High Court upholds money laundering conviction against ex-pres

The High Court on Thursday ruled to uphold the lower court verdict in former president, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom’s money laundering trial.

Former President Yameen is currently serving a five-year sentence after being found guilty of money laundering in relation to the MMPRC corruption case. He was accused of defying an 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. The money is said to be funds acquired for the leasing of Vodumulaa island.

Failing to follow the terms of the agreement between himself and ACC, and moving the funds in question into an investment account, the former president deposited funds from another source into the escrow account.

Finding him guilty of the charges levied against him, the Criminal Court sentenced the former president to five years in jail and ordered him to pay US$ five million to the state on November 28, 2019.

The case was appealed at the High Court by the former president. The appeal was built on 75 key points.

The defense said while the alleged crime committed by the former president is unclear, none of the reports prepared by the Anti Corruption Commission in its investigation had accused President Yameen of any wrongdoing. He was not questioned by ACC regarding money laundering at any time, said the defense. The state has not been able to prove the basis on which it claims that the funds in the president’s accounts were the funds obtained for the leasing of Vudumula island. Therefore, it is unclear what the act of corruption committed in the case is, they said.

The defense also noted that the testimony of three key witnesses to the case are not admissible in court. They said that the witness testimony of former president of ACC, Muawwiz Rasheed cannot be accepted as he has lied under oath. While Muawwiz claims he met with the former president in the presence of another individual, Hassan Luthufy, Luthufy denies that the meeting took place, said the defence. Luthufy’s statement is further supported by the fact that the Presidents’ Office has no record of the meeting, said the defense.

Furthermore, the former Managing Director of MMPRC, Abdulla Ziyath and former Vice President of the Maldives, Ahmed Adeeb have both been convicted of crimes, and the testimony of such people do not carry any value, said the defense. Ziyath’s testimony differed from several statements he had previously given, the defense further noted.

However, the bench that presided over the case concluded that there is reason to believe that the funds in President Yameen’s account were obtained illegally, and that he had used the funds for profit. The judges also noted that the testimonies of the key witnesses are supported by other evidence. Therefore, the case is not built solely on the testimonies of the witnesses, the judges said. Even without the testimonies, the fact that President Yameen committed a crime is proven, the bench said.

While the ruling was issued based on the opinion of two out of the three judges, one judge, Hussain Shaheed had a different opinion on the matter.

Judge Hussain Shaheed said while all are equal in front of the law, he is of the opinion that the case filed by the state at the Criminal Court against Yameen is discriminatory in its nature. Shaheed further noted that the fact that President Yameen himself had volunteered to open an escrow account between himself and ACC shows that he had no bad intentions.

While the funds deposited into the escrow account were not the funds in the Islamic Bank account, and although the state claims that the former president kept the original funds in question in his account to profit off it, the claim makes no sense, said Judge Shaheed. Additionally, the state has been unable to prove why the testimonies of Adeeb and Ziyath are admissible, said Shaheed.

Further noting that Adeeb had attempted to harm the president and his family in the past, and while he has been convicted for the act, and while Adeeb gave witness statements against Yameen, the testimony came from a person with malicious intent against Yameen, said Shaheed. Thus, Adeeb’s testimony against Yameen is not admissible, said the judge.

Therefore, considering the above points, he is not of the opinion that the Criminal Court’s ruling in the case must be upheld, said Judge Shaheed.

Two other cases involving the president are currently ongoing in the Criminal Court. In new charges raised against the former president, the Prosecutor General’s Office is seeking a conviction for money laundering and accepting bribery. The two charges were raised against Yameen in relation to the leasing of Fuggiri island of Raa atoll for resort development through Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), and the trial began last year on November 25th.