Criminal Court finds ex-pres guilty of money laundering

Former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom has been found guilty of money laundering and sentenced to five years in jail, and ordered to pay the state an amount of US$ 5 million.

The Criminal Court pronounced the verdict in his money laundering trial on Thursday.

President Yameen was 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 been 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 the 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 was 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. The state noted that these are the two elements that need to be fulfilled to become a money laundering offense under the Anti Money Laundering Act.

During Thursday's verdict, the bench found that the evidence submitted by the state and the statements of the witnesses prove the former president was aware that the funds deposited by SOF Pvt Ltd were suspicious but chose to utilize the funds for personal gain. While the former president's financial statements state the funds were received from former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor, former Vice President of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Muawwiz Rasheed had informed the former president that the funds were suspicious, and advised him to return the funds to the state. Muawwiz testified in court stating as such.

The verdict also noted that the witness statements of Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor, and former Managing Director of MMPRC, Abdulla Ziyath's statements show the funds deposited by SOF Pvt Ltd was the acquisition cost that should have been received by MMPRC for the leasing of GDh. Vodemula island. Their statements said the former president called them up to inquire about delays in receiving the funds [into his personal account].

However, President Yameen kept insisting that the funds were his party PPM's campaign funds received from donors. The verdict said even if the funds were campaign funds of his party, it is still an offence to deposit the funds into his personal account and utilize it for personal gain. The Political Party Act states that party funds must be deposited into the accounts of the party.

Therefore, it is proven without reasonable doubt that the funds were suspicious, read the verdict. This fulfills the first element.

Explaining how the second element is fulfilled, the verdict said President Yameen transferred the US$1 million deposited into his account to a general investment account at Maldives Islamic Bank. It can be proven that the former president attempted to use the funds for financial gain.

Instead of transferring said funds to the escrow account between himself and the Anti-Corruption Commission, President Yameen acquired the same amount of funds from another source. However, this does not negate the fact that the president hid the source of the original funds and used it for financial gain, said the verdict.

While the witness statements of Adeeb and Ziyath can be questioned as they themselves are suspects in crimes, the verdict said there are documentary evidence and other witness statements that corroborate their accounts. According to a Supreme Court ruling, if there is supporting evidence, the witness statements of such people can be accepted.

Therefore, both elements necessary for conviction were fulfilled, and the bench found Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom guilty of money laundering.

Judge Ali Rasheed then asked both the prosecution and defense to speak on the sentence.

While the sentence for the crime is a jail sentence between 5-15 years, State attorney Aishath Mohamed said the state wished for President Yameen to be jailed for five years, and for him to pay the state a certain amount as the remainder of his sentence. The attorney said as US$ 1 million was laundered, the amount must be multiplied five times in choosing a fine amount.

President Yameen, during his turn to speak on the sentence attempted to speak on documentary evidence. However, the defense is not permitted to speak on the case after a verdict is pronounced, and the Judge did not allow him to speak on the case, and instructed him to speak on the sentence.

Defense attorney Ali Shah requested to postpone sentencing to another hearing, and to give the lightest possible sentence.

The court went into a short recess while the judges deliberated on the matter. Upon re-convening, the judges said there was no reason to delay sentencing, and announced that the bench decided to sentence Yameen as the state had proposed. Therefore, Yameen was sentenced to five years in jail, and ordered to pay US$5 million to the state within six months.

Yameen's supporters gathered outside the court, and those inside the courtroom expressed grief at the verdict. President Yameen looked downcast as he left the courtroom.

This is the second time a former president of the country has been convicted for graft allegations. The first time was in 1986 when former president Ibrahim Naseer was convicted on graft charges. He was sentenced to 25 years in exile, however, he was pardoned in four years.

During former president Yameen's rule, both former president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom and former president Mohamed Nasheed were jailed on criminal charges.