Former president Abdulla Yameen is accused of laundering stolen money and lying to the anti-corruption watchdog, police said Sunday, after the opposition leader was questioned at the police headquarters in Malé for more than four hours.
He was questioned about giving false testimony to the Anti-Corruption Commission during its investigation into the unprecedented theft of US$90 million from a state-owned tourism company, a police spokesman told the media.
Yameen’s bank accounts were frozen with more than MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) in US dollars and local currency last month as police launched a probe into campaign contributions and US$1 million transferred from a company linked to the corruption scandal under his watch.
Speaking to reporters after emerging from the police headquarters Sunday evening, Yameen said he was questioned about US$1 million deposited to his account at the Maldives Islamic Bank by SOF, a local company that was used to funnel resort acquisition fees paid to the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
Yameen defended an arrangement made to keep the money in an escrow account formed with the ACC, in lieu of handing it over.
Newspaper Mihaaru reported Sunday that the US$1 million transferred to the escrow account was not the money signed over in two cheques by SOF.
The money transferred to the ACC escrow account came from another bank account of Yameen’s after a cheque was deposited by former tourism minister Moosa Zameer, according to Mihaaru.
Yameen told reporters the police raised a procedural issue.
“I transferred the money according to the agreement. In my mind, it is done. That money is there, one million dollars is there. They are picking a procedural point. Even with a procedural point, they could have brought it up all these days. This agreement was signed on March 25 last year,” he said.
“The agreement between ACC and I came to be because, with good intentions, I wanted the money to be kept separately. In reality, I don’t have to [keep it with the ACC]. ACC has to prove that it is embezzled money before they can take it from me. I don’t have to keep it separately.”
The money could only be released with a court order or when the ACC completes its three-year-old MMPRC probe, he said.
Yameen said he expected to be back at the police headquarters to complete and sign a statement.
A group of about 50 supporters gathered behind police lines as the former president was questioned. When he was summoned last month, supporters had squared off with protesters calling for his arrest. Activists from opposition and pro-government parties clashed verbally across a line of police officers.
Police previously said an investigation launched after suspected transactions were reported by state institutions had established that large sums of money were deposited into the president’s accounts while he was in office.
In early October, Al Jazeera reported that police were alerted by the central bank’s anti-money laundering watchdog to US$1.5 million deposited into Yameen’s private bank account at the Maldives Islamic Bank, ten days before the September 23 election.
The bank was told the money was campaign contributions and “the whole amount was later withdrawn in hard currency,” according to a confidential letter sent from the Financial Intelligence Unit.
The election law requires candidates to “open an account in his own name in a bank operated in the Maldives in order to spend on election related expenses.” Financial contributions must also be deposited in the same account.