Parliament rejects Auditor General nominee

Parliament today rejected the nomination of former Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) President Ali Rasheed Umar for Auditor General, a post which remains vacant more than eight months after former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem was contentiously removed through a vote of no-confidence.

Of the 69 MPs who participated in today’s vote, 34 voted against while 35 voted in favour, four short of the 39 votes needed for approval.

Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News today that while the President’s Office will respect the parliament’s decision, the vote was marred by “political partisanship.”

Opposition MPs used their “brute majority” to reject a qualified candidate for political reasons, said Zuhair, adding that 35 votes in favour showed that Umar was “a popular nominee.”

In August, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that evaluated the nominee awarded him an average of 62 marks based on a criteria of educational qualification, experience, initiative and vision, and integrity, below the 75 percent mark needed for committee recommendation.

At today’s sitting, opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Waheed said that parliament could not approve a nominee with 62 marks, urging President Mohamed Nasheed to consult with all political parties before putting forward nominations and “not just after internal discussions with those of a certain colour”.

Ali Waheed called on the government to nominate consensus candidates that all political parties could support.

In August, DRP MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News that Ali Rasheed Umar was dogged by “integrity issues” during his time at the ACC.

Former ACC member and the commission’s current President Hassan Luthfee is pursuing a defamation case against Umar in the civil court, after the ACC requested police to investigate Luthfee for allegedly leaking confidential information.

In July 2009, Luthfee sent a letter to the PAC containing information of an ongoing investigation into then-Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, claiming that the ACC was hushing up the investigation.

Umar alleged that Luthfee was attempting to curry favour with opposition MPs to secure his nomination to the new ACC.

While President Mohamed Nasheed nominated Luthfee for the commission in June, he withdrew the nominee after the Attorney General filed a case against Luthfee for allegedly not completing a government bond in his time at the Auditor General’s Office.

However, parliament rejected President Nasheed’s substitute nominee and approved Luthfee to the commission.

Meanwhile in March this year, parliament dismissed Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem from his post after the ACC forwarded two cases for prosecution alleging that Naeem used an official credit card to purchase personal items and fund a private visit to the island of Thulhadhoo in Baa Atoll.

Naeem denied the accusations, claiming that the cases were an attempt to discredit his office, which had issued over 30 audit reports of government ministries and state institution alleging rampant corruption under the former government.

He further claimed that opposition MPs were trying to prevent his office from recovering stolen assets in overseas bank accounts.

“A lot of the government’s money was taken through corrupt [means] and saved in the banks of England, Switzerland, Singapore and Malaysia,” Naeem claimed.


NYT report claims government and StAR seeking $400m in stolen assets

A report in major US newspaper The New York Times has claimed that the Maldives government is seeking to seize US$400 million allegedly stolen by the former government, assisted in its recovery efforts by the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR).

StAR is a joint initiative of the World Bank and the United Nations, which claims to have recovered US$5 billion over the past 16 years. It estimates conservatively that between US$20-40 billion is stolen annually from developing countries “through bribery, misappropriation and corruption – about 15 percent to 30 percent of aid to the developing world.”

In the Maldives, a  number of politically-connected figures, including former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, had now become the targets of  “increasingly coordinated efforts to repatriate misappropriated funds,” the NYT report said.

“Results to date have been encouraging, but much more can be done,” the NYT said, citing “officials and development experts.”

Representatives of the former government have steadfastly denied the existence of stolen funds. Gayoom’s assistant and former chief government spokesperson Mohamed Hussain Shareef (Mundhu) told Minivan News in December 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. “[The former president] has said, ‘go ahead and take a look, and if you find anything make it public.’”

Friday’s report in the NYT described the Auditor General’s report, published in 2009, as “a guidebook on self-enrichment.”

“An estimated US$9.5 million was spent buying and delivering a luxury yacht from Germany for the president; $17 million was spent on renovations of the presidential palace and family houses. Mr Gayoom built a saltwater swimming pool, a badminton court and a gymnasium, and he bought 11 speed boats and at least 55 cars — including the country’s only Mercedes-Benz,” the NYT noted.

“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.”

The Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem was dismissed in late March by an opposition-controlled parliament (Majlis) following a no-confidence motion and allegations of corruption.

Naeem, who was himself appointed by the former president and a then-ruling party majority Majlis, claimed at the time that the charges were an attempt to discredit his office and prevent him from reclaiming the government’s money stored in overseas bank accounts.

“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 in March, during his first press conference in eight months.

The Maldives government has meanwhile “begun the paper chase”, Friday’s 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.”

“Much of the looted money ends up in complex corporate structures and bank accounts held by associates offshore, making it hard to identify the beneficial owners. This raises the issue of tightening regulation of service providers and of the legal firms that create front companies that invest in assets like real estate and art,” the report noted.

However, “large banks now recognise the issue” and were increasingly willing to cooperate with international financial investigators.

“Eleven leading lenders, including UBS and HSBC, have formed the Wolfsberg Group, an association to develop standards to counter money laundering and terrorist financing,” the NYT said, adding that governments were  being urged to provided lists of “politically exposed persons, those potentially subject to corruption because of their jobs.”

The NYT spoke to Finance Minister Ali Hashim, who said that “the banks and other institutions came from abroad, and lowered their standards to the standards that were in the country.”

Foreign bank managers were given free holidays on luxury tourist resorts, Hashim told the NYT, which might have made it “hard for those managers to subsequently turn down risky or inappropriate credit requests.”

Hashim said the government now needed the money to offset a decline in tourism and plug the country’s 34 percent budget deficit.

“What we are asking the World Bank is, help us get this back,” Hashim told the NYT. “Then we won’t need to have that much foreign aid.”