the previous government’s spending habits. These, according to an article on the report published in the New York Times, included an estimated “US$9.5 million spent buying and delivering a luxury yacht from Germany for the president, $17 million on renovations of the presidential palace and family houses,a saltwater swimming pool, badminton court, gymnasium, 11 speed boats and 55 cars, including the country’s only Mercedes-Benz.”

“And the list goes on, from Loro Piana suits and trousers to watches and hefty bills for medical services in Singapore for ‘important people and their families. There was a US$70,000 trip to Dubai by the first lady in 2007, a US$20,000 bill for a member of the family of the former president to stay a week at the Grand Hyatt in Singapore. On one occasion, diapers were sent to the islands by airfreight from Britain for Mr Gayoom’s grandson,” wrote the NYT, citing Naeem’s report.

The Maldives government had “begun the paper chase”, the NYT report claimed, “but it lacks the resources to unravel a complex trail that it assumes runs through the British Channel Islands, Singapore and Malaysia.”

On March 24, Naeem sent a list of current and former government ministers to the Prosecutor General, requesting they be prosecuted for failure to declare their assets, citing Article 138 of the Constitution requiring every member of the Cabinet to “annually submit to the Auditor General a statement of all property and monies owned by him, business interests and all assets and liabilities.”

He then held a press conference: “A lot of the government’s money was taken through corrupt [means] and saved in the banks of England, Switzerland, Singapore and Malaysia,” Naeem said, during his first press appearance in eight months.

Five days later he was dismissed by the opposition-majority parliament on allegations of corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), for purportedly using the government’s money to buy a tie and visit Thulhaidhu in Baa Atoll. The motion to dismiss Naeem was put forward by the parliamentary finance committee, chaired by Deputy Speaker and member of Yameen’s PA party Ahmed Nazim, who the previous week had pleaded not guilty to ACC charges of conspiracy to defraud the former ministry of atolls development while he was Managing Director of Namira Engineering and Trading Pvt Ltd.

The parliament has yet to approve a replacement auditor general.

Representatives of the former government have steadfastly denied the existence of stolen funds. Gayoom’s assistant and former chief government spokesperson Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef told Minivan News in December 2009 that ”there is no evidence to link Gayoom to corruption”, and urged accusers “to show us the evidence.”

“If you have the details make them public, instead of repeating allegations,” he said at the time. “[Gayoom] has said, ‘go ahead and take a look, and if you find anything make it public.’”

Shareef had not responded to Minivan News at the time of going to press.

Online link to The Week article

Download The Week article (~25mb)

Download leaked Grant-Thorton Draft Report


Opposition coalition shows strain in scuffle over committee meetings

The major opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), headed by Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and “honorary leader” former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, has issued a statement accusing its coalition partner of “misleading the people over DRP.”

Together the DRP and the People’s Alliance (PA), led by Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen, form a majority in the country’s parliament, however recent tension between the two parties suggest the coalition is under strain.

”We condemn and regret the action of PA,” said the DRP in a statement. ”Unlike the PA, the DRP has elected many candidates for the upcoming local council elections and these sort of irresponsible actions will have an effect on all the DRP candidates, all supporters of DRP, and all the opposition parties.”

The DRP observed that Yameen had spoken to local media DhiTV and SunFM about the long delay between DRP and PA committee meetings, and said that Yameen has  put the blame on Thasmeen.

”All he said was intended to smear respect for the party and was very wrong,” read the DRP statement.

Thasmeen, the party claimed, had struggled to hold meetings with the coalition despite agreeing to hold the meetings at any venue and time Yameen wished.

”Both sides agreed that meetings would be organised by PA deputy leader Moosa Zameer, but up until now, a time and venue has never been organised,” said the party.

DRP explained that Yameen had failed to attend a DRP/PA parliamentary meeting for almost one and half years, “and has also informed other members not to attend these meetings.”

The party requested Yameen stop speaking “irresponsibly”.

Yameen recently told local radio station SunFM that all the work done in parliament to make the government accountable was performed by PA, and said that there were 22 issues at the committee stage being delayed because DRP was not cooperating with the PA.

He also claimed that the government was able to make the GMR Airport deal because an amendment to the Financial Act was kept on Speaker Abdulla Shahid’s table for too long, rather than presenting it to the parliament chamber.


State requests extension to respond to Yameen civil suit

The state has requested an extension in the civil suit brought by MP Abdulla Yameen against the Maldives Police Service for unlawful arrest, claiming that it is awaiting a report from the Supreme Court of its verdict on a related case, reports Haveeru.

The Supreme Court ruled on June 29 that Yameen’s arrest on charges of alleged bribery and attempting to overthrow the government was unlawful.

At the second hearing of the case on Sunday, Yameen’s lawyer Azima Shukoor, a former Attorney General, argued that the absence of the Supreme Court report was not justifiable grounds for failing to answer to a civil suit.

Judge Aisha Shujune adjourned the hearing after scheduling the case for November 29 and told the state attorney that it would be the final opportunity to respond.

While the lawsuit did not specify an amount for compensation or damages, Azima argued at the last hearing that the arrest was in violation of articles 47(b), 45, 46 and 48(a) and that the claimant had to spend Rf61,005 on strengthening security at his residence and Rf668,950 on lawyer’s fees. In addition, the claimant also claimed to have suffered emotional and psychological distress during the arrest, which took place while an angry crowd was protesting outside his house.


DRP-PA coalition still strong, says Yameen

Leader of the People’s Alliance (PA), Abdulla Yameen, has said that recent statements by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members that the PA walked out on the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)-PA coalition agreement is not true, reports Miadhu.

Yameen said the rumours were started to make MDP supporters happy, and to cause friction between himself and Qasim Ibrahim, founder and leader of Jumhoory Party, who recently joined the coalition.

The PA said the party could only back out of the coalition if the council decided to, and said the council had not considered the option.

Qasim later said he will accept any party’s work as long it is being done to improve people’s lives.


Presidential commission sends corruption case against Yameen to police

A case concerning the People’s Alliance (PA) leader Abdulla Yameen has been forwarded to the police by the Presidential Commission.

The investigation concerns corruption allegations against Yameen during his time as chairman of the State Trading Organisation (STO). It involves a Rf16.7 million loan from the STO to buy a resort, which was allegedly given to local businessman Abdulla Jabir by Yameen.

The transaction was found to be in violation of corporate principles and was red-flagged in last year’s STO audit report.

Spokesperson for the Presidential Commission, Abdulla Haseen, confirmed they have “finished the report and we have submitted it to police.”

Haseen said the loan was “against corporate governance” and claimed it had been connected to corruption.

“During 2001 the loan was given to the business partner of the STO chairman at the time,” Haseen said, though he would not confirm “who that business partner was.”

He said the commission hopes the case will be forwarded to the Prosecutor General, although it might take a few weeks.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed police had received “a new case from the Presidential Commission related to the STO,” but could not give any more details.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesperson Ahmed Haleem confirmed Jabir had recently signed up as a member of the MDP and said the party will benefit from having him as a member “as he is an experienced politician, former MP and spoke out for the change to democracy.”

He noted the MDP was not concerned about Jabir’s suspected involvement in the case, claiming “MDP is not like that, we are very straight-forward.”

He said if someone is accused of corruption, the party would want the Presidential Commission to look into the case.

Former member of the Presidential Commission, Idham Muizzu Adnan, who recently resigned over “political influences”, said he could not discuss details of his work at the commission and could not comment on the case as he had signed a non-disclosure agreement on his departure.

Yameen did not respond to Minivan News by time of press.


MDP MP Musthafa assures “I will never leave my party”

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Thimarafushi in Thaa Atoll, Mohamed Mustafa, has spoken against one of the amendments to the Tourism Act in Parliament this week, amendments proposed by his party.

Today he offered assurances that he “would still vote with MDP on the issue.”

Mustafa said he is mainly opposed to the extension of leases for resorts, which will lease islands to resort operators for a minimum of 50 years. This was proposed  to make the Maldives a “more investor-friendly environment,” according to former Minister of Tourism Abdulla Mausoom, who spoke to Minivan News yesterday.

Mustafa believes reducing costs for the investor means “one man is getting rich, while the poor are getting poorer.”

“We don’t need to extend a lease to 50 years,” he said, “rather, the government can implement the Taxation Bill.”

He said he does not see how the amendment is beneficial to the people of the Maldives: “Why are we giving the benefits to rich people and not the general public?”

Although he expressed his concerns over the proposed amendments, he said he wanted to “confirm to Minivan News that I will not vote against my party. It’s one of the best parties.”

“I have my own opinion,” he said, but he still believes “the MDP are [working] for the benefit of Maldivians.”

Mustafa also spoke about his “intimidation” by certain MDP members, but said it was not a recent issue and had nothing to do with the Tourism Act.

He said his comments concerning intimidation by his party were “regarding a previous case that went to criminal court” a year and a half ago over a payment issue.

Mustafa said he was acting as a mediator for a payment that needed to be made to someone, whom he claims is “a known money launderer and strong supporter of the DRP”, and this person tried to cash in the same cheque twice.

“He had no right to take the payment the second time,” he said.

Mustafa claimed the case was then taken to court and he was not informed about it. He said “some senior MDP members were behind the case, but they are not MPs.”

He said his comments were taken out of context by the media, “which is putting their own style into things they don’t know. They are poisoning the minds of the public.”

Concerning the recent rumours that he was planning on leaving the MDP and moving to the People’s Alliance (PA), he said “I will never move to the PA, that is totally false.”

“I have nothing against my party, we are on very good terms,” Mustafa noted, adding that “MDP is a democratic party. It’s the most democratic party in the Maldives, and we are working to perform our pledges.”

“We work very well, cooperate, do our best for our party,” he said, “we are very strong, we walk as one. I will never leave my party, I would rather resign [politics],” he added.