Former vice president Ahmed Adeeb has sought political asylum in India after fleeing the Maldives as a stowaway on a tugboat.
The 37-year-old claims to have been “subjected to a series of politically motivated prosecutions, and attempts to coerce him into making false statements by the Maldives [police],” according to a statement by his international legal team.
Adeeb was held for questioning after he arrived at the Tuticorin port on Thursday. The Indian authorities were reportedly tipped off after one of the nine crew members alerted the ship’s agent to an unregistered passenger.
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.”
He remains on the Virgo 9 tugboat and continues to be interrogated by “central government officials,” Indian media reported on Friday.
In a second statement, Adeeb’s lawyers expressed concern with reports that Maldives police officials were en route to Chennai to bring him back to the country.
Toby Cadman, head of the legal team, contended that a hand over “would be unlawful and a direct circumvention of the rule of law, something that would seriously damage the reputation of both states and fundamentally undermine the legal process that they both purport to uphold.”
On Thursday, Maldives police said Adeeb had been “interdicted during his attempt to flee the country via sea,” The Maldivian authorities were “engaging with international partners” to extradite him.
Adeeb defied a travel ban imposed by the Supreme Court and fled after he was due to appear for questioning on Wednesday about 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.”
Adeeb boarded the Virgo 9 tugboat in Maldivian territorial waters last Saturday, a source told the Qatari network. The boat’s local agent has denied any involvement.
After serving three years in prison on convictions 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 boss’s heavy 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.
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.”
India was urged to offer him protection and to consider his claim for asylum on the grounds of “a very real and demonstrable risk” of Adeeb “becoming a victim of a politically motivated justice system.” Lawyers referred to the principle of non-refoulement whereby it is unlawful to return a person to the place where their life or freedom would be threatened.
The legal team said they have contacted both the UN Office of the High Commission for Refugees and the High Commission for Human Rights.
“It matters not that the former vice president may have entered the country illegally, once a claim of asylum is made, the appropriate authorities are required to consider it,” the lawyers argued.
Photo of Adeeb on the tugboat tweeted by ANI.