Maldives ex-president Yameen held for money laundering trial

Court orders Abdulla Yameen be held in custody until the end of a trial on money laundering charges, say local media.

    Police say Abdulla Yameen received $1m in government money at his private account [File: Fred Dufor/ Reuters]
    Police say Abdulla Yameen received $1m in government money at his private account [File: Fred Dufor/ Reuters]

    A court in the Maldives has ordered the country's former President Abdulla Yameen be held in state custody until the end of a trial on money laundering charges, according to local media.

    At a hearing at the criminal court in the Maldives' capital, Male, on Monday, prosecutors alleged the former president tried to bribe a witness in the prosecution's case to change their testimony, reported the news websites Mihaaru and Avas. 

    Yameen was taken to a remand centre on Maafushi, an island near Male, a police spokesperson said. 

    The 59-year-old, who lost a presidential election in September, was charged with money laundering last week over claims he received $1m, stolen from state coffers in the country's biggest-ever corruption scandal. 

    Police say a private company linked to Yameen's associates, which laundered more than $79m in tourism revenues, deposited the government money to Yameen's private account at the Maldives Islamic Bank. The case was the subject of an Al Jazeera investigation in 2016. 

    Dismissing the allegations of witness tampering on Monday, Yameen's lawyer, Abdulla Shiyaz said: "We do not accept this [ruling]. We will do everything we can to fight it." 

    Mihaaru, an independent newspaper, reported that Yameen strongly denied the allegations in court. 

    Corruption allegations

    Dozens of the former president's supporters gathered near Male's main jetty as police escorted him on to a speedboat, calling for his release. 

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    Yameen's five year term was marred by allegations of human rights abuses and corruption. Nearly all opposition leaders were arrested or forced into exile during his tenure, while independent and critical media outlets were forced shut. 

    His critics accused him of capturing state institutions, to prevent investigations into allegations of corruption against him. Yameen denies any wrongdoing. 

    In a statement earlier this month, the police said the former president refused to return the $1m deposited into his account following an investigation by the country's anti-corruption watchdog. Instead, he used the money to conduct "financial transactions from which he obtained profit".

    Lawyers for Yameen previously dismissed the charges of money laundering as an attempt to influence the Maldives's upcoming parliamentary elections, set to take place on April 6.

    The Anti-Corruption Commission "has so far failed to prove the $1m transferred to Yameen's account by the [private company] SOF Pvt Ltd was state funds obtained through corruption", the lawyers contended in a statement. 

    Yameen told reporters in January that the one million dollars deposited to his private account was given to him by "various parties as campaign funds". The money was his, he said, adding he did not return the amount as there was no proof it was government money. 

    Police have also sought charges of false testimony against Yameen and his top legal counsel.

    The former president is also under investigation in a separate money-laundering case, in which he is alleged to have received 22 million rufiyaas ($1.5m) in cash days before the presidential election in September 2018.

    In December, the police said authorities froze Yameen's bank accounts and seized more than 100 million rufiyaas ($6m) in US dollars and local currency.

    Additional reporting by Hassan Moosa from Male.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News