Sunday, January 24, 2021

Maldives: Prosecution witness testimony concluded in ex-president’s money laundering trial

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After concluding testimony from prosecution witnesses on Tuesday, the criminal court is due to rule on the admissibility of a video statement from the anti-graft watchdog’s former chief as evidence in the money laundering trial of former president Abdulla Yameen.

The court heard from bank officials and a former tourism minister about the source of US$1 million held in an escrow account formed under an agreement between Yameen and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The 60-year-old opposition leader was charged 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. He is also accused of violating the agreement signed with the ACC to hold the US$1 million in an escrow account.

Yameen has admitted to 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 Tuesday’s hearing, former tourism minister Moosa Zameer testified to transferring US$1 million to the escrow account. Yameen asked for the money for “personal use,” Zameer told the court. The money came from the sale of a property for US$2 million.

The businessman who bought the property also testified as a state witness.

About the escrow account, Bank of Maldives officials said Deputy CEO Mohamed Shareef was in charge of the matter as Yameen was deemed an important customer.

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

Shareef told the court that the account was opened at the request of former ACC chief Hassan Luthfee. The president’s office later asked for a letter of confirmation, he said.

The major point of contention during Tuesday’s hearing concerned the admissibility of a video statement from Luthfee recorded during the police investigation. Luthfee left the Maldives prior to his resignation in July and refuses to return, alleging attempts to coerce his testimony.

In a letter sent to the court, Luthfee asked the judge to strike his statement from the record.

But Prosecutor Aishath Mohamed contended the video recording could be viewed to see whether Luthfee appeared to be under duress. His testimony could be corroborated through other witnesses, including his former deputy Muaviz Rasheed, she noted.

Last month, Rasheed testified as the prosecution’s first witness and told the court that Yameen had been told that SOF’s money came from stolen resort acquisition fees.

Defense lawyers argued against allowing the video recording and urged the judge to take Luthfee’s allegation of coercion seriously.

Related: Former Maldives president pleads not guilty to charges of money laundering

Concluding the hearing, Judge Ahmed Hailam said he would issue a ruling at the next hearing before defence witnesses are called to testify. He did not announce the next trial date.

At the last hearing, former vice president Ahmed 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.

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.

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