Thursday, October 29, 2020

Maldives: Anti-corruption commissioner testifies against ex-president Abdulla Yameen

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The anti-graft watchdog’s chief on Sunday testified against former president Abdulla Yameen in his money laundering trial.

The 60-year-old opposition leader is accused of laundering 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 the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation during his administration.

Charges were raised under the 2014 anti-money laundering law for allegedly benefiting from two US$500,000 cheques from SOF with reasonable grounds to suspect that it was ill-gotten.

He is also accused of violating an agreement made with the Anti-Corruption Commission to hold the US$1 million in an escrow account.

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Yameen transferred the SOF money to an investment account at the Maldives Islamic Bank and deposited US$1 million from a different source to the escrow account.

Testifying as the prosecution’s first witness in the televised trial, ACC president Muaviz Rasheed told the court that he was present when the watchdog questioned the president on two occasions.

Yameen was told that SOF’s money came from stolen resort acquisition fees paid to the MMPRC, Muaviz insisted.

RelatedFormer Maldives president pleads not guilty to charges of money laundering

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Yameen told Muaviz and former ACC president Hassan Luthfy that the money was owed to him by his jailed former vice president Ahmed Adeeb.

He previously told the court that Adeeb had been managing campaign funds and donations until his arrest in October 2015.

“ACC started working on getting a statement from Yameen in 2016. We were only able to get the statement in 2017,” Muaviz said.

In 2017, the ACC informed Yameen that the best course of action was to return the money to the state, Muaviz said, after which an agreement was reached in February 2018 to form an escrow account.

Judge Ahmed Hailam questioned why the ACC did not seek a court order to freeze Yameen’s account.

Muaviz said the five-member commission considered such measures but had been unable to make a decision.

In the wake of Yameen’s defeat in September’s presidential election, the Financial Intelligence Unit at the central bank alerted the ACC to the alleged violation of the escrow agreement.

“When we got the [suspicious transaction report] and reviewed it, we found out that the money deposited into the escrow account came from Yameen’s Bank of Maldives account and that the money originated from the bank account of former tourism minister Moosa Zameer,” Muaviz said.

RelatedMaldives central bank, Ahmed Naseer chief quits amid allegations of money laundering

The ACC found out that the US$1 million from SOF had been transferred to an investment account at the Maldives Islamic Bank before the escrow agreement was signed.

“When we looked into it we noticed two transactions each worth more than one million was deposited into the same account later.

So in total, three point something million, as I recall.

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The money was deposited into another account in Yameen’s name and then transferred to an investment account in Yameen’s name,” he said.

During Sunday’s hearing, the court accepted a witness and documentary evidence submitted by the defence.

Yameen’s legal team plans to call former central bank governor Azeema Adam as their only witness.

The documentary evidence included a press release from the Maldives Monetary Authority – in which the central bank rejected allegations made in a corruption exposé by Al Jazeera – and a civil judgment to prove SOF’s bank account also contained legitimate funds unrelated to the MMPRC scandal.

Judge Hailam concluded the hearing after announcing that the court would try to hear testimony from most of the prosecution’s witnesses at the next hearing. He did not announce a date.

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