Maldives govt spurns ‘baseless, opposition funded’ Al Jazeera documentary

PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik gestures during a parliamentary committee meeting earlier this month. MIHAARU FILE PHOTO/NISHAN ALI

PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik gestures during a parliamentary committee meeting earlier this month. MIHAARU FILE PHOTO/NISHAN ALI

Government on Sunday dismissed the “baseless” the documentary mass corruption, theft and abuse of power in the Maldives set to be released later this month accusing the opposition of funding the project.

Created by the Emmy and BAFTA winning Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, the documentary would be released on August 30, 2016 at the Royal Society of Arts in London.

The invitation for the release of the documentary, titled ‘Stealing Paradise’ has been opened publicly.

The invitation card claims that “Al Jazeera has uncovered new evidence of corruption, theft and abuse of power. The award winning investigative team reveals how a president hijacked a nation and millions of dollars were stolen”.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik said similar to earlier media reports, the Al Jazeera documentary would probably be based on baseless allegations without any evidence.

If there was any evidence, Nihan challenged the opposition to take the allegations to court.

The Villi-Maafannu MP was referring to the international money laundering racket thought to be worth up to USD800 million linked to incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Yameen was described as “the kingpin” of a scheme to buy subsidised oil through the State Trading Organisation’s (STO) branch in Singapore and sell it on through an entity called ‘Mocom Trading’ to the Burmese military junta, at a black market premium.

Yameen who was the then STO chairman was investigated but no substantial evidence was found to link him to the scandal.

“It’s of little concern to us. The parliamentary group members are not worried at all,” Nihan told reporters after a sit-down with the president and the PPM PG group on Sunday afternoon.

Nihan also alleged that the Al Jazeera documentary had been made with the help of two journalists who had recently been deported over a visa violation.

According to the outspoken MP, the two journalists had close ties to former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Late last month, two foreign journalists were detained and subsequently deported over what the immigration described was for tourist visa violation.

The two journalists pictured with former president Nasheed in 2012.

The two journalists pictured with former president Nasheed in 2012.

The Polish free-lance journalist and her Italian husband were on vacation in the Maldives and had been photographing an opposition rally when they were taken in by police.

Despite Nihan’s claims, the two who had been deported with a 10-year re-entry ban had no ties to Al Jazeera.

The hugely anticipated documentary is believed to have been made on the largest embezzlement of state funds in the history of the tiny island nation which has been heavily linked to president Yameen.

An official audit report had revealed that over USD79 million had been embezzled through the state tourism promotion company.

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 funds received by MMPRC was distributed through a private company.

ACC had also questioned former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor over the transfer of funds linked to MPPRC to a private account of the president.

Adheeb was convicted and sentenced to eight years for misappropriating acquisition fees paid by a foreign company for the 50-year lease of a lagoon in the capital atoll.

The invitation card claims that “Al Jazeera has uncovered new evidence of corruption, theft and abuse of power. The award winning investigative team reveals how a president hijacked a nation and millions of dollars were stolen”.

The invitation card claims that “Al Jazeera has uncovered new evidence of corruption, theft and abuse of power. The award winning investigative team reveals how a president hijacked a nation and millions of dollars were stolen”.

President Yameen had been questioned by the ACC over a transaction that a company involved in the MMPRC scandal had made to his personal account in the Islamic Bank.

Nihan insisted that if accusations of such magnitude are made against a head of state, it should be backed by substantiated evidence.

“It means they are writing what ever they want,” Nihan said dismissing that Al Jazeera could have uncovered irrefutable evidence against president Yameen.

The government meanwhile had said Al Jazeera had not contacted the government for a comment over the documentary.

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