Police in the Maldives have questioned the country’s former President Abdulla Yameen for the first time in an investigation into allegations of engaging in illicit financial transactions while in office.
The development came as hundreds of his supporters and opponents gathered for rival demonstrations in the capital, Male on Saturday.
Yameen, who lost a presidential election in September, told supporters that investigators questioned him over 22 million rufiyaa ($1.5m) deposited in hard currency to a private account he owned prior to the contentious vote.
“This is politically motivated,” the 59-year-old said outside the headquarters of his party. “These are ordinary transactions … I do not traffic in drugs or launder money.”
The investigation relates to a complaint from an anti-money laundering agency in September that suggested the transactions from Yameen’s account at the Maldives Islamic Bank (MIB) violated the country’s election laws, which require candidates to set up separate accounts for and declare the source of campaign funds.
A court in the Maldives placed a freeze on the former president’s accounts at the privately owned MIB as well as the Bank of Maldives over the case, two highly placed sources in the government told Al Jazeera on Friday.
Yameen, long dogged by accusations of corruption and human rights abuses, said on Saturday that the onus was on the police to prove if the funds in question were from illicit activities.
He pledged to cooperate with the investigation.
The police, in a statement, said investigators found that “large sums of money were deposited into the former president’s accounts during his tenure”.
Confirming the freeze on Yameen’s bank accounts, the police said the suspended accounts contain more than $6.5m in local currency as well as US dollars.
Supporters of the former president, who was questioned at the police headquarters, rallied near the building during the interrogation, while scores of his opponents gathered a few blocks away with placards calling for his arrest.
The Maldives’s new president, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, won the September 23 poll after vowing to crack down on corruption and ensure justice for past rights abuses.
After taking office in November, Solih established two powerful commissions to investigate allegations against Yameen and his associates.
During his five year term, Yameen was accused of overseeing Maldives biggest-ever corruption scandal, in which at least $79m in tourism revenues was stolen from state coffers, as well as ordering the jailing of nearly all opposition leaders, including his half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Indian Ocean nation for 30 years.
The tourism scandal was the subject of the 2016 Al Jazeera investigation Stealing Paradise.
Yameen said on Saturday that investigators also questioned him over allegations that he received some of the embezzled money.
The former president has denied any wrongdoing and blamed his former deputy for the theft.
He tried unsuccessfully to annul the results of the September election.