JP leader defends dealings with graft linked firm

Owner of Villa Travels and political leader Gasim Ibrahim has admitted to having exchanged currency via SOF Private Limited, the company through which USD 77 million of state funds were embezzled.

In a 776-page report published by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) on Thursday, the details of the company used to move around the funds, 'SOF Private Limited', and persons and businesses who conducted business with said company were included.

In their report, ACC mentioned the names of the account holders, which includes former president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom, Youth Minister Ahmed Mahloof and Vilifushi MP RIyaz Rasheed. The report also listed Villa Travels as having received USD 700,000 over two occasions between 2014 and 2015 from SOF Pvt. Ltd.

Speaking at his parliamentary campaign kick-off event at Fenfushi island of Adh. atoll, Gasim said his company Villa Travels is an expansive business that is forced to sell tickets to travelers all over the world in local currency due to regulations enforced by the government.

"We cannot sell tickets and accept payment in foreign currencies. We have to make our payments in USD. We have always bought USD, then and now; always. If we are not able to obtain USD from banks, we buy it from other willing sellers. This is also what is done by people traveling address for business and medicine", said Gasim.

According to central bank, Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), the purchase of foreign currency is not a crime, although a special licensing is necessary. While Villa Travels possess the said license, according to the ACC report and MMA website, SOF Pvt Ltd is not authorized to sell foreign currency,

"That company [SOF Pvt Ltd] issued us cheques for USD on two different occasions and we paid them the equivalent local currency when the cheques were cashed - we have documents corroborating this. Is there any way the buyers can identify if the money received [through SOF Pvt Ltd] came from embezzled funds? If a buyer comes seeking to buy USD, the seller would sell it", said Gasim, also the Speaker of the Parliament.

Gasim defended the dealings with SOF Pvt Ltd and insisted that the transactions between the two companies were legitimate.

Gasim further pointed out that the ACC report on the MMPRC graft was incomplete, and urged ACC to publicize those who received funds from SOF Pvt Ltd in hard cash. Although the transactions between Villa Travels and SOF Pvt Ltd were listed in the ACC report, the commission has never questioned Villa Travels nor Villa Group over the transactions, noted Gasim.