The criminal court has ordered former president Abdulla Yameen to be detained for the duration of his trial on money laundering charges.
Yameen was summoned for a hearing scheduled on short notice Monday afternoon after the Prosecutor General’s office sought a court order to take him into custody.
The former president attempted to bribe witnesses to change or retract their statements, prosecutors told the court. A document based on “verbal testimony” was submitted as evidence, according to reporters who attending the hearing.
A secret document to show Yameen’s alleged attempt to block a police investigation into a suspicious transaction flagged by the Financial Intelligence Unit was also submitted.
Yameen denied the bribery allegations and challenged the legality of the money laundering charges.
The remand order was granted by Judge Ahmed Hailam, chief judge of the criminal court. The constitution allows defendants to be detained prior to sentencing in order to prevent interference with witnesses.
After more than four hours inside the courthouse, Yameen was taken out on a military vehicle. About 50 supporters gathered near the jetty and called for his release when he was put on a police speedboat.
He was taken to a remand centre on the Maafushi island, a spokesman for the Maldives Correctional Service confirmed.
Preliminary hearings in the money laundering trial are expected to begin this week. Case documents were shared with his defence lawyers on Sunday after charges were raised under the 2014 anti-money laundering law last week.
The 59-year-old opposition leader is accused of using money stolen from state coffers, police said earlier this month, after forwarding cases for prosecution.
In the wake of his heavy defeat in September’s election, Yameen was questioned over US$1 million deposited to his personal account by SOF, a local company that was used to funnel the bulk of US$90 million stolen from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
Yameen denies any wrongdoing. His legal team dismissed the charges as an attempt to influence the April 6 parliamentary elections.
The claim was echoed by opposition lawmakers at a press conference called after Yameen went to court. The government fears the opposition could win a majority of seats if Yameen was allowed to campaign across the country, MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla told reporters.
“President Yameen could be detained and jailed as well. But the development ideology he brought cannot be jailed,” tweeted MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives led by Yameen.
On Sunday, charges were also filed against former legal affairs minister Aishath Azima Shukoor, who is accused of lying to the authorities and assisting with money laundering.
Police also sought separate charges against Yameen over alleged false testimony to the Anti-Corruption Commission.
After he was summoned for questioning in early January, Yameen defended an agreement made in March last year to keep the SOF money in an escrow account formed with the ACC.
But the money handed over to the ACC-held account was not the US$1 million from SOF, he told reporters, admitting to having transferred it to an investment account at the Islamic Bank.
He later obtained a US$1 million cheque from former tourism minister Moosa Zameer and deposited it to the ACC account at the Bank of Maldives, Yameen said.
There should be no problem “as one million for one million was deposited to the escrow account,” he insisted. Zameer was paid in local currency to buy the dollars, which was “very clean money.”
Yameen said police were “picking a procedural point.”
“I transferred the money according to the agreement. In my mind, it is done. That money is there, one million dollars is there. Even with a procedural point, they could have brought it up all these days,” he said.
Weeks after he left office, the former strongman’s bank accounts were frozen with more than MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) in US dollars and local currency.
Yameen previously denied any involvement in the MMPRC scandal and claimed he was unaware that tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb – who was later elevated to the vice presidency – was siphoning off acquisition fees paid to lease islands for resort development.
Photo of Yameen leaving his residence in Malé on Monday afternoon.