The Edition


Probe into 30 suspects of MMPRC case underway post-haste: PG Shameem

Shahudha Mohamed
22 July 2020, MVT 16:41
Prosecutor General (PG) Hussain Shameem speaking to local media Mihaaru. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/ MIHAARU
Shahudha Mohamed
22 July 2020, MVT 16:41

Prosecutor General (PG) Hussain Shameem declared on Tuesday that investigations, conducted into 30 suspects who were implicated in the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC)'s embezzlement scandal, were progressing rapidly.

PG Shameem assured that the suspects will be charged immediately, as soon as the cases were forwarded to the Prosecutor General's Office.

Maldives Police Services are currently looking into the million-dollar embezzlement, in collaboration with the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), the Presidential Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery, and the Prosecutor General's (PG) Office.

Poorly paced progress

Investigations into the MMPRC scandal commenced during former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's administration, in 2015.

Reports released by investigative bodies last October list 267 individuals as having benefitted from the largest corruption scandal recorded in the history of Maldives.

The 30 suspects, whose investigations the PG reports are rapidly ongoing, stand amongst the 267 individuals implicated in the scandal.

Those named include former president Yameen, former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, heads of various state institutions and parliament representatives.

However, to date, only ex-President Yameen has been convicted over any involvement in the graft.

During an interview with local media Mihaaru, PG Shameem noted that opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had expressed discontent over Yameen being the only individual serving prison time in regard to the MMPRC case.

Having said that, PG Shameem assured that investigations were now proceeding as per a fixed schedule, promising impartiality in pressing charges in cases forwarded to the PG Office with sufficient evidence.

He expressed hope that some charges can be filed to court within the next two weeks.

According to Shameem, investigative priority was given to heavily accused suspects, irrespective of their job positions or political ideologies.

"The list was arranged based on the evidence that was collected till now", he said.

Noting that PG Office was aiming to file charges at court by July 9, Shameem explained that the lockdown implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19 impeded the investigation due to difficulties in acquiring documents pertinent to the probe.

"[Investigations for] another batch [of suspects] will commence when the 30 cases in progress reach a conclusion", he said.

Insufficiency, influence and impunity

Although conducting a fair investigation into the MMPRC scandal and bringing the criminals to justice was one of the primary pledges of the incumbent administration, not much headway has yet been made in realising this promise.

Police previously stated that the fraud was masterminded by former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, while he was serving as Minister of Tourism in Yameen's government, with the assistance of MMPRC's former Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath.

Nevertheless, while Ziyath is currently under house arrest, 'accused orchestrator' Adeeb walked free on July 14, after the Criminal Court wiped away all charges against him, over the state entering a confessional agreement with the ex-VP over unlawful and questionable grounds.

The state has since lodged the case against Adeeb at High Court.

In the interview with Mihaaru, Shameem himself admitted that the investigations and trials into the MMPRC case were not advancing at the desired speed. However, he stated that with regards to available resources, the movement of the probe was acceptable.

"My work officially begins when [the cases] come to this office. Prior to that, I am providing counsel and making suggestions. Our procedure is arranged in such a way that cases can be forwarded to court in about two days".

Last week, a group of the state's prosecutors raised their concerns to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in a letter declaring that the current "environment" of Maldives did not allow for a thorough investigation of the MMPRC scandal.

The statement noted that it was 'disheartening' that multiple persons were attempting to undermine the efforts of the Prosecutor General's Office to carry out the investigation with integrity to ensure justice in the matter.

The prosecutors also expressed concern that, despite the establishment of a presidential commission to probe the graft, the state has yet to provide required investigative facilities and create an environment in which the corruption graft can be thoroughly scrutinised.

Explaining the delay in indicting the suspects involved in the graft despite half a decade of ongoing investigations, Commissioner of Police (CP) Mohamed Hameed revealed in June that many powerful and influential individuals belonging to the current and past administrations were involved in the graft.

However, the CP affirmed that authorities would not turn a blind eye to certain culprits.

Allegations against financial institutions

Speaking to local media Mihaaru, PG Shameem also disclosed that the investigation into the MVR 1.3 billion graft revealed that financial institutions made arrangements to facilitate the siphoning of state funds through MMPRC.

Allegations against the central bank Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) and other banking institutions such as Bank of Maldives were also previously raised.

Similarly, the report publicised by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) cited negligence of financial institutions as well, but this would mark the first time that authorities have confirmed their direct involvement in the MMPRC case.

Further, Shameem stated that the relevant bodies were looking into the involvement of financial institutions in the ongoing joint investigation.

He added that suspects in Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA)'s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) would now be aware of the probe launched into their cases.

"We have somewhat referred to it [the investigation]. Even the Governor would know", he said.

Noting that certain individuals with ulterior motives knowingly made arrangements for the embezzlement, Shameem also added that some issues in the MMPRC scandal took place due to the flaws in the internal systems.

Investigative authorities had formerly revealed that MMPRC's funds were embezzled in 2014, while preparations were underway for the parliamentary elections held the same year.

Earlier, police stated that high-ranking officials of the government had misused their positions to influence individuals in various institutions to embezzle state funds.

According to the authority, the siphoned funds were spent on securing votes for certain bills submitted to the Parliament such as amending the legislation in addition to voting out former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and other high-ranking officials in state institutions.