In dramatic scenes at the criminal court on Thursday, former president Abdulla Yameen quarrelled with his former vice president Ahmed Adeeb as the estranged pair faced each other for the first time in four years.
The 60-year-old opposition leader is on trial on money laundering charges over US$1 million deposited to his personal account by SOF, a company that was used to funnel the bulk of US$90 million stolen from state coffers. The unprecedented corruption scandal came to light in the wake of vice president Adeeb’s jailing in October 2015 over an an alleged plot to assassinate Yameen.
At a televised hearing on Thursday, Adeeb testified as a prosecution witness to undermine Yameen’s defence concerning the source of the US$1 million. It had been owed by Adeeb who was managing campaign funds at the time, Yameen previously told the court.
But Adeeb said campaign donations never exceeded MVR200,000 (US$12,970) and were only collected ahead of elections. There were no elections in late 2015 when Yameen claims to have asked him for the funds, he said.
Adeeb called himself “a victim of a tyrannical regime” and claimed to have been threatened with murder or poisoning after signing a cooperation agreement with the authorities.
– Liar, liar –
Yameen himself questioned Adeeb during cross-examination.
Asked whether he harboured any ill will after spending three years in jail, Adeeb said he has forgiven Yameen and others “from the bottom of my heart.”
Heated exchanges ensued after Adeeb claimed to have followed Yameen’s orders in siphoning off acquisition fees paid to the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation to lease islands and lagoons for resort development.
Yameen masterminded the embezzlement scheme where cheques issued to the MMPRC were diverted to SOF and other companies, he alleged. Dollars were converted and handed over to Yameen and others, he said, adding that the former president had called him regularly about the stolen funds.
“Are you saying you committed illegal acts on president Yameen’s instructions or orders, is that what you’re saying?” Yameen asked repeatedly, to which Adeeb replied yes.
“I don’t care if I face a sentence for what I say here today. The public should know the truth. The public should get their money back,” Adeeb said.
There was evidence on his phone to prove that Yameen was in touch with SOF employees, who personally delivered stolen cash to the former president’s residence, Adeeb alleged.
Yameen dismissed the “lie” and asked whether the two US$500,000 cheques deposited to his account by SOF could have been campaign funds.
“Campaign funds never came to SOF. What SOF had was MMPRC’s money,” Adeeb replied. Campaign donations would have been deposited to the ruling party’s account or handed over to candidates, he added.
Adeeb also asked Yameen whether he was claiming to have been unaware about the identity of donors who “gave money in millions and billions.” Yameen replied yes. “In that case that’s a lie,” said Adeeb.
Testifying after Adeeb, the MMPRC’s former managing director Abdulla Ziyath told the court that he had followed Yameen’s instructions in siphoning off resort acquisition payments. The instructions were delivered via phone calls, he alleged.
The US$1 million that ended up in Yameen’s bank account was paid to lease the island of Vodamulla in Gaafu Alif atoll. Ziyath said Yameen had personally phoned him to inquire over delays in completing the transaction.
But Yameen categorically denied the allegations.
The former president is also accused of violating an agreement made with the Anti-Corruption Commission to hold the US$1 million in an escrow account. He has admitted transferring the SOF money to an investment account at the Maldives Islamic Bank and depositing US$1 million from a different source to the escrow account.
At the last hearing on August 4, Muaviz Rasheed, president of the Anti-Corruption Commission, testified as the prosecution’s first witness. Yameen had been told that SOF’s money came from stolen acquisition fees paid to the MMPRC, Muaviz insisted.
The trial is due to resume on September 3.
Adeeb’s much-anticipated testimony came after a failed attempt to flee the country as a stowaway on a tugboat.
The 37-year-old was brought back after Indian authorities held him for questioning when he arrived at the Tuticorin port – where he was denied entry despite seeking asylum – and handed him over to the Maldives police at the maritime border.
Adeeb had been free after his 33-year combined sentence on terrorism and corruption charges was quashed by the appeal courts, which cited political influence and ordered retrials.
Following his escape attempt, the Supreme Court ordered Adeeb’s detention until the conclusion of appeal filed by the Prosecutor General, which challenged a High Court ruling that set aside his conviction over the theft of US$5 million paid by Kuredu Holdings for the island of Maabinhuraa in Lhaviyani Atoll.
Last week, he was brought to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in the capital after bumping his head on the wall of the toilet in his cell. He has since been kept under observation at the hospital.