President Abdulla Yameen has stirred controversy with an apparent admission of personally benefiting from a historic corruption scandal blamed on his jailed former right-hand man.
Speaking at the opening of a ruling party meeting hall Monday night, Yameen said opposition leaders would allege that he was a beneficiary as long as the nearly US$80 million embezzled from the state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation remains missing.
Addressing allegations made in an Al Jazeera corruption exposé about former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s associates delivering the stolen cash to his residence, Yameen said: “Al Jazeera only saw bags [of cash] taken into my house. They didn’t see anything else at all. So we have to find that money, don’t we? So to protect my reputation as well, I want this money to come in.”
“And which MPs were elected by spending this money, we should see that, too. Cash wouldn’t have entered in bags only into Dhooevehi [Yameen’s private residence] then. It was Ahmed Adeeb who spent on the people we wanted to get elected to the People’s Majlis at any cost.
“So the cash that entered my house was no doubt not halal [permissible],” he said, adding that the lawmakers who used Adeeb’s campaign funds should resign if they believe the corruption allegations.
Opposition lawmakers promptly seized upon the remarks and called for the president to be placed under investigation.
MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, the spokesman of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, told the Maldives Independent: “Yameen should now be arrested, put under investigated and prosecuted. He has admitted to it multiple times while giving speeches, even before. He has admitted all on his own, now there is no way to escape a properly conducted criminal investigation.”
He added: “If there’s money being received by the government – they talk a lot about getting money from well-wishers – they would be recorded and audited. But getting money delivered in bags in the middle of the night, that is how mafia gangs operate!”
The four-party opposition coalition has also decided to ask the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission to launch an inquiry.
“The problem is that the institutions supposed to look at these things are not performing their duties,” Hisaan Hussain, the opposition’s top lawyer, told the press Tuesday afternoon, referring to delays in investigating cases related to the MMPRC scandal.
“Tomorrow, we will submit complaints against ACC to [National Integrity Commission]. We will submit complaints about police not looking into this. NIC is supposed to investigate if institutions fail to do their duties.”
Aminath Nadira, an aide to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, said: “When Yameen says ‘the money that went into my house was not halal money’ it is very clear to anyone who speaks Dhivehi. He’s admitted to eating from the banana cluster, as Maldivians say.”
Since the MMPRC corruption scandal was laid bare in a damning audit report in February 2016, Yameen has maintained that his former deputy was solely responsible for the unprecedented theft from state coffers.
After the president’s remarks were widely covered, the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives meanwhile put out a statement insisting that it was misreported and taken out of context.
The president’s intention was to question if the money Adeeb gave others could be halal if the stolen cash alleged in Stealing Paradise was not halal, the PPM said.
Yameen had also called on ruling party lawmakers whose campaigns were financed by Adeeb to resign and win re-election with their own funds, a likely reference to nine renegade MPs who left the PPM last month to hand the opposition coalition a majority in parliament.
During a rare press conference in mid-July, Yameen had revealed that the defecting lawmakers had complained about the government’s refusal to authorise Adeeb to seek medical treatment overseas.
He reiterated Monday night that Adeeb will not be allowed to leave the country until he reimburses the state for the stolen MMPRC cash.
The PPM also falsely alleged that Will Jordan, the producer of the Al Jazeera documentary, was previously employed at the president’s office by former President Mohamed Nasheed “to spread propaganda and whitewash inhumane actions”.
Jordan was the editor of this publication (formerly Minivan News) from 2006 to 2007. He went on to work for the BBC, ITN, and Channel 4 News before joining Al Jazeera in February 2010 and only returned to the Maldives in mid-2016 for work on the award-winning documentary.