Sunday, June 13, 2010

Going After Government Looters

PARIS — The government of the Maldives wants its money back — $400 million to be precise.

That is the amount that it estimates was looted by its former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and his associates. Mr. Gayoom dominated politics in the Maldives, a tiny Indian Ocean nation, for 30 years. After winning six successive single-party elections, he finally bowed to popular pressure and allowed open elections in 2008. He lost.

He is one of a number of politically connected figures — some alive, others dead — who are the targets of increasingly coordinated efforts to repatriate misappropriated funds. Results to date have been encouraging, but much more can be done, officials and development experts say.

A report from the Maldives’ national auditor released in 2009 reads like a guidebook on self-enrichment. The president’s spending was “out of control,” it said, as Mr. Gayoom used his power to live a lavish lifestyle and extend largesse to those around him.

An estimated $9.5 million was spent buying and delivering a luxury yacht from Germany for the president; $17 million was spent on renovations of the presidential palace and family houses. Mr. Gayoom built a saltwater swimming pool, a badminton court and a gymnasium, and he bought 11 speed boats and at least 55 cars — including the country’s only Mercedes-Benz, the audit said.

The Maldives, a series of atolls, has a land mass about 1.7 times the size of Washington, including many uninhabited islands. In terms of gross domestic product per capita it ranks 152nd in the world, according to the C.I.A.

And the list goes on, from Loro Piana suits and trousers to watches and hefty bills for medical services in Singapore for “important people” and their families. There was a $70,000 trip to Dubai by the first lady in 2007, a $20,000 bill for a member of the family of the former president to stay a week at the Grand Hyatt in Singapore. On one occasion, diapers were sent to the islands by airfreight from Britain for Mr. Gayoom’s grandson.

Even allocations made to Mr. Gayoom’s office for welfare distribution were spent on the president’s family and their friends, senior government staff members and their friends and members of Parliament, according to the report. [Read More]

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