In 2011, the biggest ever investigation into the 30-year-long dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom blew the lid off an $800 million Oil Scam. And all the pointers led back to Gayoom’s younger half-brother, Abdulla Yameen – the present President of The Maldives.
The investigation, which was done by the Editor-In-Chief of FocusMaldives, Sumon K Chakrabarti and published in The Week magazine, was based on a confidential report that was submitted to the President’s Office by a UK-based finance consultancy called Grant Thornton, in September 2010. The previous March, then President Mohamed Nasheed – the first to be democratically elected in the Maldives had requested Grant Thornton to begin an investigation to trace alleged ‘hidden’ assets of Gayoom, his family members and associates. This followed on public allegations by the auditor-general, in 2008, that Gayoom had used government funds and national institutions for personal benefit during his years in power.
The Singapore police too began an official criminal investigation into money laundering by Gayoom and his family members; today, the amounts being discussed range from $700 – $800 million. The Grant Thornton investigation was carried out mostly in Singapore, and the report, when it came out in September, was not just a serious indictment of President Yameen – but also a fascinating exploration of how autocracies often fall back on blood brother dictatorships to do business. In this case, that ‘brother’ was Burma.
“Ghost ships” regularly left Singapore in the name of delivering oil to the Maldives – but never arrived here.’ He continued: ‘We are a tiny nation, and our oil consumption is very small. But the State Trading Organisation (Singapore) used to buy oil in bulk … and sell it either on the black market or to Myanmar.’
The State Trading Organisation (Singapore) was set up in 1997 as a subsidiary of the State Trading Organisation. The latter, run and largely owned by the Maldivian state, was established in 1964 with the sole aim of keeping the prices of essential commodities at a stable rate for citizens of the atolls, mainly by importing and trading food staples, fuel, lubricants and construction materials. Today, the majority of the STO’s activities, where the government currently owns around 92.3 percent, constitute the supply and sale of petroleum and aviation fuel. STO Singapore’s mandate was initially limited to purchasing diesel and related products on behalf of the Maldives, mostly sourcing from companies such as Shell Eastern, the Singapore Petroleum Company and Petronas, the Malaysian-state run firm. But soon STO Singapore was authorised to sell these products to other countries, particularly Burma. The majority of its sales thus went to either Male or Rangoon, with the exception of 2002, when the majority of revenue came from Malaysia, through forged invoices.
When the Grant Thornton investigators landed in the Maldives late last year, they were provided with three hard drives from the President’s Commission, a body set up by Nasheed’s government to investigate allegations of corruption and misappropriation of assets under the previous regime. These were copies of hard drives from the STO Singapore office as of 2009. And the web of corruption started unravelling.
A NEW CACHE OF DOCUMENTS
“These never before seen documents about the illegal sale of $800m of oil to the Burmese Junta back in the 1990-2000 expose in far more detail how STO and Mocom carried out their fraud,” says Chakrabarti.
The leaked cache of documents include bank statements, Telegraphic transfers or telex transfers (TT) and swift transfers, Bills of Landing, letters of indemnity, track records, voyage instructions and many more.
The massive leak of information comes at a time of growing opposition to Yameen, as a broad opposition coalition including his former VPs, defence ministers, political allies and even his half-brother – former dictator Gayoom – seeks to remove him from power.
Recently, Yameen has also been accused of involvement in massive corruption and embezzlement of public money from resort sales, as well as elaborately planning to launder $1.5 billion through the Maldives central bank.
As our journalists go through the documents, the new investigation will soon be unravelled in an investigative series titled- The Oil Leaks (Loot On The High Seas: How Politicians & Bureaucrats Masterminded The Biggest Scam In The Maldives)
FocusMaldives has also accessed documents presented in the high court of Singapore, which has been kept under the wraps for many years now. Informed sources indicated that a lot of money has been spent since 2011 to keep these documents from the public eye.