Maldives Government Computer Hacked in Work Permit Scam
May 27, 2008

The database of expatriate workers held by the Ministry of Higher Education, Employment and Social Security has been hacked, with changes made to 370 individuals' profiles by the hacker, police revealed in a press conference on Thursday.

Two have been arrested in connection with the incident, including the sponsor of an expatriate worker and a staff member from a recruitment agency. Police added the hacking had been carried out with inside help, but revealed no names.

Speaking to journalists, officer in charge of the Commercial Crime Unit Ismail Atheef said the database forms of 370 Bangladeshi and Indian nationalities had been adjusted by the hacker. The database was modified to say that all 370 workers, who came from India and Bangladesh, had left the country.

All 370 had been sponsored to enter the country by the same nine individuals. A sponsor is required for an expatriate to obtain a work permit.

Prompted by journalists, Atheef conceded the crime had been committed with help from "inside" the Employment Ministry, but emphasized: "The investigation is still at an infant stage."

Companies may only hire a limited number of workers from abroad, with the number set by the Employment Ministry. They are also obliged to pay a deposit for each worker, usually amounting to the worker's airfare home, as well as a monthly fee.

Employment Ministry data shows that more than 72,000 foreign workers are resident in Maldives, amounting to 19 per cent of the total population. The largest employer of expatriates is the construction industry, followed by tourism.

During a February interview with Minivan News, Controller of Immigration Ibrahim Shafiu said that recruitment agencies "are making a lot of illegal money" through "a business as good as drugs".

Acting Employment Minister Abdul Rasheed Hussein in a March press conference said that more than 3,000 expatriate workers - about 4 percent of the foreign workforce - have gone missing. He added that "not all of them run away... Some of them are made to disappear."

The Employment Ministry introduced new regulations in March to cancel the work permits of missing expatriate workers, and end the issuance of replacement work permits when workers abscond. According to the ministry, with the implementation of the regulation, missing workers are increasingly being reported to authorities.

Meanwhile a Bangladeshi man was arrested for forging work permits earlier this week. Over 450 forged permits were found stored in the hard disk of his computer.

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