“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.


No intention to “displease” Russia with Seleznyov expulsion, says home minister

The Maldivian government would have “acted differently” if the Home Ministry had been aware that an alleged hacker expelled on July 5 was the son of a Russian lawmaker, Home Minister Umar Naseer said on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) last week.

“Had it been known that he was a high-profile person in Russia, we would have discussed with Russia. We would have talked and found out what they thought of the matter. We don’t want at all to do anything to displease Russia,” Naseer said on TVM’s Raajje Miadhu (Maldives Today) programme Thursday night (July 17).

Naseer said that the Home Ministry was only aware of information concerning the suspect’s alleged crimes, adding that the government had no wish to be caught between Russian-American rivalry.

The Russian Foreign Ministry had expressed outrage over the arrest of Roman Valerevich Seleznyov, 30, from the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) and called it a “kidnapping” by the U.S. Secret Service.

The Home Ministry however insisted that Selezynov – son of Russian parliamentarian Valery Seleznyov – was expelled in response to an Interpol red notice with American authorities informed upon his arrival in the Maldives.

The US embassy in Colombo backed the government’s stance with a spokesperson informing Maldivian media that an Interpol red notice had been issued following indictments relating to bank and computer fraud that affected thousands of American citizens.

“This was a law enforcement action, and was based solely on law enforcement considerations. The indictment in this case was returned on March 2011, and thus long predates any current issues involving Russia and the United States. It has nothing to do with any of those issues. Nor was this a ‘kidnapping’ or in any way illegal,” the spokesperson stated.

Seleznyov “was arrested following his expulsion from another country, acting under its own laws. He was advised of his rights and given consular notification. These actions also were in no way inconsistent with any treaty arrangements with Russia.”

While President Abdulla Yameen has dismissed allegations of a US Secret Service operation on Maldivian soil as baseless, Home Minister Naseer insisted in parliament last week that Selezynov was arrested lawfully “by Maldivian police”.


However, Russian media has reported an anonymous eyewitness at the airport as claiming that Selezynov was allegedly handcuffed and led away by “two white guys” before he was about to board a flight to Moscow.

“I can remember one very clearly, one was wearing a green T-shirt and jeans type pants. He cuffed him,” the eyewitness told the Voice of Russia radio station.

While Maldivian police were present, the eyewitness claimed “they were not engaging in anything, they were just behind him.”

Selezynov was taken to the VIP lounge where passengers departing on private jets are processed, the eyewitness explained.

His girlfriend, Anna Otisko, who was with him at the airport told Russian media at a televised press conference on July 11 that her partner was “grabbed by unknown men” at the airport.

Selezynov’s father has also called on Russian authorities to impose economic sanctions on the Maldives and reportedly offered US$50,000 for evidence proving his son was detained by American intelligence agents.

“No legal procedures involving local authorities required for extradition were observed,” the Russian Foreign Ministry contended in a statement.

“The Russian citizen was literally kidnapped, which is a flagrant violation of the laws of any civilised state as well as international law.”

Maldives Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon and Attorney General Mohamed Anil meanwhile flew to Sri Lanka last week to brief Russian diplomats regarding the incident.

The ministry said in a statement that “strong, mutually beneficial” relations with Russia would not be derailed due to the “isolated incident.”

Due process

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also accused the government of flouting due process in Seleznyov’s arrest.

In a statement, the party said that personnel of Maldivian security services must make arrests within Maldivian territory and a warrant from a Maldivian court must be obtained for such seize-and-arrest operations.

Further, the suspect should also be produced at the relevant court in Maldives prior to repatriation, the party said.

The MDP has also expressed concern the incident may have adverse effects on trade and tourism.

Russia currently ranks fifth in terms of the number of tourist arrivals to Maldives, with more than 33,000 tourist arrivals during the first five months of 2014.


Russia slams Maldives after US detain Russian at Malé international airport

The Russian Foreign Ministry has described the actions of Maldivian authorities as “outraging” after the US secret service apprehended Russian citizen Roman Seleznyov at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on Saturday (July 5).

The US Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that Seleznyov was arrested after having been indicted for hacking into point of sale systems at retailers throughout the United States between October 2009 and February 2011.

As well as accusing the US of kidnapping Seleznyov – the son of Russian MP Valery Seleznyov, Russian diplomats have been quoted as condemning the role of the Maldives.

“The stance of Maldives’ authorities cannot be but outraging, since despite the existing international legislation norms they allowed another country’s special service to kidnap a Russian citizen and take him out of the country,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“We demand that the Maldives’ government provides necessary explanations,” officials told Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.

Russian diplomats also said that the US had confirmed Seleznyov had been put on a private jet by US officials and taken to the US Pacific Ocean territory of Guam.

Seleznyov’s father told ITAR-TASS today that any charges should have been brought through the Maldives’ courts.

“At present, it is the same for me whether Roman Seleznyov is guilty or not. But if American authorities had real evidence of his implication in the crime, they should have brought some charges through the Maldives’ court,” said the MP.

“No one had the right to take him anywhere without the sanction issued by the Maldives’ court. And here many questions to law enforcement agencies of the Maldives arise,” Valery Seleznyov was quoted as saying.

The US government has described the detainee as “one of the world’s most prolific traffickers of stolen information”, noting that the arrest “reflects the hard work by the U.S. Secret Service and our interagency and international partners”

The statement from the Department of Homeland Security did not reveal details of Seleznyov’s arrest, with no mention made of the Maldives.

“This important arrest sends a clear message:  despite the increasingly borderless nature of transitional organized crime, the long arm of justice – and this Department – will continue to disrupt and dismantle sophisticated criminal organizations,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

Speaking during a celebration to mark US independence day earlier this week, Maldives Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon pledged continued assistance to the US in suppressing terrorism, organised crimes, drug trafficking, and other security issues.

Dunya also thanked the US for previous assistance in these areas.

The US granted Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System – or PISCES – came into use in the Maldives last year after a deal with Malaysian IT firm Nexbis was terminated.

The system – cited by local media as flagging the arrival of Seleznyov in the country – was criticised by the outgoing Malaysian firm as being no more than a “terrorist tracking system”.

Minivan News was unable to obtain comment from immigration or police officials at the time of publication.


Nexbis gave laptops as “bribes” in border control project: ACC

Malaysian security firm Nexbis offered laptops as “bribes” to the Department of Immigration and Emigration’s staff to proceed with a border control project, the Anti- Corruption Commission has said.

In a statement today, the ACC said Nexbis had given 14 inch Lenovo laptops to senior staff at the Department of Immigration on May 10, 2012 in order to “increase Immigration staff’s interest for the project, and to obtain their cooperation so that Nexbiz could proceed with the project.”

The government signed a concession with Nexbis in 2010 to install and operate a border control system. However, in 2011 the ACC ordered the government to terminate the contract claiming that then-Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim and a Finance Ministry official had abused their authority for undue financial gain in awarding Nexbis the MVR500 million (US$39 million) project.

Nexbiz appealed the commission’s order at the Civil Court. While the Civil Court ruled the ACC did not have the authority to terminate the contract, the High Court later overturned the lower court’s ruling.

In August 2013, the government terminated the agreement citing unspecified “major losses” to the state and replaced the project with a Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) provided by the US government. The parliament had also unanimously voted for termination of the contract in December 2012.

In September 2013, the Supreme Court upheld the Civil Court’s ruling declaring that the ACC did not have the legal authority to order the termination, noting the order was made after the agreement was signed.


According to the ACC, the concession agreement does not list laptops under project deliverables. Although the concession agreement says Nexbis must provide mobile enforcement tools to enforcement officers, laptops are not included in these tools.

The steering committee in charge of the project told the ACC that the laptops were given in order to facilitate communication between the project’s stakeholders, to conduct border control training and to test the system.

However, the Immigration Department’s IT staff told the ACC that every immigration staff member had a desktop computer and that laptops were not necessary for the outlined tasks.

Evidence shows “the project’s steering committee accepted the laptops as a bribe to enable Nexbiz and gave laptops to other Immigration staff as a bribe,” the ACC said.

The commission has recommended the prosecutor general file bribery charges against the steering committee for accepting bribes and offering bribes to other staff.

The steering committee includes former Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussein Ibrahim, and staff members Abdulla Waheed, Ibrahim Ashraf, Saeed Mohamed, and Ali Saeed.

If found guilty, the five may be sentenced to five years in jail, banishment, or house arrest.


No legal authority for ACC to prevent signing of Nexbis contract, Supreme Court rules

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) did not have the legal authority to order the Department of Immigration and Emigration not to sign a contract with Malaysian mobile security firm Nexbis in 2010, to establish a border control system (BCS).

The apex court today overturned a previous High Court judgment, which itself overturned a Civil Court ruling last year declaring that the ACC did not have legal authority to terminate the contract signed with Nexbis in November 2010.

However, the High Court judgment was appealed by Nexbis at the Supreme Court, which today ruled in favour of the Malaysian company.

The controversial BCS project was terminated by the government in August this year and replaced by the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) provided by the US government on August 20.

According to local media reports, today’s Supreme Court judgment was delivered with the unanimous consent of all seven Justices on the court bench. However, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adnan noted different points to the other five.

Delivering the majority decision at today’s hearing, Justice Abdulla Saeed reportedly said that the High Court violated judicial and legal principles in overturning the lower court verdict, noting that the ACC’s order was made after the agreement was signed.

Referring to domestic contract laws and the ACC Act, the Supreme Court upheld the Civil Court ruling, which had determined that the ACC did not have the legal authority to order the Immigration Department to terminate the BCS project based on alleged corrupt dealings.

The Supreme Court had also previously overturned a High Court injunction blocking the implementation of the BCS project, prompting ACC Chair Hassan Luthfy to claim that the independent body had been rendered powerless.

If this institution is simply an investigative body, then there is no purpose for our presence,” Luthfy said in September last year. “Even the police investigate cases, don’t they? So it is more cost effective for this state to have only the police to investigate cases instead of the ACC.”

Luthfy contended that the ruling had rendered the ACC powerless to prevent corruption, even if it was carried out on a large scale.

“In other countries, Anti Corruption Commissions have the powers of investigation, prevention and creating awareness. If an institution responsible for fighting corruption does not have these powers then it is useless,” he argued.

Corruption allegations

In December 2011, the ACC submitted corruption cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office (AGO) against former Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim and Director General of the Finance Ministry, Saamee Ageel, claiming the pair abused their authority for undue financial gain in awarding Nexbis the MVR 500 million (US$39 million) BSC project.

Ex-controller Ilyas – brother-in-law of President Dr Mohamed Waheed and current state minister of defence and national security – pleaded not guilty to the charges at the first hearing of the trial on April 10 this year.

Meanwhile, on December 25, 2012, parliament voted unanimously to instruct the government to terminate the BSC agreement with Nexbis.

All 74 MPs in attendance voted in favour of a Finance Committee recommendation following a probe into the potential financial burden on the state as a result of the deal.

In September 2012, 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.

The Finance Committee meanwhile found that the government had agreed to waive taxes for Nexbis despite the executive lacking legal authority for tax exemption.

Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US government in March this year to provide a border control system to the Maldives, representatives from Nexbis told Minivan News that the company was uncertain what the MOU would mean for the group’s own border control technology.  The technology has been in use at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) since September 2012.

“We do remain confident that the Maldivian government will honour its obligations under the 2010 concession agreement,” read a statement from lawyers representing the company.

“We are confident also of the support we have received by the Immigration Department in implementing and fully operating the system, but remain cautious of individuals that continue to pose obstacles to prevent the success of this project is stemming the national security issues faced by the Maldives today.”

Concession agreement

Under the concession agreement signed with the Maldives government, Nexbis levied a fee of US$2 from passengers in exchange for installing, maintaining and upgrading the country’s immigration system.  The company also agreed a fee of US$15 for every work permit card issued under the system.

Nexbis in July 2013 invoiced the Department of Immigration and Emigration for US$2.8 million (MVR 43 million) for the installation and operation of its border control technology in line with the concession agreement – requesting payment be settled within 30 days.

Nexbis’ lawyers argued that the company had expected the fee to be included in the taxes and surcharges applied to airline tickets in and out of the country, according to local media.  However, lawyers argued these payments had not been made due to the government’s “neglect” in notifying the relevant international authorities.


Immigration Department denies vital components missing from replacement border system

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has rejected accusations that a replacement border control system provided by US authorities will not be fit for purpose without “enhancements” currently being made to the technology.

An immigration source speaking on condition of anonymity last week told Minivan News that the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) – provided free of charge by the US government – was not an adequate replacement for the previous system provided by Malaysia-based Nexbis.

The PISCES system would only provide one of several functions afforded by the “total solution” installed by Nexbis under an agreement recently scrapped by the government, alleged a local source experienced in working with both border control systems.

“Nexbis provided a total solution that not only allowed for checking of biometric data, but would also be used to process visas and work permits,” the source claimed at the time.

Enhancements underway

Chief Superintendent of Immigration Zubair Muhammad today confirmed that enhancements were continuing to be made to the functionality of the PISCES since its installation as a direct replacement for the Nexbis system earlier this month.

Asked for more details on the nature of changes being made to PISCES, Zubair responded that a press conference had been scheduled for Sunday (September 1) at which representatives from the Ministry of Defence, the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT) and immigration officials would discuss the ongoing work.

He also declined to provide details on whether any Immigration Department systems would have been affected by the changeover from the dismissed Nexbis technology at the present time.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali meanwhile declined to comment on the PISCES technology when contacted today, and Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim had not responded at the time of press.

Nazim earlier this month claimed that both US and local authorities were continuing to develop PISCES since its introduction at Ibrahim Nasir International airport (INIA) to ensure it could meet the technical criteria required by immigration officials in the country.

“During training [to use the system], we realised that we needed to do enhancements,” he said at the time.

Asked if the country’s border controls could be open to abuse while these enhancements were being implemented, Nazim had responded that several amendments were expected to have been completed over the last week.

Immigration Department Spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf at the time said that the country’s border controls had been transferred from Nexbis’ technology to Pisces without many issues.

He added that PISCES was nonetheless reliant on data from the Nexbis system, with technical staff from the Malaysian firm and the immigration working on transferring the necessary information.

Nexbis agreement

Nexbis’ border control system, used at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) since September 2012, was replaced on August 20 following the government’s decision to terminate its concession agreement for the use and management of the system.

Nexbis has rubbished the Maldivian government’s reasons for terminating their agreement to build and operate a new border control system, accusing human traffickers – fearful of a more comprehensive system – of being behind the decision.

In June, the Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.

The PISCES system, designed by US tech firm Booz Allen Hamilton, has already been implemented in numerous other countries around the world, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Thailand.

Nexbis’s statement also took issue with Defence Minister Nazim’s claims that the installation of its system was causing “major losses” to the state – this claim was reported in local media on August 6 when the Malaysian company was informed it had 14 days to vacate the country.

The company argued that its system was also installed and operated free of charge, and that the US$2.8million it had billed the government was the amount due for the arrival and departure of foreigners as per the original agreement.

The Nexbis deal has been dogged by allegations of corruption since it was agreed under the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010.

The failure of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to conclusively prove foul play in this respect has exonerated Nexbis from such charges, the company has claimed.


US “terrorist tracking system” will not replace comprehensive border control: Nexbis

Malaysian IT company Nexbis has released a statement rubbishing the Maldivian government’s reasons for terminating their agreement to build and operate a new border control system.

The company has also suggested that human traffickers, fearful of a more comprehensive system, were behind the decision.

“The US PISCES system that is meant to replace the MIBCS is not a border control system nor is it an immigration solution, rather it is a terrorist tracking system that simply captures information of travellers and Maldivians who transit in and out of the country,” read the press release.

In June the Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.

Whilst the United States and the Maldives signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the provision of the free PISCES (Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System) system in March of this year, Department of Immigration Spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf told Minivan News last week that this system was not yet fully operational.

The PISCES system, designed by US tech firm Booz Allen Hamilton, has already been implemented in numerous other countries around the world, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand.

Booz Allen’s website describes PISCES as “a critical tool in the war on terrorism”, allowing countries to collect, compare and analyse data in order to secure their borders.

At the time of the March agreement Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News it was too early to tell if the new border controls would be a direct replacement for the system provided by Nexbis.

Contradictory reasons for termination

Today’s statement also takes issue with the claims of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim that the installation of the Nexbis system was causing “major losses” to the state. The quote was given to local media on August 6 as the Malaysian company was informed it had 14 days to vacate the country.

Nexbis contends that the official notice of the termination it received contradicts the statement given by the Defence Minister. The notice – received on August 5 – stated that the agreement was invalid from the outset (void ab initio), alleges Nexbis. This, it argues, would seemingly dispel the need for any further justification for the contract’s termination.

Regardless, the statement strongly refutes the government’s justification for the sudden termination. It argues that the installation and operation of the system was carried out free of charge, with all costs to be levied from foreign visitors and work permit applicants. The fact that these charges – to be added to airline ticket prices – were not obtained was due to the “oversight of certain officials in notifying the relevant international authorities,” says Nexbis.

The company also added that US$2.8million it had billed the government was therefore the amount due for the arrival and departure of foreigners as per its contract, and not for the installation and operation of the system.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor last week told local media that negotiations were being held with Nexbis over reaching an out of court settlement for terminating the contract, a statement also cited by Nexbis as in contradiction to the official notice given.

“The government’s admission and acknowledgement that the Nexbis agreement is till date, a legally valid and binding agreement that is further supported by the statement made by Azima… which suggests nothing less than an assertion that the Nexbis Agreement is legally valid,” said the Malaysian company.

The terms of the agreement are governed under Singapore law, as are those of the GMR airport contract – terminated in November last year. The cancellation of this deal, the largest foreign direct investment in the country’s history, has led the GMR to seek US$1.4billion in compensation.

The Nexbis deal has been dogged by allegations of corruption since it was agreed under former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010. The failure of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to conclusively prove foul play in this respect exonerates Nexbis from such charges, it has claimed.

Following parliament’s termination of the project in December, Nexbis sought a legal injunction to prevent any cancellation of the agreement while court hearings over the contract were still ongoing.

The company had sought to contest whether the ACC has the power to compulsorily request the government to cease all work in relation to the border control system agreement.

However, in April of this year, the High Court overturned a Civil Court ruling declaring the ACC could not terminate the agreement.