'Did not hide funds, had best of intentions' - Ex pres Yameen

Former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom has stated that he had not in any way attempted to hide the source of the funds he received from SOF Private Limited, a company largely involved in laundering funds that were to enter the accounts of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC).

Yameen made his remark during a hearing held Wednesday in his money-laundering trial.

President Yameen is accused of defying the agreement between himself and the Anti-Corruption Commission, 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.

ACC instructed Yameen to move the deposited funds to the escrow account, however, President Yameen transferred US$ 1 million from his Bank of Maldives (BML) account instead of from the account in question. The transferred funds are reported to have been deposited into President Yameen's BML account by former Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer.

Yameen is accused of attempting to cover up the source and trail of the original funds in his MIB account in an attempt to launder the funds. The original funds deposited by SOF Pvt Ltd were moved to President Yameen's investment account at Maldives Islamic Bank.

Wednesday's hearing was scheduled to record the testimony of defense witness, former governor of MMA Azeema Adam. However, Azeema, who currently resides in the United States informed her refusal to give her testimony in a letter sent to the Criminal Court on Wednesday. Therefore, the presiding judge announced her testimony will not be recorded in court.

Similarly, the state's witness former President of the ACC Hassan Luthufee had also refused to testify against Yameen, However, the state requested to consider a video statement given by Hassan Luthufee during police investigation, which was granted by the judge despite objections from the defense.

During Wednesday's hearing, the documentary evidence and witness testimonies presented in the case were discussed.

The state attorney said the elements of the offence are supported by the evidence presented by the state. While it is believed the funds that were deposited into President Yameen's account by SOF Pvt Ltd was the acquisition cost for leasing an island named Vodumulaa which should have entered MMPRC accounts, former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor and former Managing Director of MMPRC Abdulla Ziyath's witness testimonies against President Yameen gives strength to the speculation, said the state.

The fact that ACC was probing the same transaction due to suspicions further strengthens the belief that the funds in question were obtained illegally, said the state.

According to legislation, one of the elements of the crime is that the funds are suspected of having being obtained illegally. While there is evidence supporting the fact that President Yameen himself was aware that the funds were obtained from a suspicious source, the former president himself had admitted that he was informed as such by former ACC head Hassan Luthufee, said the state.

Attempting to cover up the trail of the funds is the second element of the offence. The state attorney said this part of the elements can also be proven, as bank statements support the fact that the funds that were deposited into the escrow account set up between President Yameen and ACC were not the original funds that were deposited by SOF into the former president's account at MIB, but had instead come from a BML account. While the original fund deposited by SOF were deposited into three investment accounts of President Yameen at MIB, the funds deposited into the escrow were funds obtained by Yameen from former Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer, and witnesses statements can corroborate the fact, said the state.

During the defense's turn to speak on the evidences, President Yameen said the state had failed to justify how moving funds from one bank to the other can be deemed as attempting to cover up the trail of funds. While the state had also failed to prove that the US$ one million in question belongs to MMPRC, the account already had funds in it when the US$ one million that allegedly belongs to MMPRC were deposited into his account, said Yameen. He then questioned how one can tell which of the funds in the account were that of MMPRC's.

President Yameen also referred to a Civil Court ruling that said that lawful transactions had taken between SOF Pvt Ltd and MMPRC. According to the verdict, there are no grounds on which it can be claimed that the transaction between SOF and MMPRC were unlawful, he said.

President Yameen also pointed out that Adeeb and Ziyath's witness statements did not make it clear that the funds in question were that obtained from the leasing of Vodumulaa island.

Reiterating his innocence, Yameen said he volunteered to set up an escrow account between himself and ACC with the best of intentions, and said the move was not initiated by ACC but himself. There was no work done by ACC to recover the funds that were lost from the state, said Yameen.

The former president also explained why he had opted to deposit funds from another account into the escrow, one being previous orders from ACC not to touch the original funds in his MIB account.

Before the escrow account was set up, ACC had informed him via a letter not to touch the funds in his MIB account, said Yameen. Therefore, there would be room to say he had committed an offence had he made a transaction using the original funds, explained Yameen.

Yameen added that while what matters is the amount in question, US$ one million is still available in his MIB account if needed. He expressed his disappointment that charges were raised against him over the issue, and accused that it was a vindictive move by the current government.

The defense attorneys further detailed President Yameen's statement, with attorney Ali Shah stating that the state had failed to prove the elements of the offence. The state had failed to explain how and why the funds were considered as suspicious funds, he said.

Ali Shah said while SOF had deposited funds into several accounts, there was no evidence that the funds deposited into President Yameen's account were that of Vodumulaa island acquisition cost. The fact that no courts nor ACC had confirmed that the funds were that of Vodumulaa leasing attests to this fact, said the attorney.

Adding that the state had also failed to prove the second element of the offence, which is attempting to cover up the origin of the funds, Ali Shah said the US$ 1 million being referred to in the case is still accessible. President Yameen does not wish to obtain any benefits from keeping the fund hidden, he said.

Defense Attorney Adam Asif said there is no substantial evidence that proves the charges of the case. The charges were raised against President Yameen by the Prosecutor General in a bid to defend her position, claimed Asif. While all evidences presented in the case points to President Yameen acting in the best interest with the best of intentions, the state's evidence also proves Yameen's innocence, said Asif.

During the next hearing scheduled for October 10th, both the prosecution and defense will present their closing statements. A sentencing hearing will to scheduled within ten days following the hearing. If the money laundering charges against Yameen are proven, he will receive a jail sentence between 5-15 years.