Azim resigns from IAS board after charges of bribery amid MMPRC corruption

Non-Executive Director of Island Aviation Services (IAS) Abdulla Azim | photo: Mihaaru

Male’, Maldives – Non-Executive Director of Island Aviation Services (IAS) Abdulla Azim on Wednesday, resigned from his position in connection to charges of accepting bribes worth USD 100,000 while serving on the investigative team assembled by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate the corruption case of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Finance confirmed that Azim, who has been included amongst 155 individuals revealed to have received state funds embezzled from MMPRC, in the 779-page investigative report released by the ACC, had sent his notice of resignation to the Privatization and Corporatization Board (PCB).

The President’s Office suspended Azim after the publication of ACC’s report, as per the government’s zero-tolerance policy in February 2019. However, he was later permitted to return to work in April 2019 after the President’s Office lifted the suspension.

Following the joint investigation conducted by the Maldives Police Service, the Presidential Commission on Asset Recovery, ACC and the Prosecutor General’s Office charged Azim on two counts of bribery and two counts of corruption.

As per the PG Office, Azim received two payments totaling USD 100,000 from SOF Pvt Ltd, the company specified in the MMPRC scandal, in exchange for influencing the course of investigative efforts against prominent individuals from the previous government in addition to disclosing classified information collected throughout the joint investigation.

Azim has rejected the accusations of corruption and claims that he took part in a legitimate dollar exchange transaction with SOF. Azim also stated that he was unaware that the funds obtained through SOF were part of the money syphoned from MMPRC during the scandal. In addition to this, Azim stated that he constantly procures dollars for his business acquaintances and that his money trail can be clearly followed by relevant investigative authorities.

The largest corruption case recorded in Maldives’ history, the MMPRC scandal involved the embezzlement of MVR 4 billion in state funds, which were acquired through leasing islands and lagoons for tourism development and siphoned by private company, SOF Pvt Ltd. Initial reports by ACC stated that 155 individuals had benefitted from the MMPRC graft, which later increased to 267.

Authorities confirm that the 300 or so suspected individuals include high-ranking officials from the incumbent and past administrations, in addition to parliament representatives, judges, members of independent bodies and officers of law enforcement. President of the asset recovery commission Ahmed As’ad previously revealed that the commission lacked the capacity and human resources to investigate 300 suspects all at once.

Therefore, he stated that the commission was conducting the probe in batches, prioritising the investigation of certain individuals based on the amount of embezzled funds linked to them, the evidence gathered by authorities, and the influence of their positions.

Till date, only ex-President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and previous MMPRC Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath were convicted over their involvement in the MMPRC scandal. Yameen is currently serving five years in jail, along with a fine amounting to USD 5 million, while Adeeb is serving a 20-year prison sentence with a fine of MVR 2 million. In addition to this, Ziyath is also serving 11 years in prison.