Will not give any leniency in ventilator case: ACC

Anti Corruption Commission President Mariyam Shiuna (L) at the Ceremony unveiling ACC's 2020-2024 strategic action plan | Photo : ACC

Malé, Maldives –  Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has stated that they believe there is enough evidence for the prosecution of individuals involved in the ventilator corruption case, adding that they cannot give any leniency in this case.

This comes after Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem decided to uphold PG’s earlier decision to go ahead with the prosecution of the ventilator corruption case, stating that there was no new reason for changing PGs earlier stance on the case.

The issue was investigated by Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) after an audit by the Auditor General’s Office suggested foul play in all three contracts awarded by the Ministry of Health, to procure 142 ventilators for the state. These include the agreements made between Executors General Trading LLC for 75 ventilators, MedTech Maldives Pvt Ltd for 50 ventilators and with Naadu Pvt Ltd to acquire 24 ventilators, out of which the agreement with Executors General which became the most controversial of all.

ACC had forwarded 11 names, including that of Minister Ameen, to the Prosecutor General’s Office to be charged with corruption under part (a)(2) of section 511, part (a) of section 512, part (b) of section 513 and part (a)(1) of section 313 of the Penal Code of Maldives. However, PGO revealed that due to insufficient evidence they have taken the decision to not prosecute any of the 11 individuals and sent back the report regarding ventilator corruption back to ACC.

According to ACC, PG had decided to uphold their earlier decision and not to go ahead with the prosecution stating that there was no new reason for changing PGs earlier stance on the case. They added that their review of the case submitted by ACC revealed no new elements that provide the basis for prosecuting the 11 individuals involved.

At today’s news conference, ACC President Mariyam Shiuna stated that the ACC believes there are individuals that should be held accountable for the ventilator corruption case, adding that ACC’s investigation has revealed enough evidence of their offenses and the commission has no plans to be lenient.

” We will still discuss with PG to find a way to go ahead with this. We [ACC and PG] may not agree on each and every case, and that is not an issue”

Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) President Mariyam Shiuna

She noted that after the ventilator case was exposed in April 2020, ACC took the initiative and commenced an investigation after which, in June 2020, the state requested ACC to look into the case.

Shiuna said that, prosecution delays in this case have caused many ACC members to be criticized, with some Parliamentarians and members of the public on social media even calling for the resignation of commission members.

She said that while ACC members acknowledge that the position comes with the possibility of criticism, it is extremely disheartening to see calls for votes of no confidence or resignation when some cases are settled a specific way. However, she stated that she’ll resign only if she believes the situation calls for it.

At the press conference, ACC Vice President Fathimath Anoola stated the ventilator case was sent to PG as a request to prosecute the involved individuals for the offense of using their positions to gain an undue benefit. She added that however, PG stated that there is no indication of the accused receiving any unde benefit, thus they cannot be charged for the offense.

Mentioning Waste Management Corporation Limited (WAMCO)’s barge purchase case, VP Anoola stated that in this case, the procedures and the instances in which an undue benefit charge can pressed were explicitly mentioned, adding that the ventilator case can be prosecuted on similar grounds. She noted that the element of prosecution is fulfilled in the ventilator case.

” Looking at the prosecution in that case [WAMCO Case], it is apparent that in such cases, the accused do not necessarily need to gain a profit, this is because actions by the accused in such cases result in undue benefits being realised much later. They can be charged for it later, however i do not believe this is a reason to not prosecute the accused for the initially identified offenses”

ACC Vice President Fathimath Anoola

While not directly naming PG, but referencing recent remarks by the PG stating that the ACC’s investigation was substandard, Anoola stated that a state leader should not undermine a state institute. She went onto say that no institute is perfect, and that she believes different experience will reinforce the commission.

ACC member Aishath Abdullah disclosed that, PG decided against pressing charges as ventilator procurement went ahead with permission from the Ministry of Finance, and after consulting the Attorney General’s (AG) Office. She also stated that responsible parties made some mistakes due to administrative oversight. Aishath further added that she does not believe that clerical mistakes can cause large amounts of money to be transferred to an outside source, negatively affecting the state.

She disclosed that information from Attorney General (AG) revealed that, AG advised the Health Ministry to acquire a performance guarantee and an advance payment guarantee, and then to proceed with the purchase with permission from the Ministry of Finance. During ACC’s investigation, The Finance Ministry later revealed that they did not authorize the purchase without a performance guarantee and an advance payment guarantee.

She also revealed that, the Health Ministry consulted AG on the first of April 2020, and made the first payment to Dubai’s Executors General Trading the very next day.

ACC member Ibrahim Shakeel pointed out that while the commission ascertained the accounts that received money in the case, the money was already outside the Maldives, thus making reclamation nearly impossible. The commission has then sought to prosecute individuals that are to be held accountable, and should be responsible for returning the money lost from the state.

ACC member Ali Ashraf refuted claims some individual’s statements that the ACC’s investigation was inferior, revealing that the ventilator case investigation was done more thoroughly than the standard ACC investigation, and took much longer than other investigations.

Asserting the investigation’s in-depthness, Ashraf said that ” We started investigating this case on 13th April 2020, and the investigation ended on 13th October 2020. We took a total of 35 statements in this case, which includes 5 head individuals from the Ministry of Finance”

ACC have said that, for the ventilator case, statements were taken only from employees of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health. They also stated that even though PG has decided not to prosecute in the ventilator case, it is unlikely that this is due to any outside influence.