WHY IS GASIM ABDUL KAREEM A WHISTLEBLOWER?
On 16 February 2016 Gasim Abdul Kareem disclosed the Bank of Maldives bank account details of SOF Pvt. Ltd., a company that, according to a Special Audit Report published 12 days earlier, was in the midst of one of the biggest corruption scandals in the Maldives. So, can Gasim’s actions be constituted as whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing is the disclosure by a person, to the public or to those in authority, of mismanagement, corruption, illegality, or some other wrongdoing. Whistleblowing is not limited to reporting wrongdoing to state investigative authorities only. Whistleblowers can also reach out to the media, non-governmental watchdog organizations or to the concerned public. In fact, some of the most famous whistleblowers in recent history (such as Antoine Deltour, Edward Snowden) disclosed information to the media, not to investigative authorities.
Gasim’s disclosure showed the details of how the money embezzled from (Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) was dispersed through the SOF account, where large amounts of money amounting to millions of dollars were deposited and withdrawn within a short period of time showing telltale signs of money laundering.
WHO DID GASIM DISCLOSE THE RECORDS TO?
Gasim Abdul Kareem did not disclose the information to 500 bank staff only. Gasim claims that he emailed the records to everyone he knew (i.e. to all the email addresses he knew), and that included 500 employees of Bank of Maldives as well as various government authorities. In other words, he disclosed the information to the public.
WASN’T AN INVESTIGATION ALREADY CONDUCTED INTO THIS ISSUE?
The Audit Report on MMPRC that was published in October 2014 revealed that USD 6 million was embezzled from the Corporation. The Report only mentioned two private companies (Millennium Capital Management Pvt Ltd and Montillion International Pvt Ltd) that were used to embezzle the money. The Report indicated that Montillion International Pvt Ltd had paid back the money to MMPRC. Millennium Capital Management, on the other hand, had still not paid back USD 2 million owed to MMPRC. The Report went on to mention that from the money deposited to Millennium Capital Management bank accounts, 38.3 million rufiya was transferred to another company, and another 38.3 million rufiya withdrawn by cheques. There was no mention of SOF Pvt. Ltd.
The initial investigation conducted by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was based on this October 2014 Audit Report. Upon conducting the investigation, the ACC requested the Prosecutor General’s Office to press charges against the former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb over the USD 6 million embezzled from MMPRC. No mention of SOF Pvt. Ltd. here as well.
Following an explosion on the presidential speedboat, Adeeb and Managing Director of MMPRC Abdulla Ziyath was arrested for conspiring to assassinate the President. Subsequently, on 27 October 2015 President Yameen ordered the Audit Office to conduct another audit of MMPRC. This audit was released on 4 February 2016 and cited SOF Pvt. Ltd. as receiving more than USD 73 million from MMPRC – from which they were yet to pay back USD 70.17 million. Unlike the previous Audit Report that looked into the back account actions of Millennium Capital Management, the second Audit Report did not look into the bank transactions of SOF Pvt. Ltd.
Gasim disclosed the details of SOF account transactions 14 days after the second Audit Report was published. Although investigations were being conducted into corrupt practices within MMPRC, there was no indication that any investigations were being conducted at that time on the transactions made through the SOF bank accounts.
The SOFLeaks were the basis for the investigative article published by Mihaaru news on 13 June 2016.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO PROTECT GASIM?
“This is a test case for the Maldives and its whistleblower protection laws. The questionable financial transactions revealed from Gasim’s actions should have raised alarm bells a long time ago and yet no one had the courage to do what Gasim did. Instead of encouraging whistleblowing, Gasim’s persecution simply sends a signal to others who witness corruption that speaking out has severe consequences.” – Mariyam Shiuna, Executive Director of Transparency Maldives.
Whistleblowers play an important, though often risky role, in exposing corruption. Corruption by its nature is secret and to expose it often requires ordinary people who witness wrongdoing to speak out about it. This can endanger lives and livelihoods. If no one is going to protect you for doing the right thing, why expose yourself to be fired, arrested and imprisoned?
By prosecuting Gasim, the state is sending the message that protecting the privacy of individuals who engage in corruption on a grand scale is more important than protecting whistleblowers who expose their corruption.
Gasim’s actions deserve commendation and he is entitled to protection, not prosecution.