The vice president of the Maldives will be charged with high treason after being arrested Saturday in connection with an explosion aboard the president’s boat last month that authorities have called an assassination attempt, officials said.
Vice President Ahmed Adeeb was arrested at the airport when he returned home from an official visit to China via Singapore “on suspicion of involvement in the boat blast,” said police spokesman Ismail Ali, adding that Adeeb had been taken to a detention center.
Home Minister Umar Naseer said that Adeeb would be charged with “high treason,” an offense not specified in the penal code, but a term used in the Maldives for terrorism or offenses against the state by government officials, lawmakers, judges and others.
Naseer told The Associated Press that the evidence against Adeeb was “very strong and God willing we’ll get to the bottom of it. The investigation is still very raw.”
He said police were continuing to search homes and offices used by Adeeb and his associates.
Adeeb’s lawyer, Hussain Shameem, denied the allegations against the vice president.
“The vice-president has said that he has no involvement in the incident and asked not to make it political,” he told reporters later Saturday.
He said Adeeb wants the government to go after the real culprits.
Shameem claimed the government sent some officials to Singapore where Adeeb spent a few days following his visit to China and warned him not to come back. However, Adeeb wanted to return because he is innocent, Shameem said.
The arrest adds to the political tensions of this already fragile, young democracy, which has in recent years been rocked by power struggles, disputed elections and crackdowns on the opposition. The South Asian archipelago is best known to much of the world for its luxury resorts.
Soon after the Sept. 28 blast aboard President Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s speedboat, rumors began circulating that Adeeb was behind it, but he has denied that he was involved. If the president dies, is incapacitated or resigns, the vice president succeeds him, according to the Maldives’ constitution.
Three soldiers, including a former member of Adeeb’s security detail and a member of the army’s bomb squad, were also arrested Saturday in connection with the blast, Deputy Police Commissioner Abdullah Nawaz said.
The explosion took place aboard Gayoom’s boat as he and his wife were returning to Male, the capital, from the airport after a hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. The Maldives’ airport is on a separate island from the capital.
Gayoom escaped unhurt, but his wife, an aide and a bodyguard were injured in the blast.
Authorities said initially that the explosion could have been the result of a mechanical failure, but announced later that it was an attempt to assassinate Gayoom and launched a criminal investigation.
The device used to set off the explosion had been placed under the seat usually occupied by the president, who escaped uninjured because he was not sitting there, the government has said.
Adeeb was a staunch Gayoom loyalist and became vice president in July at the age of 33. Gayoom was instrumental in promoting Adeeb from tourism minister after the president got his lawmakers in parliament to impeach the previous vice president, Mohamed Jameel.
Lawmakers also lowered the minimum age for president and vice president from 35 to 30 to enable Adeeb to take the position.
Weeks after the blast, however, it was apparent that Gayoom suspected his vice president was involved, orchestrating a series of raids on the homes and businesses of Adeeb’s associates.
Gayoom also sacked his defense minister and the police commissioner after the blast.
The Maldives became a multiparty democracy in 2008, ending a 30-year autocracy by Gayoom’s half-brother.
However, former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned in early 2012 amid public protests against the arrest of a senior judge, allegedly by his order. Nasheed claimed he was ousted in a coup, but an internationally backed inquiry said that was not so.
Gayoom defeated Nasheed in a disputed presidential election in 2013, with the country’s Supreme Court annulling the first round of voting, which Nasheed was leading, and delaying a revote, allowing enough time for Gayoom to form a winning coalition.
Nasheed was convicted under the terrorism law earlier this year for his part in jailing the judge and sentenced to 13 years in prison. His rushed trial drew wide international criticism for a lack of due process.