The police have claimed to have evidence of MP Faris Maumoon bribing lawmakers to vote in favour of a no-confidence motion to remove the speaker of parliament, fuelling rumours of his impending arrest.
“At this time we would like to inform that the police are investigating major cases of bribery that have been submitted to us,” Superintendent Ahmed Shifan said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“Bribery is a crime that has strict penalties according to our laws. Investigating acts of bribery falls on the police according to the laws and we will continue to do our job to investigate and apprehend the culprits.”
Shifan confirmed that Ahmed Shafiu, an opposition Jumhooree Party activist, was arrested Monday night in response to a complaint about alleged bribery. The police have also completed legal formalities to try and bring former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s personal assistant Ahmed Sofwan back to the Maldives in connection with the bribery allegations, he added.
The police spokesman did not take any questions.
Shifan’s statement came in the wake of the opposition alliance submitting a no-confidence motion to oust Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed with the backing of a majority of lawmakers from the 85-member People’s Majlis.
MP Faris has been leading a bloc of ruling party lawmakers after the Progressive Party of Maldives was split into rival factions led by his father and President Abdulla Yameen. The opposition alliance has been trying to seize the parliament’s majority with defections from the divided ruling party since Gayoom signed a pact with opposition leaders in March.
Faris has meanwhile categorically denied the bribery allegations, expressing confidence that the police would not possess “legitimate” video or audio evidence.
The no-confidence motion against the speaker submitted on Monday included signatures from 10 PPM MPs. However, MP Ahmed Rasheed denied signing the motion and asked the parliament secretariat to investigate the alleged forgery of his signature.
But the opposition released a photo of the lawmaker signing a document in front of MP Faris. According to MP Mohamed Musthafa, the MP for the Isdhoo constituency signed in front of other witnesses and the process was filmed.
The 10 apparent defectors were among 48 MPs who voted against a no-confidence motion against Maseeh in late March, which was defeated in a controversial roll call vote after 13 opposition MPs were forcibly expelled from the chamber.
Faris was summoned to the police five times ahead of the March 27 vote. He was also questioned by police in late April over the bribery allegations.
In late June, the Prosecutor General’s office meanwhile pressed charges against Faris over the alleged unauthorised use of the PPM’s flag and logo.
Faris was questioned by the police on June 1 over the use of the PPM’s flag at a joint opposition press conference in March when he was representing the PPM on behalf of Gayoom, the party’s elected leader who was stripped of his powers by a court ruling that handed control to Yameen.
The PPM was split into rival factions when the civil court in October lifted Gayoom’s suspension of the party’s council and ordered Yameen to resume council meetings under his leadership.
The governing body promptly put Yameen in charge of the party, but Gayoom reacted by reconstituting the council and appointing loyalists to key posts, maintaining that the PPM charter prohibits a sitting president, who has a symbolic role as advisor, from managing the party.
The anti-graft watchdog is meanwhile seeking to question Gayoom over alleged misuse of state funds from the former presidential palace Theemuge in 2007 and 2008, the last two years of his 30-year reign.
Last week, the Anti-Corruption Commission offered to send officials to question Gayoom at a time and place of his convenience. ACC President Hassan Luthfy explained to local media that the commission has introduced rules for not summoning former presidents, speakers of parliament and chief justices.
The ACC needs to question Gayoom to complete the investigation, he said.
But Gayoom has said that he intends to go to the ACC to face questioning in front of the media.
In late April, the police also sought charges against Faris over alleged failure to reimburse the state after the ACC forwarded a case concerning the Theemuge audit reports.
But the Prosecutor General’s office rejected the case as the statute of limitations for the illegal expenses charge was eight years.
Faris has also been barred from travelling overseas. In late May, he was prevented from visiting his dying aunt because the authorities refused to lift the travel ban.