The Maldives is in political turmoil. The young democracy is going through growing pains. In a decade since the first free and fair elections ushered in Mohamed Nasheed in 2008, the Indian Ocean island nation has seen four presidents. The government-sanctioned sabotage of rivals is a regular occurrence in the political arena; blackmail, arrests on trump-up charges, violence, and even kidnapping. The last President of the Maldives, Mr Abdulla Yameen, was incarcerated for thirty-five days, mere months after he lost the Presidential Elections in September 2018.
The ruling ordering Mr Yameen’s incarceration was highly controversial and unprecedented, and was declared “unconstitutional” by a former Deputy Prosecutor General. Other observers cite the replacement of all sitting judges at the Criminal Court with ruling party loyalists a week prior to the ruling as indicative of foul play.
Mr Yameen is the leader of the nation’s only opposition party, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). His arrest came weeks prior to the Parliamentary Elections of April 6, which saw the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, MDP, win a supermajority of the Majlis. After a lacklustre campaign run, the PPM only managed to barely secure 10% of the Majlis. The Party has had its funding frozen since 2018.
The State had accused Mr Yameen of money-laundering. In the absence of evidence, the State’s case was built upon confidential reports provided by the Maldives Police Service, currently headed by Commissioner of Police Mohamed Hameed, brother-in-law of the new President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. At the end of the first hearing of the case, the Court ruled to incarcerate Mr Yameen until a final verdict was reached.
The Prosecutor General’s office had claimed that the ruling was necessary to prevent the possibility of witness- and evidence-tampering. This reasoning was heavily criticized by prominent local lawyer, Maumoon Hameed.
The former President spent thirty five days in Maafushi Prison before the High Court ruled in favour of the 60-year-old Mr Yameen and voided the Criminal Court’s ruling.
On 14th April, an official press statement was released by the PPM challenging the Solih administration to present evidence for the accusations that had been made against Mr Yameen.
According to the statement, the case against Mr Yameen was based on what appears to be a self-declared case where one million dollars was deposited into Mr Yameen’s personal account by a local company in 2015. According to government records, Mr Yameen proceeded to inform the Ministry of Financial Affairs, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Maldives, and the Maldives Monetary Authority about the mysterious currency in his account. He was instructed to transfer the amount to be held in escrow pending the completion of an investigation.
The government alleges that the source of that money was SOF, a local company currently accused of money-laundering. The Anti Corruption Commission published a report in early 2019 documenting the company’s many transactions with various private and public individuals; including ruling party financiers and Members of Parliament. The State has, however, not chosen to prosecute them.
With the case still pending trial, the opposition accuses the government of interfering with the judiciary to essentially interfere with the parliamentary election. By arresting the opposition leader and “illegally” freezing the opposition party accounts, Mr Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government has “gagged and stifled the opposition”.
“When you bind the opposition leader and gag out party,” read the press statement in its conclusion, “The result will only serve to feed the ego of the ruling regime. It is not reflective of the will of the Maldivian People.”