Former president Abdulla Yameen has been found guilty of laundering US$1 million deposited to his bank account by a company that was used to channel resort acquisition fees stolen during his administration.
While in office, Yameen invested the money despite reasonable grounds to suspect that it was ill-gotten and violated an agreement signed with the Anti-Corruption Commission to hold the US$1 million in an escrow account, a five-judge panel ruled.
The 60-year-old opposition leader was fined US$5 million and sentenced to five years in prison, the minimum jail term stipulated in the 2014 anti-money laundering law.
Delivering the verdict, Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain said it was clear from the testimonies of former ACC vice president Muaviz Rasheed, former vice president Ahmed Adeeb and former managing director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation Abdulla Ziyath that Yameen had been aware that the US$1 million was stolen from the MMPRC. It had been paid as the acquisition cost for leasing Vodamulla island in Gaaf Alif atoll.
This was further corroborated by documentary evidence including a letter from the ACC, he noted, but Yameen continued to profit from the funds, which was by then invested for 36 months in a general investment plus account.
The testimonies of bank officials and the former tourism minister proved that Yameen kept the MMPRC money and deposited another US$1 million to the ACC-held escrow account, he said.
“The judges took over 10 days to deliberate on this and this is the unanimous verdict of the five judges,” Rasheed said.
A new bench was empanelled to hear the case after Judge Ahmed Hailam was suspended hours before he was due to pass a verdict on November 5.
Led by former ministers and lawmakers, opposition supporters protested behind police barricades near the criminal court as the sentencing hearing took place. Protesters carried placards condemning the trial as politically motivated and accusing the government of “hijacking” the judiciary.
Supporters who attended the hearing were in tears when the judge declared Yameen guilty.
Speaking at a gathering outside the Progressive Party of Maldives offic on Wednesday night, Yameen warned supporters to beware of “vultures” who might take over the opposition coalition if he is sent to prison
“If I am not here, don’t let vultures straddle my party. That’s not something that should be allowed at all,” he appealed.