Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb pleaded not guilty today at the second hearing of his trial on charges of abuse of authority over millions missing from resort lease payments.
Hisham Wajeeh, spokesperson at the Prosecutor General’s office, told The Maldives Independent that state prosecutors explained the charges at today’s hearing after Adeeb’s lawyers said the charges were unclear.
“Adeeb’s lawyer denied the charges and asked for 15 days to answer to them. The judge granted a 15-day period. The next hearing is to be held on February 7 where Adeeb will answer to the charges and both the defense and the prosecution will present evidence,” he said.
Between US$60 to US$100 million paid to the government-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation for more than 50 islands leased for resort development are thought to be missing.
Today’s trial relates to alleged abuse of authority in the lease of a single lagoon involved in the case, the prosecutor general’s office said. If convicted of “misuse of government information or authority to obtain benefits,” Adeeb will be jailed for a period of four years.
Adeeb and ex-MMPRC managing director, Abdulla Ziyath, are accused of siphoning funds paid to the state as acquisition fees. The pair were charged in early December over the lease of a lagoon in Malé atoll to a foreign company. The police have since forwarded cases involving more than 50 resort properties for prosecution.
Prosecutors reportedly told the court today that the administrative fee for the unspecified lagoon was not paid to the state. The lagoon was not under the tourism ministry, the prosecutor said, but tourism ministry staff, lawyers, and resources were used to lease the lagoon.
Prosecutors reportedly declined to specify the name of the lagoon.
Adeeb was in charge of the ministry at the time. He was the tourism minister before his appointment as vice president in late July last year.
Adeeb’s lawyer asked the judge to review the court’s decision to hold him in pre-trial detention, but the prosecutor said Adeeb poses a threat to society and may intimidate witnesses. The prosecutor noted that Adeeb faces multiple counts of corruption as the investigation of the missing funds are still ongoing.
It emerged today that the anti-corruption watchdog has questioned two ministers in President Abdulla Yameen’s cabinet over the scandal. The case has embroiled the home minister and MPs from both the ruling and opposition parties.
Hamid Ismail, an influential businessman related to Adeeb, was meanwhile charged with money laundering last month. According to the police, acquisition fees paid to the MMPRC for a resort lease were deposited into the accounts of a company linked to Hamid, instead of the state treasury.
The criminal court released Hamid to house arrest earlier this month after extending his pre-trial detention six times.
A first hearing in the money laundering trial scheduled for this afternoon was cancelled at the request of the PG office.
Adeeb, Ziyath and Hamid were arrested in October in connection to the September 28 blast on the president’s speedboat, which the government says was an attempt to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen.
The police said last month that the investigation into the alleged bombing is still ongoing. Adeeb claims the incident was “staged” to frame him. He is also standing trial on a terrorism charge on suspicion of carrying a weapon.
The MMPRC has been at the centre of the boat blast probe. The government says bomb-making material may have been smuggled on a fireworks shipment imported by the MMPRC.
An unannounced first hearing in the corruption case meanwhile took place on December 17 via teleconference at the police detention centre on the island of Dhoonidhoo. Adeeb was granted 30 days to appoint a lawyer.
The PG office spokesperson previously explained that lagoons and uninhabited islands are under the authority of the tourism ministry, which leases them to the MMPRC.
The 100 percent government-owned corporation then subleases the properties to developers and collects acquisition fees. Ziyath is accused of embezzling portions of the acquisition fees paid to the state.
In October 2014, former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim had flagged fraud in MMPRC’s resort leases.Niyaz was contentiously removed from his post a day after the audit report was published. He was replaced with Hassan Ziyath, the brother of the MMPRC’s Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath.