'Did not meet with BML, minutes stating otherwise are false' - Neeza

Former Assistant Governor of Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Neeza Imad has denied Bank of Maldives (BML)'s claim that the bank acted on Neeza's instruction to activate SOF Pvt Ltd's accounts after it was inactivated by the bank due to suspicious activity,

While BML has stated that the instruction was given by Neeza in a series of meetings held with the central bank's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), she took part in no such meeting with the bank and any records that state otherwise are false, said Neeza.

Speaking at the Parliament's Public Finance Committee, Bank of Maldives stated that the bank withheld the account of SOF Pvt Ltd - the main company through which state funds were embezzled in the biggest graft in the country's history- and reported the company's transactions to FIU. However, FIU instructed that the bank did not have the authority to hold the account and asked the bank to activate the account. The instructions were given by then acting head of FIU Neeza Haleem and head of FIU Athif Shakoor, said BML.

When asked if the bank can prove that such instructions were given by the FIU officials, a bank employee said the communications took place via phone and two additional meetings. The minutes of said meetings were forwarded to the parliament by the bank.

When asked regarding the bank records on the meetings at the parliament committee meeting held on Wednesday, Neeza said she took part in no such meetings with BML regarding any matter related to the FIU. Any meetings she attended were on bank supervision matters, she said.

Currently a State Minister at the Economic Ministry, Neeza said the records of the meetings submitted by BML were false. Neeza described the minutes of the meeting where she supposedly gave the instruction to activate SOF's account as 'a scribble on a notebook'.

"Those minutes are of a meeting that never took place. I don't think these are minutes, these are merely scribbles on someone's notebook. [I say this because] I spoke on this matter on the phone", said Neeza.

Parliament members noted that the minutes of the meeting had not been signed and endorsed by any officials from MMA.

"Instructed bank to follow their internal policies"

During Wednesday's committee meeting, Neeza disclosed details of the phone conversations that took place between herself and BML.

Neeza revealed that during the short period she headed the FIU, the only instruction she gave to BML was to follow their internal polices and regulations.

Neeza said she spoke to Deputy CEO of BML Mohamed Shareef on the phone on November 27, 2014. Shareef informed her that a bank customer was seeking to withdraw an extremely large sum of money, and that a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) had been forwarded to FIU on the matter, said Neeza.

Neeza then met with the most senior employee of FIU, Abdulla Ashraf. She discussed the issue with Ashraf and called Shareef via phone, and instructed him to follow bank policies on such matters. Neeza said although she was temporarily in charge of FIU, she made all decisions after seeking Ashraf's counsel.

"Ashraf is the second most senior official at FIU next to the head of the unit. He had the most training, and is a certified lawyer. Therefore, we valued his advice in running the unit. Ashraf recommended to contact BML and ask them to follow the laws and regulations, and to follow the bank's internal polices", said Neeza.

Neeza added that the STR was filed by BML before a monetary transaction took place. According to the laws, a transaction cannot be stopped or prevented after it takes place. MMA can prevent a transaction before it takes place for 72 hours, she said.

"[BML claims] I instructed them to activate the account. MMA has never instructed BML to activate or inactivate an account. MMA does not have the authority to do so. Bank accounts can be frozen and unfrozen only through a court order", sad Neeza.

Neeza was notified by Ashraf when the initial analyst report on the STR was completed, however, Neeza asked Ashraf to proceed further with the matter when FIU head Athif Sharkoor returned from his vacation, said Neeza. She was not involved in anything related to the STR from that point forward, and said she told that Athif will be answerable regarding the matter.

Noting that she provided the same details in her statement to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) last year, Neeza said she was not summoned to ACC as a suspect in the case, she said.

FIU head Athif Shakoor was also summoned to the Parliament's Public Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Athif worked as the head of FIU from November 2014 until June 2015. During the period, the unit was notified of the MMPRC graft, however, it failed to take proper action on the matter, it has been accused.

ACC has stated that although a report made by FIU mentioned the money laundering activities of SOF Pvt Ltd, no action was taken against the company on Athif's instructions.