Feature & Comment
Ahmed Adeeb: The Man Who Knows Too Much?
If the president thought prison would silence his former right-hand man, he was wrong.
It was a rare display of emotion from the Maldives president. “Who will believe Ahmed Adeeb is not a criminal?” Abdulla Yameen said of his jailed former deputy. “It’s not something small (that Adeeb did); we still don’t know where all those million of dollars from the national treasury are. Also, Adeeb tried to blow up the presidential speedboat and assassinate the president.”
The outburst was provoked by the European Union’s plans to impose sanctions unless certain demands – including the release of political prisoners – were met. Adeeb was not mentioned by the EU, but the president’s decision to single him out raises questions.
Adeeb triggers him in a way that others do not even though, to the outsider, the president’s targeting of enemies indicates he has an equitable approach to self-preservation.
But Adeeb is unlike Mohamed Nasheed, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Gasim Ibrahim or the others that have been thrown into prison or chased into exile.
In 2016, the same year that Adeeb was sentenced for graft and the attempted assassination, an Al Jazeera documentary exposed his and Yameen’s involvement in crimes, including the abduction and presumed murder of the Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan.
It also set out how the president and his deputy embezzled millions, engaged in rampant bribery and corruption, and hatched a plot with international criminals to launder US$1.5 billion through the Maldives’ central bank.
– Fast and furious –
If Yameen thought prison would silence his former right-hand man, he was wrong. Adeeb, from his cell and in the courtroom, has found his voice.
Most recently – and spectacularly – he said that he was tasked with running the country while Yameen was counting the tens of millions of dollars embezzled in the country’s biggest ever corruption scandal.
“They counted the cash at that house,” Adeeb told the Criminal Court last month. “The president himself counted it with a Bangladeshi worker in a room inside his home. US$80 million was taken into the house this way.”
But Adeeb represents more than just a threat to Yameen’s presidency and liberty, he represents a personal betrayal.
Adeeb was a member of the Maldives Chamber of Commerce before entering politics. His uncle, a Yameen confidante, introduced his nephew to the president.
Yameen is believed to have taken a liking to Adeeb and picked out the political unknown to make him tourism minister and then vice president. Adeeb was 33 at the time.
He was sworn in on July 22, 2015. But his career was over as quickly as it started, following the blast on the president’s speedboat. Yameen was unharmed but his wife was injured.
Adeeb was charged with terrorism under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act. The FBI later investigated the incident and said it found no evidence that a bomb caused it.
He was hit with other charges and convictions in the months that followed. Yameen, although the Al Jazeera documentary revealed him to be complicit in the corruption and money-laundering, looked on as his former deputy took the fall.
– Secrets and lies –
There was a time when Adeeb was all-powerful. A government contract. An island lease. A deal. It had to go through him – with an added sweetener.
His reputation for corruption spread beyond the Maldives. Armenian drug dealers – the Artur Brothers – made an appearance in the capital and were photographed with him.
Even the former British deputy prime minister, Peter Mandelson, jetted in to pitch his PR services to Adeeb over dinner at the exclusive Gili Lankanfushi resort.
Adeeb also had links to the opposition.
He led the 2015 negotiations with the jailed Nasheed, in which the Maldivian Democratic Party agreed to back constitutional amendments in return for the former president’s freedom. The changes would allow foreigners to buy land in the Maldives.
The government got what it wanted. But the opposition did not and Nasheed was sent back to prison.
Adeeb was said to be furious. There were rumours of a coup against Yameen. Then, in September, there was the speedboat blast.
He was arrested on the tarmac at the Maldives’ international airport after a trip to Beijing as three of his confidantes headed west, armed with his iPhones and his email inbox.
They arrived in London and were debriefed. Shortly afterwards shocking evidence of government corruption, lifted from the phones and emails, started appearing in the British and Maldivian press.
A secret recording of the debrief, along with reams of data disclosing Adeeb and Yameen’s schemes, landed on the desk of an Al Jazeera journalist.
Adeeb, in his bid to expose and undo the man who had made him a scapegoat, gifted the opposition a trove of government scandals and secrets.
It is believed, by some, that the disgraced former vice president has agreed to be a supergrass if Yameen is ever put on trial in exchange for less jail time.
It is hard to think he would have handed anything over without something being worked out beforehand.
The president’s reactivity to Adeeb makes more sense when set against their short but volatile history of backroom deals and backstabbing. It also sheds light on authorities’ refusal to grant the inmate medical leave.
Adeeb, under the current administration, faces 33 years in prison. He could be out sooner if the opposition comes to power through a presidential election scheduled for September.
And Yameen knows that a free and fair vote not only threatens his job, it threatens his freedom.