Former Maldivian President Abdullah Yameen was arrested and taken to jail today after a criminal court in Malé where he is being tried on money laundering charges granted his remand. Preliminary hearings are expected to begin this week.
In its first response, the government told SNI: “It’s a matter for the courts, and the government does not interfere in the judicial process.”
The former president who lost his bid for re-election in September last year was summoned to court today after the Prosecutor General’s office sought a judicial order to take him into custody. Under the 2014 anti-money laundering law, the offences he’s charged with carry a prison sentence of between five and fifteen years. Prosecutors told the court that Yameen had attempted to bribe a witness to change a statement. The Chief Judge Ahmed Hailam granted the remand order. Under the Constitution, defendants can be detained before sentencing to prevent interfering with witnesses.
Yameen is accused of using money stolen from the state treasury. The Maldives Police finished its probe this month and forwarded cases against him for prosecution.
Yamen has been questioned over $1 million allegedly deposited in his personal account by a local company, which is accused of transferring $90 million stolen from the MMMPRC (Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation).
The former president denies any illegality and the parliamentary party led by him issued a quick reaction. Ahmed Nihan, PPM (Progressive Party of Maldives) parliamentary group head tweeted: “President Yameen could be detained and jailed as well. But the development ideology he brought cannot be jailed.”
The opposition has been attacking the government, claiming the cases against Yameen and his arrest are to influence the April 6 parliamentary elections and prevent him from campaigning.
Weeks after Yameen left office, his accounts were frozen when police launched a probe into campaign contributions. On Sunday, charges were also filed against former legal affairs minister and attorney general Aishath Azima Shukoor, who is accused of being complicit in Yameen’s alleged money laundering.
During his five years as president, Yameen was seen as conspiring in the imprisonment of his own half-brother and former president Maumoon Gayoom, jailing ex-president Mohamed Nasheed on various charges leading to his subsequent exile and imprisoning several political leaders, former allies and even judges.
He was accused of cosying up to China and giving India the cold shoulder. Since his defeat, the new government of President Solih has reversed many of his decisions. In a recent interview to SNI, the government denied any witch hunt directed at Yameen and his allies.
On January 29, Defence Minister Mariya Didi told SNI Associate Editor Amitabh P Revi: “We wouldn’t want to be like the previous government. President Nasheed was sentenced within ten days on what the UN later ruled as false charges, wrong charges, wrong procedure and wrong sentences. So, we’re very careful as to how we go ahead and we’ll see because we want people to be convicted of wrongs and not because of their politics. No, there’s no witch hunt.”