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Explained: The case against Maldivian ex-president Abdulla Yameen

Abdulla Yameen served as the President of the Maldives for five years from 2013-2018. He was charged with money laundering in February by the Maldivian police, the trial for which began in the criminal court in April.

By: Explained Desk Written by Mehr Gill | New Delhi |
Updated: December 2, 2019 8:03:50 am
Former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen. (File Photo)

Abdulla Yameen, the former Maldives President, was on Thursday (November 28) sentenced to five years in prison on charges of money laundering. The jail term of five years is the minimum term according to the Maldives’s 2014 anti-money laundering law.

During Yameen’s trial, prosecutors maintained that payment of over $1 million as fee paid by a private company for leasing land for tourism went to Yameen’s account, who has repeatedly denied these allegations.

Yameen served as the President of the Maldives for five years from 2013-2018.

The case against Yameen

Yameen has been accused of transferring over $1 million that was owed to the state body, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) as acquisition cost for Gaafu Alif Vodamula — one of the islands in the Maldives archipelago — to his personal bank account in the Maldives Islamic Bank, and attempting to hide its origins.

Yameen was charged with money laundering in February by the Maldivian police, the trial for which began in the criminal court in April.

According to an Associated Press report from February, as per the state lawyer Aishath Mohamed, Yameen had attempted to influence witnesses by offering them money to change their statement.

Yameen has maintained that he hadn’t bribed anybody and has claimed to have contacted the Anti-Corruption Commission as soon as he found out about the $1 million in his bank account.

According to the verdict, in addition to the jail term, Yameen is liable to pay $5 million as fines within six months.

The verdict, announced by judge Ali Rasheed, was reached unanimously by a five-judge Bench.

While announcing the verdict, Rasheed pointed out that the money transactions, as well as the testimony of the state’s witnesses, established two elements of the crime of money laundering: criminal act and criminal intent.

In August, Maldives’s former Vice-President Ahmed Adeeb testified during a criminal court hearing that he had been an accomplice to Yameen in his corrupt dealings, including laundering the $1 million meant for MMPRC.

In 2016, Adeeb was jailed for trying to assassinate Yameen.

Maldives-India relations under Yameen

Maldives’ strategic location in the Indian Ocean makes it an important geopolitical destination, especially for India and China.

During the five years that Yameen was President, the relationship between the Maldives and India soured because of Yameen’s pro-China stance.

In March 2015, India cancelled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Malé, as the political atmosphere was not considered to be conducive. Under Yameen, the Maldives refused India’s invitation to its biennial eight-day naval exercise, Milan.

During Yameen’s tenure, China invested millions of dollars in the archipelago, starting with infrastructure projects which included an $830 million investment to upgrade the Maldives airport, and to build a 2-km China-Maldives Friendship Bridge between the airport island and the capital Malé.

Yameen left no room for dissent and the opposition during his tenure, exiling or jailing his opponents.

In April 2017, Yameen Rasheed, a 29-year-old who described himself as a “Disobedient Writer. Occasional satirist.” on his blog, “The Daily Panic” was stabbed to death in Maldives’s capital Male.

In the description of his blog, Rasheed wrote, “With The Daily Panic, I hope to cover and comment upon the news, satirize the frequently unsatirizable politics of Maldives, and also provide a platform to capture and highlight the diversity of Maldivian opinion — especially content from other blogs and non-mainstream sources.”

After his murder, his father Hussain Rasheed sought India’s help in seeking justice for his son.

In an op-ed published in The Indian Express on May 21, 2018, Hussain Rasheed wrote, “The truth is that the Maldives is a dangerous place for anyone who dares to criticise the ruling regime, or who expresses opinions about the state of society. As the President (Abdulla Yameen) himself warned following Yameen’s murder: “Anything can happen. There is total impunity.”

He was referring to the murder trial of his son, which was closed to the media and Rasheed’s family.

After Yameen’s tenure ended, relations between India and Maldives have improved.

India was one of the first countries to congratulate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih after provisional results of the Maldives’s presidential elections were released in 2018.

After being sworn in as Prime Minister for the second time, Modi made his first overseas visit to the Maldives.

“The two leaders reiterated their strong commitment to further strengthening and invigorating the traditionally strong and friendly relations between India and the Maldives, nurtured by geographical contiguity, ethnic, historical, socio-economic and cultural ties between the peoples of the two countries. They also reiterated an abiding faith in, and commitment to democracy, development and peaceful co-existence,” a release from the Ministry of External Affairs said.

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