The criminal court summoned today former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and two of his associates for a preliminary hearing on a second count of corruption involving the misappropriation of US$5million from a resort lease.
The three were briefed on the charges against them and told to appoint lawyers.
A date for the first hearing has not been set yet.
Adeeb and his relative Hamid Ismail, an influential businessman, are accused of aiding and abetting theft, while Abdulla Ziyath, the former head of the state tourism promotion firm Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, is charged with embezzling state funds.
The US$5million was paid to the MMPRC as the acquisition fee for the island of Maabinhuraa in Lhaviyani Atoll.
Adeeb and Ziyath are already standing trial over missing fees from the lease of an unspecified lagoon to a private party. They are also facing prosecution in at least another 48 counts of graft. The pair pleaded not guilty to charges in the first case.
The anti-graft watchdog has called it the Maldives’ biggest ever corruption scandal. Between US$60million – US$100million is thought to be missing from state coffers.
They were first arrested in October in the wake of an explosion on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat. The government claims the blast was caused by a bomb targeting the president.
The allegations of corruption against Adeeb and Ziyath came much later.
Yameen has publicly accused Adeeb of using some of the cash to bribe police and military officers.
Hamid, the third man held over graft charges, was first arrested in Malaysia and extradited to the Maldives in November.
He was initially detained over the blast, but was re-arrested in November on a charge of money laundering and embezzlement over the Maabinhuraa deal.
The Prosecutor General’s Office said today that it has withdrawn the money-laundering charge for further review. Hamid is now charged with aiding and abetting embezzlement.
He will continue to be held in house-imprisonment, an official said.
Prosecutors are appealing the criminal court’s decision to transfer Hamid to his home.
Adeeb is now being held in a high security prison, while Ziyath continues to be held at a police remand facility. Adeeb is also on trial on a separate charge of terrorism relating to a claim that he had carried weapons during a historic anti-government protest last year.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has called for the investigation of Yameen, saying it had received documents via email that show the president was “equally involved” as his former deputy in the MMPRC scandal.
More than US$205million received by MMPRC was “distributed to other private companies through illegal means,” according to the documents shared over email, the party claimed.
All the documents were submitted to the police for investigation on Saturday, the party said.
The president’s office has denounced allegations of Yameen’s involvement.
The Anti Corruption Commission and the Auditor General’s Office’s reports into the scandal have not been made public yet.
Opposition parties are planning a march against corruption on February 5.
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed