'Former deputy governor instructed to activate SOF accounts'

Bank of Maldives (BML) have stated that they allowed SOF Pvt Ltd to continue operating their account at BML on the recommendation of senior officials at central bank MMA's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

The government was to receive US$ 79 million for the leasing of islands through MMRPC. However, the state received only US$ 12.8 from the amount. The remaining funds were mainly embezzled through BML accounts of a private company named SOF Pvt. Ltd.

Senior employees of BML were summoned to Parliament's Public Finance Committee for questioning regarding the MMPRC graft on Tuesday.

Deputy CEO of BML Mohamed Shareef stated at the committee meeting that after the Anti-Money laundering Act came into effect, SOF Pvt Ltd's transactions involving huge amounts of funds were noticed by the bank. During November 2014, a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) was sent by the bank to MMA, alerting the central bank on the happenings.

Due to suspicions that SOF's transactions may involve money-laundering, the bank accounts of SOF were temporarily put on hold by the bank in addition to alerting central bank, Shareef revealed

However, the bank was told that they do not have the authority to hold SOF's account during tele-conferences with FIU that followed.

At this point, committee member Maradhoo MP Ahmed Shareef asked to name the FIU officials who informed the bank that the had no authority to hold the accounts.

Answering the question, BML's Interim Risk Officer Yaameen Adam revealed that SOF's account was temporarily put on hold and a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) was sent to the FIU during November 2014. The account was put on hold when the relevant department at the bank had flagged a transaction that was conducted two days prior as a suspicious money laundering transaction.

However, then Deputy Governor Neeza Imad who was in charge of FIU at the time had advised that the Bank cannot hold SOF's accounts, and to continue to allow transactions to take place. FIU head Athif Shakoor, who was on vacation at the time supported Neeza's opinion on the matter upon his return, said Yaameen.

"Both Neeza Imad and Athif Shakoor instructed the bank that transactions can continue taking place, and that we cannot hold the [SOF] account. We were instructed that we cannot keep the account inactivated and have to re-activate it to allow transactions", said Yaameen.

When asked if the bank can prove that FIU officials had indeed given these instructions, Yaameen said all discussions relating to the MMPRC graft took place via teleconference and two sit-downs. The minutes of the meetings are available, said Yaameen.

The former Deputy Governor Neeza resigned from her post as Deputy Governor after President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom nominated her name to the parliament for the Governor position, and later withdrew it. Neeza is currently a State Minister at the Economic Ministry. The investigations into the MMPRC graft by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had found that former FIU head Athif Shakoor had been negligent in fulfilling his responsibilities.

During Tuesday's committee meeting, Deputy CEO Shareef further said the bank continued to alert FIU on transactions that were taking place through the SOF account. However, the unit had not instructed BML to take any specific actions on the issue.

"We believe that if the FIU had taken action on the STR submitted by BML under the Anti-money laundering and Terrorism Financing Act, the money laundering that took place through SOF Pvt Ltd could have been stopped', said Shareef.