Supreme Court frees ex-pres Yameen

The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, overturned the money laundering conviction against the former President of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom.

The Criminal Court, in November 2019, found Yameen guilty of money laundering and sentenced him to five years in jail. He was ordered to pay US$ five million to the state within five months. The High Court supported the lower court verdict, and the defense promptly appealed the matter at the Supreme Court, presenting 22 points. The appellate hearings were concluded on November 5, although an additional hearing was held later on November 18.

The original Criminal Court verdict said Yameen received in his personal account, USD 1 million through a private company, SOF - the acquisition fee for Vodumula, which was to enter MMPRC accounts. In the hearing held on November 18, the bench noted that the cheque number on the deposit slip did not match the cheque number stated on SOF's bank statements. The state said it was a clerical error.

In Tuesday's verdict, the bench said the state could not prove that the USD one million that entered Yameen's account were funds meant to enter state accounts. It also noted that the difference in cheque numbers should have been identified by both the Criminal and High Court. The state's response regarding the discrepancy in cheque numbers was not clear, it said.

While Yameen's biggest adversaries, former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor, and MMPRC's former Managing Director, Abdulla Ziyath - who themselves have been convicted for corruption- were the state's star witnesses, the Supreme Court said the Criminal Court accepted their statements wrongfully. Although state insisted that only those involved in the matter could be presented as witnesses, the defense said the statements of convicts could not be accepted.

The defense, during the Criminal Court trial, had clearly stated that both witnesses are foes to Yameen, noted the bench. For this reason, their account of the matter is dubious, it was noted. Although it was then said there were incriminating documents and other evidence that support their statement, there is no record of said evidence, the verdict said. Therefore, there are no grounds to accept their statements, and as both have already pleaded guilty to charges against them, they may be 'Faasiq's - an arabic term that refers to someone whose moral character is corrupt.

Judge Mahaz Ali Zahir also voiced concern that the state, having claimed that SOF Pvt Ltd was the biggest tool used to launder funds, had not pursued any investigation against the company.

The Supreme Court's verdict was based on the fact it is questionable that the USD one million in question were meant to enter state accounts, and the acceptance of witness statements from morally corrupt individuals. The verdict said the reality of the funds in question remains unknown.

Although the Supreme Court has freed the former President, the State has raised two other money laundering charges against him. The cases are ongoing at this time.