Ex-head of central bank unit 'powerless' to stop tourism graft

The former head of the central bank's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) Athif Shakoor on Tuesday defended his implication in the largest corruption scandal in the history of the archipelago by insisting that he had been "powerless" to stop it.

Maldives Media and PR Corporation (MMPRC) had mediated the leasing of over 59 different tourist hotels, resorts and yacht marinas out of which 53 had been leased through an agreement with the tourism ministry.

The official audit report into the scandal, had revealed that over USD79 million had been embezzled through the state tourism promotion company.

The funds received by MMPRC was distributed through a private company called SOF Private Limited with strong links to former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor who remains the chief suspect in the scandal.

Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) had launched an investigation into the central bank's failure to report suspicious financial transactions linked to the corruption scandal.

The commission in its report on Tuesday said the banks had forwarded suspicious financial transactions linked to the MMPRC corruption to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA).

The FIU had ruled that it had found no indication of any suspicious activity linked to money laundering or terrorism funding.

However, the ACC investigation had found that FIU had discovered that large amounts of MMPRC funds had been funneled through the account of a private company without the financial strength to conduct such large transactions.

ACC said despite knowledge that the private company was financially incapable of transactions of such large amounts, FIU had not notified the relevant authorities.

The commission said that it had not found any credible evidence that then governor Azeema Adam had prevented the FIU from forwarding the case to the police for further investigation.

According to MMA regulations, the FIU was an independent unit with its head responsible to make decisions on suspicious transactions. The ACC said the investigation had found that despite an analysis on the transactions flagging possible money laundering, the FIU head had refused to forward the analysis to the authorities.

The commission also said the decision by the unit head clearly indicates negligence and possible abuse of power prompting ACC to seek prosecution of the unit head.

In response to the new report, Athif said the embezzlement began in June 2014 and had continued well into last year while he had served as the FIU head from November 2014 for just seven months.

"All in power knew. When I figured out that I was powerless to stop it I left the system and vacated my position to someone who can," Athif said in a Tweet.

Athif also said that he "looking forward" to be fully accountable for the seven months he had served as FIU head.