BML: SOF’s transactions allowed at Neeza, Athif’s instructions

Combined file photos of (from L-R) former Head of Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Athif Shakoor; and former deputy governor of Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), Neeza Imad.

Bank of Maldives says it allowed the deposit of endorsed cheques from MMPRC to SOF Private Limited to proceed at instructions of then-Maldives Monetary Authority deputy governor Neeza Imad and then-head of Finance Intelligence Unit Athif Shakoor. 

Senior officials of BML were summoned for questioning regarding the MVR 1.4 billion MMPRC embezzlement and money laundering scam by Public Finance Committee of the Parliament this Tuesday.

In response to questions, BML’s interim risk officer, Yamin Adam said the bank held SOF’s bank account and reported the transactions to the FIU on November 27, 2014. He said the bank held the account after SOF’s transactions on November 25, 2014 were flagged for possible money laundering activity.

He said that Neeza, who had been in charge of overseeing FIU at the time, instructed the bank not to hold SOF’s account and allow the transactions to proceed. And that Athif, who had been head of FIU but on annual leave at the time, repeated Neeza’s instructions upon return.

“We received instruction from both Neeza Imad and Athif Shakoor that the transactions may be allowed, that the account cannot be held, that the account cannot be held inactive for future transactions, and to activate the account,” said Yamin.

Members of the Public Finance Committee then asked the bank officials via which mode Neeza and Athif gave the instructions, and whether the bank had any evidence to prove its claim.

Yamin said the two officials made the instructions via phone call, and at meetings between the bank and FIU. He said proof of the instructions is available on the minutes of the meetings.

Neeza is current a State Minister at the Economic Development Ministry. She was nominated for the position of MMA’s governor during former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s administration, but the nomination was later withdrawn from the Parliament.

She resigned from MMA after the administration withdrew her name.

BML’s deputy CEO, Mohamed Shareef told the Public Finance Committee that the bank followed laws and regulations in allowing the transactions between MMPRC and SOF. He also provided assurance neither the bank or any of its staff members had been negligent in connection to the case.

Shareef’s assurance comes amid an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigation into 38 bank employees involved in cheque approval and processing for possible negligence in allowing the deposit of endorsed cheques from MMPRC to SOF.

Shareef said the allegation against the employees was detrimental to the public’s trust in the bank.

He asked relevant State institutions to expedite investigations into the allegations against the bank and its employees in connection to the money laundering case, and clarify the facts to the public.

Only USD 12.5 million out of the USD 77.55 million in acquisition costs for lease of islands for resort development went into MMPRC. The rest was embezzled and laundered. USD 5.3 million was laundered through SOF.