Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of opposition Jumhooree Party, has been arrested on charges of bribing lawmakers and encouraging the overthrow of the Maldives government.
The police said Gasim, who is facing trial, may tamper with evidence if he remained free.
MP Abdulla Riyaz, the deputy leader of JP, told reporters: “He was praying at home when he was arrested. This arrest is based on nothing but an intelligence report. They [the police] have no evidence other than their own intelligence report.”
The police went to Gasim’s residence at 7:55pm Thursday with an arrest warrant. He was taken to a detention facility on Dhoonidhoo Island near the capital.
The tourism tycoon’s arrest is the latest in a wide-ranging crackdown on opposition figures by President Abdulla Yameen in the aftermath of an unsuccessful bid by his opponents to remove the speaker of the parliament.
Condemning the move, the allied opposition parties said it demonstrated Yameen’s willingness to “subvert state institutions in order to pursue and persecute anyone who attempts to hold him accountable.”
The police also issued a statement saying they suspected that Gasim had attempted to bribe lawmakers to influence no confidence motions against the speaker and the deputy speaker.
The statement also accused Gasim of “trying to exert influence over the security forces and conducting activities that encourage the overthrow of the legal government of the Maldives.”
Gasim’s arrest has triggered protests in his constituency: Supporters took to the streets of Maamigili, Alif Dhaalu Atoll, briefly calling for the expulsion of police officers from the island.
In Malé, dozens of people gathered outside the JP headquarters ahead of an opposition press conference, in which MP Faris Maumoon, son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, urged Gasim’s supporters to take a stand for his rights.
MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party said: “This is going to be a late night. We have much to do. I think we will be staying up.”
Riot police dispersed the crowd with pepper spray soon after midnight.
Earlier this week, the opposition said that the police have asked the state to press bribery charges against Gasim, who has denied the charge. However, he said he expected to be arrested and sentence to jail in the near future.
The tax authority has meanwhile put a freeze on the accounts of Gasim’s Villa Shipping and Trading Company.
Gasim has come under pressure every time he has withdrawn support for Yameen.
Last month, he apologized once again to his supporters for backing Yameen in the 2013 elections, saying: “I am saying this very clearly. Even if I was hanged upside down, cut and fed to crows, I will not support Yameen.”
In 2010, during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s tenure, Gasim and Yameen were arrested on similar charges.
Nasheed, who lives in exile in London, had fresh charges of terrorism pressed against him last week over the incident.