He worked in the Maldives for several years, as a mathematics teacher in various schools in the atolls. The Kerala born Ismail Ebrai left the profession in 2019. No work records exist after this period.
He currently resides in Dubai. Distance did not factor into his activities – Ismail helms the largest network of gold and dollar trade in the country. He takes out several hundred thousand dollars daily. His network is comprised of fellow Indians and Maldivians.
Leaked audio recordings obtained by TMJ, Indian nationals organize and run these operations. These agents take control of BML bank accounts of other Indian nationals who had to leave Maldives, under various circumstances. These accounts are then used to launder money.
“Many Indian nationals working here give cash to him [Ismail] to send back home. When the cash is deposited to the bank accounts in Maldivian Rufiyaa, they exchange it to Indian Rupees, and hand it over to the families. There are no official agents. He takes a commission for the service,” a source reported to TMJ.
Cash is handed over to Ismail as banks charge a three percent remittance tax for any and all transfers to other countries. The banking system also makes it hard to send cash without raising alarms, especially for funds obtained illegally.
Illegal gold trade, gold brought in liquid form
Ismail’s agents obtain cash, convert it to US dollars, and take it out of circulation in the country. Ismail has been running this operation for a while. Ismail’s network had transported cash between Maldives and Dubai every day. The amount of cash being exchanged amounts to between US$ 150,000 and US$ 200,00 daily. Daily this amounts to around and over MVR 3 million. In a month this figure hits MVR 92 million. Banking regulations bar an individual from transferring such large amounts.
Gold trade starts from Dubai. Gold is transported from Dubai in liquid form, using multiple individuals as mules. Few had been caught. Sources have reported to TMJ that the recent gold seizures carried out by Customs were part of this ring.
After the gold is smuggled in to the Maldives, the sale begins on a telegram group. Gold is always in demand in the country and finding buyers is easy. Buyers are enticed into the deal, giving them a deal that’s lower than the market rate for gold purchases. One kilo bar of gold goes for MVR 800,000 on the network. The deal is finalized once the seller and buyer meet face to face.
“We have to go to a guesthouse on a time they give us. We have to carry the cash or transfer the cash on the spot. They have materials to test gold for authenticity and quality. An expert is there. If the customers are happy about their purchase, then the transaction is carried out then and there,” a source explained to TMJ.
Several accounts to deposit cash, only active for 15 minutes
The cash is transferred to one of the several accounts controlled by Ismail. Recordings of a conversation between Ismail and a client was obtained by TMJ. In it, we can glean that these accounts are active for 15 minutes. Once the 15-minute window expires, a different account is given to the client.
“Each account can accept between MVR 20,000 and MVR 30,000,” Ismail is heard saying in the recording.
TMJ had also learnt that Ismail’s network dabbles in drug trade as well. There is no evidence to back up the claim. However, several clients have attested that the network is involved in drug trade. Some local gangs have been recipients of cash transfers out of Male’ as well.