Regular readers may recall some of my despatches from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean last year. I had been asked to go there in order to meet with President Mohammed Nasheed, an old friend of mine, who had spent much of his life either being detained or beaten up by the previous regime of the Dictator, Abdul Gayoom. “Anni”, as he is popularly known in his country, eventually won the Maldives first ever free elections – but his victory has never been accepted by the Gayoom family.
When I travelled there, I did so with a note from the British Foreign Office, urging the President to release Gayoom’s half brother Abdulla Yameen – now leader of the Opposition - from the temporary house arrest that he had been put under.
Sheltering under a largely corrupt, effete judiciary, Yameen and his supporters had been busy trying to topple the elected Government. The judiciary – frankly the last remnants of the old regime – were largely part and part of this plot. Even as I handed over the note from the Foreign Office urging the President to release Yameen and his cronies, I thought they were pretty lucky under the circumstances.
Now come the most astonishing revelations in India’s This Week magazine, some of which I reprise here, courtesy of MINIVAN News, the web based newspaper that has done so much to spread real freedom of speech and democracy in the Maldives.
Singaporean police are reportedly investigating former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s half brother Abdulla Yameen for alleged involvement in an international money laundering racket thought to be worth up to US$800 million – if accurate, a staggering 80 percent of the Maldives’ annual GDP.
Yameen is an MP and leader of the People’s Alliance (PA) party, which in coalition with the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), of which Gayoom is the ‘honorary leader’, together maintain a parliamentary majority in the Maldives.
The allegation is central to an explosive piece in India’s The Week magazine by Sumon K Chakrabarti, Chief National Correspondent of CNN-IBN, who describes Yameen as “the kingpin” of a scheme to buy subsidised oil through the State Trading Organisation’s branch in Singapore and sell it on through an entity called ‘Mocom Trading’ to the Burmese military junta, at a black market premium.
“The Maldives receives subsidised oil from OPEC nations, thanks to its 100 percent Sunni Muslim population. The Gayooms bought oil, saying it was for the Maldives, and sold it to Myanmar on the international black market. As Myanmar is facing international sanctions, the junta secretly sold the Burmese and ‘Maldivian’ oil to certain Asian countries, including a wannabe superpower,” alleged Chakrabarti, who is writing a book on Gayoom’s administration and the democracy movement that led to its fall.
“Sources in the Singapore Police said their investigation has confirmed ‘shipping fraud through the diversion of chartered vessels where oil cargo intended for the Maldives was sold on the black market creating a super profit for many years,’” the report added.
Referencing an unnamed Maldivian cabinet Minister, The Week states that: “what is becoming clear is that oil tankers regularly left Singapore for the Maldives, but never arrived here.”
The article draws heavily on an investigation report by international accountancy firm Grant Thorton, commissioned by the Maldives government in March 2010, which obtained three hard drives containing financial information detailing transactions from 2002 to 2008. No digital data was available before 2002, and the paper trail “was hazy”.
There is more, and for that you will have to read MINIVAN News or This Week. But from where I’m sitting, it’s surely game, set and match to the forces of democracy and to President Mohammed Nasheed in particular.