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Embezzled MMPRC funds amount to MVR 1.4 billion: Maldives graft watchdog

Fathmath Shaahunaz
19 December 2018, MVT 11:00
L-R: MMPRC's former Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath, former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, and businessman Hamid Ismail - all three have been convicted over the infamous MMPRC corruption scandal. PHOTO/MIHAARU
Fathmath Shaahunaz
19 December 2018, MVT 11:00

Anti-Corruption Commission on Tuesday revealed that the state funds embezzled via Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) amount to a staggering MVR 1.4 billion.

The MMPRC case, which surfaced in 2015, is the largest corruption scandal to rock the Maldives in history. Following initial investigations, the Auditor General's Office had disclosed that MVR 1.2 billion in state funds, acquired via island and lagoon leases, had been embezzled via the corporation.

In ACC's first ever detailed report on the MMPRC scandal, the graft watchdog specified the information previously publicised by the Auditor General, along with new findings.

ACC shared that its investigation revealed that USD 91 million is owed to MMPRC as acquisition costs of islands and lagoons, under agreements the company made with various parties.

While MMPRC had entered into 49 agreements for the lease of 57 islands and lagoons, the watchdog highlighted that the corporation had made financial transactions with seven parties without a contract.

According to the ACC report, various parties had paid overall USD 77.5 million to MMPRC as acquisition costs, out of which MMPRC directly received only USD 12.5 million.

However, the US Dollar cheques had been deposited in the bank accounts of two private companies, with MMPRC's endorsement. While most of the funds owed to MMPRC had been deposited to a private firm's account, ACC revealed that the money had then been transferred to 155 different parties.

The graft watchdog stated that it is further investigating the deposits made to the private entities, noting that the case involved their legal rights as well.

Among six other related cases under ACC's investigation is USD 22 million in island and lagoon acquisition costs, which was deposited in an account at Bank of Maldives Ltd (BML). The deposit was made via an MMPRC cheque endorsed by the corporation's then managing director, Abdulla Ziyath. BML employees have been accused of involvement.

Moreover, ACC expressed its intent to look into why the Suspicious Transaction Report released by Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA)'s Financial Intelligence Unit, which revealed suspected money laundering and terrorism financing transactions, was not filed at an investigative institution.

The commission further declared that it would work with Maldives Police Service to find the suspects connected to the MMPRC scandal, who are currently abroad.

ACC is also looking into USD 1 million, embezzled from MMPRC, which was deposited in an account of former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom at Maldives Islamic Bank (MIB).

Although the watchdog is also probing cases of large deposits made to bank accounts of parliamentarians, the commission noted that there is no evidence yet of lawmakers receiving funds embezzled from MMPRC.

In its report, ACC stated that the MMPRC scandal was probed by an investigation team, under the supervision of 36 staff members. The commission investigated the leasing of 57 islands and lagoons, examining 5,681 documents related to the case. ACC also looked into accounts connected to 163 individuals, probing 28,448 bank documents.

Investigations into the MMPRC scandal commenced in 2015, and several cases were forwarded to the Prosecutor General's Office last year for indictment. Among those prosecuted and convicted of being involved in the graft are former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and MMPRC's former Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath, who are currently serving hefty jail sentences.