Former Maldives president Yameen charged with money laundering

The top prosecutor in the Maldives has filed money-laundering charges against Abdulla Yameen over allegations the former president was the recipient of $1m stolen from state coffers in the country’s biggest corruption scandal.

The charges, which carry a jail sentence of up to 15 years, were filed on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the prosecutor general’s office told Al Jazeera.

Yameen, 59, who suffered a decisive defeat in last year’s presidential election, has denied any wrongdoing.

During his tenure, more than $79m obtained by the Maldives tourism board from leasing islands for tourism were diverted to private accounts, cashed out, and used to bribe politicians.

The case was the subject of the Al Jazeera investigative documentary, Stealing Paradise.

In secretly filmed interviews, associates of the former president said they delivered some of the stolen cash to Yameen’s residence in black bags. 

“For the president, it was even difficult to carry those bags,” said one of the three men who delivered the cash.

The charges filed against Yameen on Wednesday relate to claims he received the money through SOF Private Limited, a private company linked to his former deputy, which was used to launder tourism revenues from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, the country’s tourism board.

The amount was deposited into the former president’s personal bank account at the Maldives Islamic Bank in October 2015.

In a statement last week, the police said Yameen was told to return the amount following an investigation by the country’s independent anti-corruption watchdog. 

The former leader claimed he returned the money, but police said its investigation found he “did not return the money as ordered and instead conducted financial transactions from which he obtained profit”.

Lawyers for Yameen, in a statement last week, dismissed the charges against the former president as an attempt to influence the Maldives’s upcoming parliamentary elections, set to take place on April 6.

The Anti-Corruption Commission “has so far failed to prove the $1m transferred to Yameen’s account by SOF Pvt Ltd was state funds obtained through corruption”, the lawyers contended. 

‘Campaign funds’

Yameen told reporters in January that the $1m deposited to his private account at the Maldives Islamic Bank was given to him by “various parties as campaign funds”. The money was his, he added, saying he did not return the amount because there was no proof it was government money. 

Police have also sought charges of false testimony against Yameen and his top legal counsel.

The former president is also under investigation in a separate money-laundering case, in which he is alleged to have received 22 million rufiyaas ($1.5m) in cash days before the presidential election in September 2018.

In December, the police said authorities froze Yameen’s bank accounts and seized more than 100 million rufiyaas ($6m) in US dollars and local currency.