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Maldives opposition fears president will flee

The joint opposition asked police to hold President Yameen for corruption probes.



The joint opposition asked police Wednesday night to prevent President Abdulla Yameen from fleeing to escape prosecution for corruption.

The complaint was lodged hours after Yameen conceded defeat for the second time as his petition to annul the September 23 election was dealt a blow by the Supreme Court’s refusal to call secret witnesses.

“This is a critical moment as we’re receiving information from various sources that President Yameen is preparing to leave even tomorrow,” the Maldivian Democratic Party’s chairman Hassan Latheef told the press outside the police headquarters.

Coalition parties believe police have legal authority to hold Yameen for ongoing investigations, he added.

“We’re talking about corruption amounting to billions of rufiyaa,” he said.

Yameen repeatedly stated he was serving his final days in office during Wednesday’s surprise address.

The president “will never flee and is ready to cooperate with any investigation,” his spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali told newspaper Mihaaru as loyalists in the ruling party sought to reassure supporters.

Yameen “loves this country too much” to flee, MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla told protesters outside the party office Wednesday night, accusing the MDP chairman of seeking to “sow doubt and suspicion” among the president’s supporters.

He pointed to the first lady’s return Thursday morning as proof of Yameen’s intention to stay.

First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim travelled to Saudi Arabia for undisclosed reasons days after the election loss.

The first lady, who headed the re-election campaign office, was greeted at the airport by the president. Ruling party supporters gathered to welcome her at the official jetty in Malé.

– Backroom deals –

As calls grow for Yameen’s arrest, civil society groups have warned against “secret deals” to grant immunity for corrupt officials.

“It would be unacceptable if anyone in the outgoing administration negotiates their way out of facing the consequences of crimes committed in office,” said Mariyam Shiuna, executive director of Transparency Maldives.

“The Maldivian people have had at least 80 million dollars stolen from them in the scheme documented in the recent reports. They deserve for the handover of power to be characterised by transparency and accountability, not by impunity and back-room deal-making.”

Former president Mohamed Nasheed’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week fueled speculation of a deal brokered by the royal family.

But talks with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman focused on relations with the incoming administration, the opposition leader tweeted Wednesday. “He did not say anything about President Yameen,” he added.

No other details of the meeting have been shared with the media.

Yameen – who lost by a record 38,600-vote margin – has been dogged by corruption allegations since the embezzlement of nearly US$80 million from state coffers.

Last November, the anti-corruption watchdog confirmed longstanding allegations that a local company implicated in funnelling the stolen cash deposited US$1 million into Yameen’s private account at the Maldives Islamic Bank.

More recently, the central bank’s money laundering watchdog informed police of US$1.5 million deposited into Yameen’s account and withdrawn in hard currency.

The bank was told the money was campaign contributions.

Photo of first lady and president by