Outgoing President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, with just four days left in his term, has commuted the sentences of two key figures convicted in the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) corruption scandal: former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and former Managing Director of MMPRC Abdulla Ziyath, allowing both of them to walk free.

Both Adeeb and Ziyath, who had admitted to the financial crimes that valued over MVR 1.3 billion, were given reduced sentences under a plea deal, yet their cumulative sentences go beyond 20 year prison terms. 

Adeeb, who pled guilty under a plea bargain on corruption charges related to the leasing of islands for resort development, was also fined US$129,892. He faced charges including embezzlement, money laundering, and abuse of authority. The islands were leased below market prices, resulting in a loss of nearly US$259 million of state revenue. Adeeb expressed his readiness to cooperate in recovering the missing funds​​​​.

Abdulla Ziyath, the former Managing Director of MMPRC, was sentenced to an additional 12 years in prison for financial malfeasance, adding to an existing eight-year sentence related to previous convictions in the MMPRC graft case. 

The court deliberated on three major counts of embezzlement among a total of 32 charges against him, with each count carrying a four-year prison term. Ziyath entered into a plea deal, acknowledging the charges and aiding in the investigation and recovery of misappropriated funds. 

The plea agreement included provisions such as a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation in the investigation and a commitment to assist in recovering any assets stolen in the corruption scandal. The specific charges against Ziyath included embezzlement of funds from Maldives Ports Limited and misappropriation of large sums from MMPRC and the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation​.

The MMPRC scandal was the biggest corruption case in the Maldives, involving embezzlement of more than $90 million from the corporation. This scandal, made public in 2016 through an investigation by Al Jazeera, culminated in the conviction and imprisonment of former President Abdulla Yameen​​.

The embezzlement started ahead of the 2014 Maldivian parliamentary election. Funds from the MMPRC were utilised to cover election expenses and to broker deals for votes in parliament. Additionally, the scandal involved the leases of at least 50 islands being acquired by private companies for tourism development without public tender, benefitting several Maldivian government officials​​. 

Former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom was also charged with corruption and money laundering in 2019 in connection with these deals, leading to his conviction in 2022 and a subsequent 11-year prison sentence​​.

As of 2023, the Prosecutor General’s Office is actively investigating 30 suspects implicated in the MMPRC scandal. These investigations are part of a broader probe that has identified 267 individuals as beneficiaries of this corruption scheme. These individuals include former president Yameen, former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, various state institution heads, and parliament representatives. However, only ex-President Yameen is serving a criminal conviction, with these new developments. 

The opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has expressed dissatisfaction over Yameen being the only individual imprisoned in relation to the MMPRC case. The Prosecutor General, Hussain Shameem, has assured that investigations are proceeding on a fixed schedule and with impartiality. 

Meanwhile, Transparency Maldives has strongly condemned the commutation of the sentences of Adeeb and Ziyath, saying that it sets a detrimental precedent for the rule of law and undermines efforts to combat corruption and kleptocracy.

“This is not only an abuse of the clemency and sentence commutation powers of the President, but represents the epitome of the protection, impunity and privilege enjoyed by political elite who abuse their positions of power and influence,” the organisation said in a statement released on Monday.