'Did not follow ACC instructions to avoid committing a crime', claims ex-pres

Former President Abdulla Yamen Abdulla Gayyoom has defended himself in court claiming that he did not transfer funds into the escrow account set up between himself and Anti-Corruption Commission as agreed in order to avoid 'committing a crime'.

Two cheques worth US$ one million issued by SOF Private Limited were deposited into President Yameen’s saving account at Maldives Islamic Bank (MIB), which was later moved to Yameen’s General Investment account at the same bank. SOF Pvt Ltd is said to have embezzled funds received by Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) in the biggest corruption scandal witnessed by the country.

An escrow account was later set up between President Yameen and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to keep the funds in question until the end of investigation. However, the funds that were deposited into the escrow account were not the funds in Yameen’s account, with the deposited US$ one million having been obtained via Yameen’s Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer’

Yameen’s failure to transfer the original funds into the escrow account and instead depositing funds from another source can be assumed to be an attempt to launder the original funds which are suspected to be illegal funds. His action prompted the Prosecutor General to raise money laundering charges against the former president.

Speaking at the final preliminary hearing of his money laundering trial at the Criminal Court on Sunday which was aired live on national TV, President Yameen revealed for the first time that it was he himself who requested to set up an escrow account as 'he did not wish to keep suspicious funds in his account'. However, as the escrow agreement had a clause stating that no illegal activities may be committed, he refrained from touching the funds in his MIB account as he believed conducting a transaction involving the same funds can be classified as an illegal activity, and instead deposited US$ 1 million from his account at Bank of Maldives.

'There are suspicions on the funds in the MIB account. If I conduct a transaction with the same funds, it may be an illegal activity. Therefore, I did not wish to make any such transactions', said Yameen

'At the time when the US$ 1 million in question was deposited into my account, the account already had around U$ 3-4 million. It is not possible to find the exact US$ 1 million that was deposited by SOF, I cannot recover the same cheque. Money is money. Even if the funds I deposited did not originate from the SOF cheques, I still handed over US$ 1 million to be kept under ACC supervision. A charge shouldn't have been raised against me in the first place', he said.

Yameen further said he was not acquainted with SOF Pvt Ltd, and the funds deposited into his account by the company are believed to be funds that were to be deposited into his account by former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor. Adeeb had been managing his campaign funds, and after a dispute arose between the two, Yameen asked Adeeb to transfer the funds to him, which was then deposited into his account via SOF Pvt Ltd, said Yameen.

He was not notified by the bank when the deposit was made, and only came to know about the deposit when then ACC President Hassan Luthufee brought the matter to his attention, said Yameen further, after which he immediately asked to investigate the matter.

The former president further said no investigate authorities have asked him to return the funds to date, and no authorities have declared the funds to be illegal funds or linked to corruption. While the Financial Intelligece Unit (FIU) at central bank Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) was notified of the deposit, FIU had not noted any problems with the funds. Although ACC also had the authority to stop the funds, they had not acted in such a manner, noted Yameen.

The state named witnesses against President Yameen during Sunday's hearing, however, the presiding judge, Chief Judge Ahmed Hailam did not accept two witnesses that were not previously named as witnesses. A period of five days was granted to the defence to produce witnesses in Yameen's favour. Concluding the hearing, Judge Hailam said witness statements will be recorded in the next hearing scheduled for August 4.