'Currency exchange license issued to SOF while aware of suspicious transactions'

Governor Ahmed Naseer has revealed that central bank Maldives Monetary Authority was aware of the suspicious transactions being carried out by SOF Pvt. Ltd. prior to issuing the company a license to carry out foreign currency exchange transactions.

A report by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) into the MMPRC scandal found over MVR 1.3 billion in state funds were embezzled through a dollar network run by around 15 individuals.

The report released in February said millions of dollars that were to be received by MMPRC entered the dollar account of SOF Pvt Ltd opened at Bank of Maldives (BML). The funds were then transferred to 20 individuals in dollar exchange transactions.

However, most of the transactions were conducted before the license required for dollar exchange was issued to the company by MMA. The funds that were to be received as acquisition costs by MMPRC for leasing islands and lagoons for tourism purposes first began entering SOF accounts in 2014. However, the company was licensed as an authorized money exchanger on 13th January 2015 - a date after BML had alerted MMA on suspicious transactions being carried out by SOF. After the bank flagged SOF Pvt Ltd's transactions, a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) was sent by BML to MMA on 27th November 2014.

Speaking at a parliament committee on Monday after he was summoned for questioning over allegations made against him by former head of central bank's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Naseer said it was not only FIU that was aware of the graft involving MMPRC.

Naseer said then Assistant Governor Neeza Imad signed the currency exchange licences for both SOF Pvt Ltd and MMPRC while well aware of the suspicious transactions taking place.

The governor further said other senior officials of MMA were aware of the embezzlement in addition to FIU.

SOF Pvt Ltd was allowed to carry out financial transactions even after the STR was issued, on the instruction of senior officials of MMA, BML earlier said. The Bank has also revealed that in addition to issuing the STR and alerting FIU, the bank put the accounts of SOF Pvt Ltd on hold temporarily.

However, then Deputy Governor Neeza Imad who was in charge of FIU at the time had told the bank that they did not have the authority to hold the accounts and instructed the bank to reactivate it. Then FIU head who was on leave at the time, Athif Shakoor also supported Neeza's stand on the matter upon his return from vacation, said BML.

Neeza, who is currently a State Minister at the Economic Ministry has denied the claims, stating that she did not issue any opinion to the bank over the issue. Both Neeza and Athif Shakoor have requested for an opportunity to respond to the allegations against them at the Parliament's Public Finance Committee.