Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has exposed massive corruption at the top of the Maldives government, including theft, bribery and money laundering. President Abdulla Yameen is accused of receiving cash in bags filled with up to $1m – so much that it was “difficult to carry”, according to one of the men who delivered the money.
A new documentary, Stealing Paradise, provides an unprecedented insight into how international corruption is carried out. The story is told through data obtained from three of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s smartphones and dozens of confidential documents. It also features secretly recorded confessions of three men who embezzled millions and delivered the stolen cash on the orders of the president and his deputy.
The programme finds that the president’s ministers and aides have plotted to launder up to $1.5bn through the South Asian nation’s central bank, with the help of secretive businessmen from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. They planned to fly in cash at up to $100m at a time, pass it through the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) and transfer it back out.
|Stealing Paradise also reveals:|
· Evidence that ties the president of the Maldives to the largest corruption scandal in the country’s history, in which nearly $80m of money raised from luxury resort leases was stolen. A cheque deposit slip, which Al Jazeera has verified with both the payee and a bank source, reveals the president received a cheque payment of $500,000. “It was transferred that day, within three hours,” said the person who paid it in.
· Around 2,000 pages of legal documents that accuse President Yameen of “corruption and fraud within state-owned entities”, with a value of nearly $150m. The fraud involved selling oil to Myanmar’s military government in the early 2000s when it was under US trade sanctions.
· Two weeks after a prominent journalist vanished, Yameen told his home affairs minister there was “no need to be overwhelmed” by the investigation. The message was copied to the cabinet. The editor of Maldives Independent said: “I t implies a massive cover-up,” or “that the president and the vice president were involved.” Former Home Affairs Minister Umar Naseer denied receiving the message.
· Phone records that show the vice president declared himself “boss of all gangs in Maldives”, funded those gangs and illegally procured gun and bullets. He also controlled every single member of the Anti-Corruption Commission and appears to have been conducting an affair with one member.
· Following a blast on Yameen’s yacht in October 2015, which he claimed was an assassination attempt, Al Jazeera has obtained three separate forensic analyses carried out by the American FBI, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. While the Sri Lankans claimed it could have been the result of a homemade bomb, the US and Saudi experts reported that the blast was accidental. The president accused his vice president and defence minister of being behind the blast and jailed them. The evidence suggests they were imprisoned on a false pretence.
An undercover Al Jazeera reporter met with one of the businessmen involved in the plan: Faidzan Hassan from Malaysia. The reporter told Hassan he represented wealthy clients with political connections who dealt in cash and wanted absolute secrecy.
Hassan said he could help, asking, “How many palettes [of cash] do you have?”
He added, “I don’t deal with arms and drugs. That’s it.”
Later, Hassan denied the allegations of a money-laundering plot in the Maldives and told Al Jazeera that the comments made to the reporter were mistaken and taken out of context.
After the programme was broadcast, the Maldives government issued this statement to Al Jazeera: “There is no evidence in this report connecting President Yameen or current members of his Government to any wrongdoing.
“These claims already form part of a wider investigation initiated by President Yameen in February 2016. We have asked Al Jazeera to provide any evidence they have which is relevant to this investigation.
“It is disappointing that Al Jazeera has in this instance failed to meet the high standards of journalism expected of such an organisation.”
The documentary includes undercover footage of three men describing how they delivered cash in bags to the president, the first lady, senior judges and numerous other politicians and officials.
“The whole system is corrupted,” one of the men said.
“For the president,” laughs the former vice president’s driver, the money is “difficult to carry”. He then tells a story of how he delivered $100,000 to the president, only to be told he wanted $1m. He made a return journey to deliver the rest.
The former vice president’s phone messages expose serious abuses of power. Ahmed Adeeb ordered the police commissioner to “blast” a TV station that had already been burned down in 2013. He also conspired with police to “light up” a government office housing 200 members of staff. The target of the attack was Niyaz Ibrahim, then auditor-general investigating the vice president’s corruption.
He branded it “state-sponsored terrorism by the government against its own people”.
The testimony also suggests the length of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s 13-year terrorism sentence was determined directly by the president. One of the men who delivered bribes tells how he was summoned to court to collect Nasheed’s sentence sheet, which was then shown to the president, who ordered an amendment.
“The day Nasheed was sentenced, they called me and told me to pick up a letter … Nasheed’s sentence,” said the source. “The president told [the vice president] there is something that has to be changed. That night, they sentenced Nasheed.”
Sources and text message conversations reveal the Maldives judiciary is far from independent. Senior judges have received money and luxury flats and meet regularly with the president and his deputy, who meddle in high-profile cases and judicial appointments.
In one text message, the former prosecutor-general declares absolute loyalty to Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and promises “no one can touch” him. In another, a supreme court judge, Ali Hameed, assures the vice president:
“We will remain soldiets till the mossion is over in 2018 ! Or 2023 ? Hah! hah ! Hah !” (sic)
The text messages show the president and his deputy spent six months working to save Judge Hameed from being debarred after he was embroiled in a sex scandal. After they succeeded, the judge wrote:
“My dear brother you and HEP did more than enough to me and my family . I will be always greateful sir !” (sic)
Former President Nasheed, who ruled from 2008 until he stepped down under pressure in 2012, described the judiciary as “the most corrupt institution in the country” and described the president’s interference in his sentencing as “sad”.
“All of these politically motivated sentences are being driven, directed by President Yameen,” said Nasheed. “I mean, I’ve been told the same, but you’ve of course proven it beyond doubt.”
The Maldives’ supreme court declined to comment. The Maldives government failed to respond to a request for comment at the time this article was written.