India has handed over former vice president Ahmed Adeeb to Maldivian authorities after he tried to illegally enter the southern city of Thoothukudi.
Adeeb was held for questioning on Thursday after he arrived at the Tuticorin port as a stowaway on a tugboat. The Indian authorities were reportedly tipped off after a crew member alerted the ship’s agent to an unregistered passenger.
The 37-year-old was not allowed to disembark despite seeking asylum over alleged coercion and politically motivated prosecutions. The Indian external affairs ministry said Adeeb was denied entry because he did not seek to enter “through a designated entry point and did not possess the valid [travel] document.”
Late on Friday night, the Indian coastguard escorted the Virgo 9 tugboat to the maritime border and handed Adeeb and the nine crew members to Maldivian security officials, a Maldives government source confirmed to the Maldives Independent.
The vessel is expected to reach Malé by Monday or Sunday at the earliest, the official said.
“We would like to confirm that Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor of H. Saamaraa has been arrested and is being transported to Malé under our custody,” the Maldives police tweeted on Saturday afternoon.
On Thursday, police said Adeeb had been “interdicted during his attempt to flee the country via sea.”
Adeeb defied a travel ban imposed by the Supreme Court and fled after he was due to appear for questioning over the theft of US$90 million from state coffers, police noted.
“Adeeb was cooperating with us on all cases,” a senior Maldives security official told Al Jazeera. “But maybe somewhere along the way he realised he might have to go back to jail because of the cases before the Supreme Court.”
The official suggested Adeeb might have been “scheming to abscond all along.”
After serving three years in prison over the embezzlement scheme and an alleged plot to assassinate former president Abdulla Yameen, Adeeb was transferred to house arrest in the wake of his former mentor’s defeat in September’s presidential election.
In late May, Adeeb walked out of court an innocent man after his 33-year combined sentence on terrorism and corruption charges was wiped out by the appeal courts, which cited political influence and ordered retrials.
But the Supreme Court ordered immigration to hold his passport after the Prosecutor General’s office filed an appeal. The state challenged a High Court ruling that set aside his conviction over the theft of US$5 million paid as a resort acquisition fee.
The apex court refused to grant a warrant to keep Adeeb in custody, PG Aishath Bisham told the press on Friday.
The prosecution was also planning to call Adeeb as a key witness in former president Yameen’s money laundering trial, which is due to resume on Sunday.
Adeeb was freed from house arrest two weeks ago, shortly after he returned from medical leave in India. “I will face your investigations and I will never run away from responsibilities,” he tweeted upon his return in early July.
Adeeb’s lawyers alleged that he had been forced to sign an agreement implicating former government officials in exchange for authorisation of travel to India. They also accused the Maldives police of “seeking to coerce him into signing documents that would amount to a false admission of guilt and put his life and the life of members of his family in danger.”
The international legal team expressed concern on Friday with reports that Maldives police officials were en route to India to bring him back to the country.
According to Indian media, the Virgo 9 tugboat was denied permission to dock as Adeeb was detained for questioning. It was kept around 50 meters off the Tuticorin port after it was seized by the coastguard on Thursday.
The Mongolian-registered tugboat regularly transports construction material from India to the Maldives, according to local media. The nine male crew members included eight Indonesians and one Indian national. It was the latter who reportedly alerted the ship’s agent to Adeeb’s presence.
On Thursday, an eyewitness shared with the Maldives Independent a video showing Indian security officials at the Tuticorin port while the tugboat was anchored off the harbour.