Male: Taken aback by the country's anti-graft watchdog ruling out any corruption in the leasing of the international airport to GMR, Maldivian government on Tuesday stuck to its stand saying the contract was illegal and hinted it will be challenged in the court.
"The report does not change the government stand that the contract given by former President Mohamed Nasheed was illegal. The contract was not terminated on the ground that there was corruption but because it was done against the law of the land," President's Office Spokesperson Masood Imad told PTI.
Hinting that the report is likely to be challenged, he said, "We have to go through the report completely. There was an issue of USD 100 million cash advance of which USD 78 million was given.
"If the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has not gone into it or into other details and if there is a reasonable cause of doubt, this report can be contested by some parties".
Mincing no words, Imad also raised questions about the independence of the ACC.
"Many people say here that ACC Board is not an unbiased organisation. They say it is politically motivated," he said and pointed out that the complaint before the Board was filed during the tenure of Nasheed and not during the current regime.
The current Maldivian government had in December last year unilaterally terminated the over USD 500 million contract given to GMR Group to develop and operate Male Airport, a project awarded to the Indian group by the earlier Nasheed administration.
The ACC in its 61-page investigation report into the alleged corruption in the leasing of the country's only operational international airport to GMR declared there was no corruption involved in GMR's bid during the evaluation phase of the deal.
According to the report, GMR had offered the highest concession fee and scored the highest marks in the bid to develop and operate the airport for 25 years.
It was GMR's decision to impose an airport development charge of USD 25 per departing passenger that became a matter of conflict between GMR and government, post the government change in Maldives in February 2012.
"The problem was with the ADC fees and the way the contract was signed. As per our law, Parliament had to sanction it but it was not.
"It was a no-win situation for us because we would have ended up paying a lot of money to GMR and it was bleeding the Maldivian Airport Company Limited. We took international legal opinion and they said the contract was "void ab initio" (invalid from the start)," Imad said.
He added that the government had tried to talk to GMR.
"We did try to talk to GMR but it vehemently denied to talk on ADC. They later said ADC will be waived off for Maldivian nationals but foreigners would be charged. The question was not about who gets charged but the charge itself," Imad said.