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Former Maldives President Yameen acquitted: case against him, context of domestic politics | News explained

The Maldives Supreme Court, the country’s second highest judicial body, on Thursday (April 18) quashed the conviction and 11-year prison sentence of former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and ordered a retrial.

Yameen had been fined $5 million and sentenced to seven years in prison on money laundering charges, with a further four years in prison added after he was found guilty of bribery in connection with the same case. Here’s what you need to know about the case and the domestic context of the Maldives in which this judgment falls.


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The corruption case against Yameen

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Yameen was charged in connection with the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) scandal, which involved the embezzlement of more than $90 million from the MMPRC, a government body, to cover election costs and make deals for votes in the country’s parliament .

The scandal came to light in 2016 during an Al Jazeera investigation, which also revealed that leases for at least 50 Maldivian islands had been obtained by private companies without due process. The investigation involved Yameen, the then president of the Maldives, several lawmakers and Maldivian officials associated with Yameen.

In the 2018 presidential election Yameen was defeated by joint opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The new government immediately initiated bribery proceedings against Yameen, and in December 2018, three months after the elections, the Supreme Court of the Maldives ordered the seizure of assets worth US$6.5 million belonging to Yameen.

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In February 2019, Yameen was charged with theft, money laundering and making false statements to police, and in November of the same year, the Maldives Criminal Court found him guilty of all charges, sentenced him to five years in prison and imposed a fine. of $5 million. The Supreme Court of Maldives further confirmed the conviction and prison sentence in January 2021, following which Yameen approached the Supreme Court of Maldives, the highest court in the country.

The Supreme Court ruled in his favor at the end of November 2021 – and Yameen left prison after two years. But in December 2022, the Maldives Criminal Court sentenced Yameen to eleven years in prison and fined him $5 million after finding him guilty of corruption and money laundering on charges related to receiving kickbacks. He began serving his sentence in Maafushi Prison, but moved to house arrest in October 2023.

Now the Supreme Court has ruled that the trial against Yameen was unfair and has therefore acquitted him, while ordering a lower court to restart the proceedings against him.

Context of Maldives domestic politics

Due to his convictions, Yameen was unable to participate in the 2023 presidential elections in the Maldives, one of the most controversial elections in the country’s recent democratic history. However, his party Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) fielded the eventual winner Mohamed Muizzu as its candidate.

The PPM, which was part of the opposition during Solih’s rule, won the elections thanks to its massive ‘India Out’ political candidate, who called for the departure of Indian soldiers stationed in the Maldives and a general renunciation of New Delhi. Although Yameen did not contest, this campaign was very much a continuation of his policies from 2013 to 2018, when he openly courted Saudi Arabia and China and was hostile to New Delhi. ‘India Out’ campaigners even used Yameen’s photos on the ground and on social media. Ultimately, Yameen himself came out to support the campaign.

And after taking office, Muizzu immediately joined the ‘India Out’ campaign, committing to a ‘Maldives First’ policy that prioritizes national interests and sovereignty. A number of developments since then have put severe strain on the Maldives’ relations with New Delhi.

The Maldives will hold parliamentary elections on April 21. A lot has changed since the last parliamentary elections in 2019, with the emergence of a number of smaller parties in addition to the established MDP and PPM. In addition to the Muizzu government’s foreign policy objectives, housing and economic challenges, corruption and drug abuse among youth are some major issues facing Maldivians.