The Maldives police, casting a wide net in the probe into the September 28 explosion on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat, are now taking up crimes they had paid very little attention to before; corruption within the tourism sector, bribery within the police force, and the involvement of top officials in organised crime, all taken as fact on the streets and tea shops of Malé, long before the boat blast.
At the centre of the inquiry are recently impeached Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and the state-owned tourism promotion firm, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).
After a year of multiple politically motivated trials, domestic and international observers are concerned over continuing due process violations in the Maldives, now in the inquiry against Adeeb. Correcting a wrong with a wrong will only exacerbate the erosion of rule of law in the country, they say.
Adeeb, arrested on October 24, and impeached in a sudden vote on November 5, is facing prosecution for attempted murder, plotting a coup, criminal property damage, bribery and criminal conspiracy.
“This is a vicious witch hunt, not a normal criminal investigation by any means,” his lawyer Hussain Shameem said. “They have no evidence linking my client to the boat blast, and even whether the blast was a bomb or not is inconclusive, so now the focus appears to be on prosecuting him and his associates at any cost, on just any charge.”
International forensic analysis of samples from Yameen’s speedboat has came out inconclusive. The Federal Bureau of Investigation said they found no evidence of an explosive device on the boat, while the government, citing reports by Saudi Arabians and Sri Lankans, insists the blast was caused by a bomb targeting Yameen.
Now, the Anti Corruption Commission and the Auditor General’s office have begun looking into missing revenue from tourism leases, thought to run into tens of millions of dollars, a year after the former auditor general flagged the issue in a 2014 report. At the time, the report only resulted in his sacking.
The police have also taken up the long-stalled investigation into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, and several videos posted online threatening to kill the president. Adeeb’s alleged takeover of a local newspaper, Vaguthu, is also under investigation.
Adeeb, previously accused of framing former defence minister Mohamed Nazim by ordering police officers to plant weapons at his home, is now also facing charges of weapons possession. The weapons charges, forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s Office on Monday, is “a ploy to keep him detained,” Shameem contended.
“If the charges are filed at court, the police can ask the courts to keep him detained for the duration of the trial.”
Pointing to Maldives’ long history of unfair trials, including the recent jailing of Nazim and former President Nasheed, Shameem said: “There must be due process. We are not calling for an end to the inquiry, but we are saying, do it fairly.
“They have sacked the police chief and his deputies and stacked the force. The home minister has publicly announced he suspected Adeeb on the first day. How can this be an independent inquiry?”
Shameem was also suspended by the Supreme Court last week, on a charge of contempt of court.
Nikhil Narayan, of the International Commission of Jurists, stressed that any proceedings against Adeeb must adhere to international standards of due process and fair trial.
“Especially given the skepticism among the general public, both domestic and international observers, also with regards to Nazim and Nasheed’s case, where all evidence suggests political interference, the first thing the government of Maldives needs to do is ensure that whatever investigation is conducted, that they remain to be independent, objective, conducted promptly and efficiently, also seen to be done so.
“If there are conflicting conclusions, then the government of Maldives needs to be as transparent as possible, including publishing the evidence and reports, and they need to explain why they find one more credible than the other. They need to make it clear that there was no political interference, by the government and by the defendants.”
Yameen’s administration has “a major public perception issue,” he said. It must take immediate steps for judicial and police reform, as recommended by the UN, the ICJ and other human rights groups.
Mushfique Mohamed, a lawyer with Maldivian Democracy Network, is concerned that Yameen and his ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives are only resorting to tactics of old to consolidate power, instead of taking concrete steps for reform.
For instance, the PPM is seeking to remove Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin, when he returned the weapons charges against Adeeb to the police, reportedly citing insufficient evidence.
“This is the moment to establish rule of law, but we are only seeing more violations. Yameen has declared a state of emergency, Adeeb was impeached without due process, he is not even brought to court for hearings, his lawyer has been suspended, the military is once again on the streets… such actions will only lead to a failed state here,” Mushfique said.
Human rights group Transparency Maldives said they, too, were concerned about the manner in which PPM rushed through Adeeb’s impeachment. The PPM had held an unannounced vote, a dat after Yameen shortened the constitutionally guaranteed 14 days of notice to seven days in the emergency decree.
Adeeb was neither informed of the vote nor given the opportunity to defend himself.
“Extraordinary measures need to be taken by political leaders to restore public confidence in the state,” said Thoriq Hamid of Transparency Maldives.
Thazmeel Abdul Samad, the home ministry’s spokesman, however, insisted the government was committed to due process. “We are talking about an attack on the Maldives’ president. In this moment of great danger, it is not in our interest to target specific individuals.”
He suggested the government was only alerted to the corruption within MMPRC and bribery within the police force in the course of the boat blast probe.
“This is a major investigation. It is the police’s responsibility to look into any other criminal issues that surface during this investigation. It is possible that these cases were not investigated before, because of the former vice president’s influence over the police force,” he said.
Majority leader Ahmed Nihan is meanwhile convinced stability would return to the Maldives once justice is established for the boat blast. “There have been wrongs, and we will correct them. But first, we must find out who was behind this heinous attack.”