Amid the allegations of money laundering and terror financing against President Yameen, involvement of Cherie Blair, chairperson, Omnia Strategy, in the biggest corruption scandal has hit the headlines.
According to a revelation by The Daily Mail, Omnia strategy, signed a deal with the Yameen government to provide consultancy on “democratic consolidation”, has been paid more than £200,000 by a company allegedly involved in the biggest corruption scandal in the country.
The British daily, after investigating leaked invoices and bank records, found out that Omnia had billed Abdulla Ziyath, former managing director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) for £210,000 in August last year.
This amount of £210,000 was the half amount of total fee charged by the firm for a six-month contract that was signed with the government in mid-2015.
The payment, however, was made by a local textiles importer called MC Maldives Pvt Ltd. Its owner Abdulla Rafiu claimed that he wired the money on the request of Mohamed Allam Latheef ‘Moho,’ the owner of SOF Pvt Ltd, who was unable to make an international payment due to Eid holidays.
According to Rafiu, he wired the money from an account at the Bank of Ceylon branch in Malé to an HSBC account in London unaware of the fact that where the money was going. The money was deposited in his account by Latheef.
“When I found out I was very unhappy,” Rafiu told The Daily Mail.
Who is Abdulla Ziyath?
Abdul Ziyath, former managing director of the MMPRC, was arrested in connection with the President’s speedboat blast on September 28 along with former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb. Ziyath, now, faces charges of corruption for misappropriation of nearly US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion agency.
Who is Mohamed Allam Latheef?
Mohamed Allam Latheef, lead singer of a popular local band called Scores of Flair (SOF) is a close associate of Adeeb and among the five suspects wanted in connection with the boat blast.
An Interpol red notice issued for his arrest states that he is wanted for “threatening catastrophe, criminal property damage, use of dangerous weapons during an offence, trafficking, manufacture, sale, or possession of catastrophic agents or firearms, terrorism, and corruption.”
Maldives biggest corruption scandal
An audit report of the MMPRC has revealed that the company has siphoned off US$70 million into SOF’s bank account. The company also deposited millions of dollars of resort lease payments to SOF’s account on the signature of Ziyath. He also endorsed the cheques made out to MMPRC to SOF.
After the release of audit report, SOF said that it was a payment received for providing a brokerage service to the MMPRC and claimed that the funds were distributed to Yameen and his wife and other politicians as requested.
Yameen denied the reports of involvement in the corruption scandal and said that he will get back the stolen funds.
The Omnia angle
Omnia Strategy, the London and Washington-based consultancy, founded and chaired by Cherie Blair signed a deal to advise President Yameen’s government on “democracy consolidation”.
The consultancy charged the Abdulla Ziyath, former managing director of the MMPRC, on government’s behalf for £210,000 (half the total amount for 6-month of service). The MMPRC, which allegedly misappropriated US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion agency, siphoned off US$70 million into SOF’s bank account.
Of US$70 million, £210,000 was transferred to an HSBC account in London, apparently belonging to Omnia, via MC Maldives Pvt Ltd. owner Abdulla Rafiu.
The Daily Mail suggested that Omnia could become the subject of an anti-corruption investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office as well as the US government.
Omnia said that it terminated six-month contract early due to unpredictable domestic events and is no longer instructed by either the government or the MMPRC.
The Daily Mail also revealed that Omnia was hired to advice on “strategic diplomacy, media training, international media relations, and the management of international coverage” of jailed former President Mohamed Yameen and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.
The Maldives government also hired Washington based lobbyist firm, Podesta Group in September for a sum of US$300,000 and London-based PR firm BTP Advisers in November.
According to Maldives Independent, government spent MVR 297,510.88 (US$19,293.83) on visits of Omnia’s barrister Toby Cadman, between June and September.
Omnia was also pulled in to help government to submit a 110-page response to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention after it ruled Nasheed’s terrorism charges politically motivated and imprisonment illegal.