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Former President Yameen received USD 5 million, claims "not MMPRC money"

Shahudha Mohamed
09 July 2020, MVT 16:20
Former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, arriving to court escorted by officers of Maldives Correctional Service. He stated that he received USD 5 million for political work, but denied that the funds were embezzled. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/MIHAARU
Shahudha Mohamed
09 July 2020, MVT 16:20

Former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, on Wednesday, denied allegations that the USD 5 million he received for political work was connected to the missing funds from Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

In December 2019, the Criminal Court sentenced Yameen to five years in prison and a fine of USD 5 million, on money laundering charges concerning the embezzlement of MVR 3.3 billion from MMPRC. The former president made the aforementioned statement in the currently ongoing appeal case at High Court.

Yameen was implicated when a private company, SOF Pvt Ltd, deposited USD 1 million embezzled from MMPRC, to his personal account at Maldives Islamic Bank (MIB) in 2015.

The state charged Yameen with money laundering when he signed an agreement with Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) on March 25, 2018, to transfer the money to an escrow account in Bank of Maldives Ltd (BML), but instead transferred funds from a BML account under Yameen's name.

The former president has maintained that the USD 1 million in his MIB account was his money, and the state has maintained that Yameen transferring other funds to ACC when requested to hand over the questionable USD 1 million in his MIB account constitutes as money laundering.

'Political paper'

Speaking at Wednesday's hearing at the High Court to appeal the Criminal Court's verdict, Yameen stated that he acquired a total of USD five million for his political endeavours, that were fetched by former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and the then-Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Mohamed Shainee.

According to Yameen, ex-VP Adeeb was holding the aforementioned funds until the explosion aboard the presidential launch 'Finifenmaa' on September 28, 2015.

Corroborating the statement of SOF's shareholder Mohamed Allam Latheef, Yameen stated that he called Adeeb after the incident to collect the USD 5 million.

Reiterating that the USD 1 million transferred to his MIB account was unrelated to the MMPRC graft, Yameen argued that there was no way to prove the funds were embezzled, since SOF has also carried out legal transactions with MMPRC.

Ties to Vodamulla

The state's verdict highlights that the USD 1 million in Yameen's MIB account was collected as the payment for Vodamulla, Gaafu Alif Atoll -- an island leased by MMPRC for resort development.

According to Yameen, SOF's account had over USD 900,000 before the Vodamulla funds were transferred to it, therefore, meaning the state could not claim that the money transferred from SOF to Yameen's MIB account was the USD 1 million acquired from leasing Vodamulla.

He also added that no authorities had flagged the transaction as questionable at the time.

The ex-president also claimed that he had no relation to the Vodamulla case, accusing ex-VP Adeeb of attempting to lease Vodamulla to his associates.

Yameen claimed that he was only made aware of Vodamulla's existence when the allegations surfaced against him.

Moreover, he explained that he signed the agreement with ACC to place the USD 1 million in an escrow account, to avoid the people doubting his integrity while he campaigned for the 2018 presidential elections.

However, he emphasised that the action does not indicate that he believes the funds were wrongfully acquired.

Former Vice President and Yameen's lawyer Dr Mohamed Jameel also asserted that the state could not prove Yameen's account contained the Vodamulla payments, adding that there was no evidence to back up the allegations.

Jameel further questioned the witness statements against Yameen, citing inconsistencies.

Noting that MMPRC's then-Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath and ex-VP Adeeb were implicated in the scandal, Jameel stated that the Supreme Court had decided that witness statements collected from those involved in the crime cannot be taken into account.

Jameel accused that the Criminal Court's bench for Yameen's trial was assembled against policies, and added that the judge presiding over the case spoke to the media regarding the trial, indicating he was biased.

State's response

In response to the defence, the state noted that witness statements prove Yameen called different parties seeking the Vodamulla payment until he received it.

Adding that SOF had transferred the aforementioned funds to Yameen's MIB account, the state asserted that a questionable transaction can be considered money laundering under the law.

The state further said that there was no reason to dismiss the witness statements due to the presence of additional evidence to back up the statements.

The court had initially scheduled Wednesday's hearing as the final hearing of Yameen's appeal, but arranged another hearing upon's Yameen request. The ex-president argued that he had not received sufficient time with his lawyers, adding that the prison rules only allowed him a ten-minute phone call.

Judge Hussain Mazeed, presiding over the case, noted that the hearings were expedited on Yameen's request, and an additional hearing may cause delays as the court-room was available to Mazeed's section on only four days of the week due to the new policies established amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Judge Mazeed, the bench consists of Judge Mohamed Niyaz and Judge Hussain Shaheed.

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