Maldives opposition seeks probe into fresh graft claims against pres

Maldives' united opposition late Sunday asked police to launch an investigation into fresh accusations against incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom over his alleged involvement biggest corruption scandal in the country's history.

Jailed former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor earlier Sunday told the criminal court that millions embezzled through the country's main tourism promotion company had been "taken and counted in the president's home."

The former VP has been charged with 10 separate counts of corruption over the undue lease of 10 islands for tourism development.

Maldives Media and PR Corporation (MMPRC) had mediated the leasing of over 59 different tourist hotels, resorts and yacht marinas out of which 53 had been leased through an agreement with the tourism ministry.

The official audit report into the scandal, had revealed that over USD79 million had been embezzled through the state tourism promotion company.

The funds received by MMPRC was distributed through a private company called SOF Private Limited with strong links to Adheeb.

During the preliminary hearing on Sunday , Adheeb had denied all charges and pointed out that the country's graft watchdog had taken three years to complete the investigation into the graft scandal.

Adheeb had also defended himself arguing that he was appointed as the tourism minister when the country's economy was flailing. He said over 35 resorts had been developed in the islands and lagoons leased during his tenure adding that many more was close to completion.

"Between 2012 and 2013 all rent and fees from resort islands was deposited to MIRA [Maldives Inland Revenue Authority]. But the president [Yameen] changed that when he took office. He decided that all that money would be deposited to MMPRC. So we followed his directive," Adheeb alleged.

Adheeb alleged that his former boss had started a "foreign exchange racket" where he ordered the funds be transferred from MMPRC to private firms which was then withdrawn in cash and taken "directly to president Yameen's house."

"The money was counted there [president Yameen's house.] It was counted in a room in that house with the help of a Bangladesh expat. Around USD80 million was taken to his house," Adheeb alleged.

Shortly after the scandal was uncovered, USD1 million was deposited by SOF to president Yameen's personal account at the Maldives Islamic Bank (MIB), which Adheeb also pointed out on Sunday.

Adheeb alleged that the charges were designed to cover-up president Yameen's involvement in the scandal adding that he had also been threatened to keep quiet.

Following the claims, opposition officially filed a complaint asking police to raid president Yameen's properties and launch an investigation into the claims.