Prosecutor General’s Office to review ventilator corruption case again

Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem during a press conference on July 14, 2020. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

Prosecutor General’s Office announced the decision on Monday to review the case involving corruption in the award of a government contract to procure ventilators for COVID-19 patients, days after they made the decision to decline charges in the case for a second time, citing insufficient evidence.

The case involves an MVR 34.50 million contract awarded by Health Ministry to Dubai-based Executors General Trading to procure 75 ventilators in 2020, which the Auditor General’s Office found to be in breach of Public Finance Regulation. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which investigated the case, requested the Prosecutor General’s Office for criminal charges against 11 government officials in connection to the case, including then-Health Minister Abdulla Ameen. However, the Prosecutor General’s Office declined charges in the case, siting insufficient evidence. The Prosecutor General’s Office later reviewed the decision, but decided not to change its earlier decision not to pursue charges.

Following backlash over the decision, the Prosecutor General’s Office issued a statement on Monday acknowledging concern from ACC and the general public over the decision to decline charges, and announcing the decision to review the decision and re-examine the case.

The Prosecutor General’s Office said they also intend to instruct ACC to present evidence they found in collaboration with the police separately, and to seek assistance from the police for the investigation if sufficient grounds for further investigation is found.

The Prosecutor General’s Office said they will also be instructing the police to assist ACC.

The Prosecutor General’s Office said in their statement that they need to base decisions regarding criminal prosecution on available evidence and public interest. They said that while there is no doubt the case is of great public interest, there is doubt over whether the evidence in the case is sufficient to press charges.

“The legal system in effect at present does not allow for made-up tales. Every phrase on the charge must be backed with evidence. This office relies on evidence obtained by investigative agencies for this,” said the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The Prosecutor General’s Office stressed that the Constitution empowers the ACC investigate, find evidence and present them for charges, while the Constitution empowers the Prosecutor General’s Office to decide whether to press charges or not.

The decision of the Prosecutor General’s Office to decline charges in the ventilator corruption has been criticized by leader of the main ruling party MDP and Parliament speaker, former President Mohamed Nasheed, who has demanded Prosecutor General’s resignation and has stated that he does not wish for MDP to support a government that steals from the public.

Maldives has received only 15 out of the 75 ventilators, and the audit report shows the Health Ministry paid MVR 30.91 million, which made for 90 percent of the total payment, to Executors General Trading as an advance, without obtaining an advance guarantee or a performance guarantee.