Thursday, April 9, 2009
Recovering even a single copper coin may be difficult
“This is your ransom. Two million dollars in unmarked bills, just like you wanted...,” Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson) in the 1996 movie ‘Ransom.’
Why, do you think, former President Gayoom (allegedly) used to pay in cash in his many trips abroad, in this day and age when all self-respecting presidents make their payments in credit cards or bank transfers? We may never know why he did it, but from watching thriller movies we have a fairly good idea why some others do it. (See quote above). It leaves no paper or electronic trail – and makes it that much more difficult to trace. Recovering even a single copper coin of embezzled money –if any –would be near impossible.
Dead ends and cold trails
Some years back I asked the Philippines Ambassador about the progress of recovering the over 1 billion dollars allegedly embezzled by former dictator Marcos. It appears that less than 1% of the sum was recovered, while the expenditure on the international investigations was higher. Marcos had transferred the money to dummy companies he had created. Investigators hunted the money from company to company across the globe. But in each case the trail ultimately disappeared in a non-existent company. Marcos had developed a smart way to cover his trail. But perhaps smarter would be to leave no trail at all.
Wealth beyond known sources of income
When Gayoom came to power in 1978, members of his family and in-laws were middle class people, some struggling with debts. When he left power in 2008, many of them were unimaginably rich, owning resorts and vast land holdings in Male. Many people believe such richness is well beyond their known sources of income. There are rumors of commissions, kickbacks and gifts for favors to international parties. It is unlikely that any records of such transactions would be uncovered in an investigation.
For most of Gayoom’s regime government offices were required to import their needs of machinery and heavy equipment through STO and MGTC. Often the quotations from these companies were 2 to 3 times higher than direct quotes from suppliers. What happens to the difference between the two? Again, no evidence is likely to be uncovered.
Thus, it is quite likely that not a single copper coin is recovered in the investigation of the alleged corruption of the former government. So is it worthwhile to investigate? I’ll repeat here the answer that the Philippines Ambassador gave to this question: “Yes, it’s important to investigate. Even if no money is recovered, it will send a strong message to leaders who might think of becoming corrupt in the future.”