Former MMPRC MD testifies against Yameen; blames illegal activities on ex-pres

Former Managing Director of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) Abdulla Ziyath has stated that all illegal activities he carried out were on former president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom's instructions.

Abdulla Ziyath was sentenced to 8 years in jail in 2016 for his involvement in the Maabinhura embezzlement case.

Ziyath testified against President Yameen in his money laundering trial on Thursday as a witness of the state. President Yameen is accused of defying the agreement between himself and ACC, which stipulated the former president to move funds in his Maldives Islamic Bank (MIB) account that are suspected of having being laundered, into an escrow account set up between the two parties.

While two cheques worth US$ 1 million were deposited into Yameen's MIB account by a private company named SOF Pvt Ltd, the funds are said to be embezzled state funds that were to be received by Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company as acquisition cost for leasing islands for tourism purpose. It is believed that the US$ one million in question is the acquisition cost for the leasing of GDh. Vudumula island.

Taking the witness stand, Ziyath said President Yameen gave specific instructions on how to handle the funds received as acquisition cost by leasing islands and lagoons.

"He gave instructions during meetings, phone conversations and text messages. He instructed me to handover all cheques to Ahmed Adeeb", said Ziyath.

Ziyath said MMPRC received a cheque for US$ 1 million as acquisition cost for leasing Ga. Vudumula island, which was subsequently handed over to deeb as per President Yameen's instruction. President Yameen had called him prior to the move to inquire regarding delays in leasing the island, he said. As Adeeb was out of town at the time of receiving the cheque for Vudumula island, the cheque was handed over to a representative of SOF Pvt Ltd on Adeeb's instruction, said Ziyaath. MMRC did not receive US$ 1 million during the specific period other than the funds that were received as acquisition cost for this particular island, said Ziyath.

Defense attorney, Adam Asif asked Ziyath why there were discrepancies between his recent statements and that which he had initial given during the earlier stages of investigation, and inquired if he had come to any arrangements with the current administration to a revised statement against Yameen.

Denying having any arrangement with the government, Ziyath said no such discussions had taken place. He added that he was instructed neither by the police nor by the Prosecutor General's Office to give his witness statement in a specific way, although he was taken to the police station on Wednesday to prepare for Thursday's hearing by reading through his statement as a refresher.

Ziyath further noted that he was transferred to home arrest by the Home Ministry six months ago due to his current medical condition, although he is no longer on any medication.

Ziyath was transferred under home arrest on 9th February 2019. Ziyath gave his statement to the police on 10th February and the charges against President Yameen were filed and sent to Criminal Court on 13th February.

Cross examining the witness, President Yameen asked several questions regarding how MMPRC conducted their business. Ziyath responded that MMPRC was run on Adeeb's instruction, who received direct orders from President Yameen.

"I followed President Yameen's instructions given through Adeeb. The acquisition cost of islands are not approved by the MMPRC board and its details are not shared with the board either. We lease islands as instructed by Adeeb at a price advised by Adeeb. Instead of depositing the cheques we receive as acquisition cost into MMPRC accounts, I hand it over to Adeeb', said Ziyath.

Ziyath repeatedly said he was given direct instructions by President Yameen via phone calls on several occasions. However, President Yameen denied the allegation and said he never spoke to Ziyath over the phone or met with him. The first meeting with Ziyath was at the President's Office when Ziyath was called to the office to advise him to cooperate with the investigation after he refused to give information to the investigation, said the former president.

Ziyath denied Yameen's response and said the lease agreements were approved by President Yameen, which was done over the phone. Ziyath added that MMPRC had valid currency exchange agreements with SOF Pvt Ltd, however, the cheques in question were not issued to SOF under the agreement. Cheques were issued from MMPRC for all transactions under the agreement, and no endorsed cheques from other companies addressed to MMPRC were issued to SOF Pvt Ltd under said agreement, said Ziyath.

President Yameen inquired if Ziyath had sought the opinion of any entities regarding handing over the acquisition cost cheques to other parties instead of depositing into MMPRC accounts, to which Ziyath responded that he sought the opinion of the Attorney General on the matter. The Attorney General advised him to 'carry on' as he was doing, as he was following the instructions of the president. The opinion was given orally, said Ziyath.

President Yameen asked if Ziyath had been aware that the activities he was carrying out were illegal despite the opinion given by the Attorney General, to which Ziyath said he was aware, and reiterated that had followed the instructions of Adeeb and Yameen. Yameen then asked him if he was admitting that he committed an illegal action, to which Ziyath said he would not be serving a sentence today if he had not committed an illegal action.

While Ziyath said he carried out all illegal activities on President Yameen's orders, former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor also testified in court during Thursday's hearing and said he too had followed Yameen's instructions in committing illegal actions.

While three witnesses have now testified against President Yameen, the remaining witnesses will testify against the former president in the next hearing scheduled for 30th September. The state has named former Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer, BML board members Mohamed Shareef and Ibrahim Luvaiz, former ACC President Hassan Luthufee and an individual named Mohamed Waseem Ismail as witnesses of the state.