Maldives Political Crisis: Opposition Party Leader Imprisoned on Trumped-Up Charges

by Matthew Chihwai | News Reporter

The Maldives is no stranger to political upheaval and turmoil. The island nation is a newcomer to free and fair elections and due political process after three decades of autocratic rule. An indelible mark has been left on the country’s political structures.

The country’s politics suffer from a compromised judiciary, a cartel of tourism tycoons who pull the strings behind closed doors, and the pervasive influence of the old order.

In 2018, a coalition made up of political parties loyal to the former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, tourism tycoon Qasim Ibrahim, and street activist Mohamed Nasheed propped up an relatively unknown Member of Parliament, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, as their presidential candidate against President Abdulla Yameen.

Mr. Solih won the election amidst allegations of voter fraud.
Weeks after his inauguration, President Solih demanded the formation of presidential committees which had the unrestricted power to freeze bank accounts, powers of search and seizure, the imposition of travel bans, and the power to prosecute in a court. These powers were not granted by Parliament after much criticism.

One of the committees had been set up to investigate a case of embezzlement and money laundering involving the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

Within the same period, former President Yameen was repeatedly summoned for questioning by the police; his bank accounts were frozen. Mr Yameen, shortly after his defeat, assumed leadership of his party, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

In February, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC); an independent corruption watchdog within the Maldivian government; published a report naming 155 individuals who were alleged to have had dealings with a company named SOF. SOF is one of the companies which had allegedly aided in laundering money embezzled by the MMPRC.

No state authority has provided any evidence that the money with SOF was in fact embezzled from the MMPRC.
From the 155 individuals named by the ACC, only Mr Yameen was charged with any crime. He was formally charged with allegations of money-laundering. By request of the Prosecutor General’s office, Mr Yameen was ordered to be transferred to a detention facility in the remote island of Maafushi.

The Prosecutor General’s office explained that there was a real fear that Mr Yameen would tamper with the evidence.

“The only evidence they have are electronically-generated bank statements,” Mr Yameen is reported to have said, “how could I tamper with them?”

The MMPRC scandal was marked with much political intrigue, and is often blamed on the former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb. Ahmed Adeeb, 36, was the youngest vice-president to serve in the Maldivian government. Al Jazeera aired a documentary, Stealing Paradise, in which they traced several issues of fraud, money laundering, and embezzlement to the young vice-president. He was also the prime suspect behind an attempt on Mr Yameen’s life in 2015.

During this time, prior to Mr Adeeb’s arrest, Mr Yameen received USD$ 1 million in one of his bank accounts from SOF. He placed this money in escrow with the ACC and formally requested them to conduct an investigation into that money.

The Prosecutor General now claims that the USD$1 million he had voluntarily placed in escrow with the ACC is not the same USD$1 million Mr Yameen had received from SOF. It should be noted that among the 155 individuals named in the ACC’s report, Mr.Yameen is the only one who handed over the money to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Despite this, the PG decided to charge the former President. Many believe that the government influenced the PG to charge the former president, in an attempt to influence the outcomes of the upcoming parliamentary elections.