US agrees to aid new Maldives govt to trace stolen state funds

The United States (US) government remains ready to assist the new Maldives government to trace millions in missing state funds and unravel contentious contract details of the outgoing government, according to a media report.

In an interview with the 'Los Angeles Times', Maldives's president elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said he would consider asking the FBI and other US agencies to track down stolen state funds and mega project contracts signed by incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

The L.A. Times had also quoted a senior US State Department official saying the US government was “prepared to help them [Maldives] in any way.”

The article largely reflected on the huge debts amassed by the luxury island destination to China during the last five years which saw defeated president Yameen fund his quixotic mega development plans.

Beijing has provided loans to fund several major infrastructure projects including a landmark bridge connecting the capital Male to the airport island Hulhule.

Concerns that Maldives would fall into a debt trap like Sri Lanka were further fueled after the island nation signed its first bilateral free trade agreement with China late last year.

According to the opposition officials quoted in the article, Solih's transitional teams had discovered that the country owed the Chinese government not USD1.5 billion, as had been widely estimated, but nearly USD3 billion.

Details of the debt — and how much might have been stolen — will only begin to emerge after Solih takes office on November 17 and his aides gain complete access to documents that Yameen’s government hid from lawmakers and the public.

“We have to find out exactly what happened, because nobody really knows,” said Ahmed Naseem, a former Maldivian foreign minister. “It’s a huge amount of money, and we need China’s help to get to the bottom of it.”

In 2014, a government audit found that tens of millions of dollars in tourism revenue had been diverted to private accounts linked to Yameen’s former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor who has since been jailed on multiple counts of corruption and terrorism.

“We will have to talk to China — not necessarily about canceling deals, because we need development, but about renegotiation,” Naseem said. “We can’t pay something that is ridiculous. We can’t give them our blood, can we?”