Male, September 9 (NIA): The Maldivian government has dismissed the Al Jazeera program “Stealing Paradise” on rampant corruption and a US$ 1.5 billion money laundering scheme in the country as “defamatory and biased” and smacking of bad journalism, Maldives Independent reported.
A statement issued Wednesday evening pointed out that the evidence against President Abdulla Yameen was based on material gathered from three mobile phones of Yameen’s jailed former Deputy.
The documentary featured secretly filmed confessions by three associates of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb about delivering stolen cash to the President and others as well as interviews with exiled opposition leaders such as former President Mohamed Nasheed.
The government statement said that Adeeb’s associates are on the run after Interpol Red Notices were issued for their arrest whilst the opposition figures interviewed for the film have “publically announced that they seek the removal of the legitimate government before the end of its constitutional term”.
“Further, the fact that the government was denied the opportunity to present a balanced, fair and true version of events, makes ‘Stealing Paradise’ nothing but defamatory and falls short of accepted international and legal norms of reporting. It cannot be said, therefore, that the accounts given are anything other than biased, and in pursuance of an already declared agenda.”
According to Al Jazeera’s award-winning investigative unit, the government failed to provide a substantive response despite a request in early August.
The Maldives United Opposition – a broad coalition of opposition parties and Yameen’s former allies led by Nasheed and ex-Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – has meanwhile renewed calls for the president’s arrest on charges of corruption and abuse of power.
In the wake of Stealing Paradise, the MUO also called on Yameen to resign and hand over power to an interim national unity government.
News of the upcoming documentary last month had sparked a frenzy of expectation in the Maldives with ministers and MPs launching a a campaign to discredit Al Jazeera and rushing to Yameen’s defense.
Despite a warning by the broadcasting regulator of punitive action under the draconian anti-defamation law, the cable service provider Medianet did not block Al Jazeera when the program was aired.
Ahead of the broadcast, the documentary was also posted on YouTube. It was viewed more than 112,000 times in 24 hours.
Following the long-awaited release, many Maldivians took to social to express outrage and call for the President’s arrest.
But ruling party lawmakers and Yameen’s supporters dismissed the allegations as “nothing new” and mocked the notion that it could trigger the government’s fall.
Echoing the sentiment, pro-government outlet Avas posted an article with the headline,”Watched the film! No new images, no new stories!” and questioned the strength of the evidence.
“Report released to destabilize government blew up in their face,” read a headline on Vaguthu.
Branding it a “camel fart,” MP Ahmed Nihan, the majority leader of parliament, said in a tweet that the documentary was inferior to a false report produced by the opposition-aligned Raajje TV.
MP Abdulla Khaleel said it was “based on hearsay.”
The President’s spokesman told newspaper Mihaaru that it lacked evidence directly linking Yameen to any wrongdoing.
The documentary also alleged a plan to launder US$ 1,5 billion through the Maldives Monetary
Authority (MMA). Asked about the allegation, the MMA’s spokesman said the Central Bank will not comment on the documentary because the allegations were not new, and referred the Maldives Independent to a statement released in February.
At the time, the Central Bank denied the allegation about US$1.5 billion transferred to private bank accounts through the MMA. The February statement “remains the MMA’s official stand,” the spokesman said.
The government statement meanwhile went on to say that the claims made by Al Jazeera are “simply a rehearsing of allegations previously made against the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company”.
A damning audit report released in February had exposed the theft of some US$80 million from the state-owned tourism company.
The government assured legal action as recommended by the anti-corruption watchdog, which is yet to conclude its investigation of the unprecedented corruption scandal and suggested that Al Jazeera might have “derailed” it by releasing evidence into the public domain.
“The Maldives government would request that all evidence obtained by Al Jazeera be handed to the Maldives Police Services or the Anti- Corruption Commission so as to assist it with their own investigations,” the government statement said.