Maldives court orders arrest of ex-president over alleged graft

Abdulla Yameen

MALE — A court in the Maldives ordered the arrest and detention on Monday of the former president Abdulla Yameen on suspicion of money laundering.

Yameen, who drew the Indian Ocean island country closer to China during his rule, is accused of receiving $1 million of government money through a private company, SOF Private Limited, which has been implicated in a corrupt deal to lease tropical islands for hotel development.

He denies the allegations.

After a two-and-a-half hour remand hearing on Monday, prosecutors sought a court order to detain the former president. The court ruled that Yameen, who appeared in person, should be taken into custody.

Preliminary hearings in his money-laundering trial are expected to begin this week.

The Maldives is due to hold a parliamentary election on April 6, with corruption likely to dominate campaigning.

On Friday, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih suspended two government ministers over financial transactions conducted with SOF Private.

The scandal has implicated several other businessmen and politicians, all of whom deny wrongdoing.

Officials from SOF could not be reached for comment.

The state-run Anti-Corruption Commission in 2016 found that SOF, a company launched by former tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, was used to launder more than $92 million from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, the country’s tourism board.

Meanwhile on Sunday, prosecutors in the Maldives charged high-profile former Justice Minister Azima Shakoor with embezzling millions of dollars from the tropical tourist paradise.

Maldivian police had earlier announced they had evidence linking Yameen and Shakoor to the theft of millions from the country.

She is accused of aiding Yameen’s efforts to steal millions of dollars from government coffers.

Shakoor was charged with two counts of being an accessory to embezzlement and providing false statements to investigators, court officials said.

Yameen, who came to power in 2013 and jailed many of his opponents or forced them into exile, had been summoned to the Criminal Court Sunday to formally receive his indictment.

Authorities believe millions of dollars could be stashed abroad and have said talks are underway with foreign entities to repatriate any cash found.

The criminal court has already frozen Yameen’s local bank accounts holding about $6.5 million, a decision the former leader has appealed. — Agencies