HC Resumes Hearings on Yameen’s Appeal Against Money Laundering Conviction
The prosecution responded on Tuesday to former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s argument argument that the US$1 million deposited in his account by Yoosuf Naeem was part of a currency exchange transaction, whereby U.S. dollars were purchased with Maldivian Rufiyaa, and as such that the transaction was not a bribe in the matter of the lease, through the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC), of Aarah island in Vaavu atoll. The transaction involved money donated towards his political cause by well-wishing businesspeople, the former president had claimed.
According to the timeline presented by the prosecution, Aarah was transferred to the Ministry of Tourism on 9 August 2015. A company named 2G Pvt Ltd, in which Yusuf Naeem held a 99 percent stake, was formed on 13 August. On 8 September, Naeem sold his 99 percent stake to LA Resorts Pvt Ltd. Then, on 9 September, the MMPRC handed over Aarah to 2G Pvt Ltd, upon which LA Resorts Pvt Ltd paid USD 1 million to the MMPRC via cheque for the lease acquisition cost of the island and another USD 1 million to Naeem. On 13 September, the money was credited to Naeem’s account, and on 15 September, a cheque for US$1 million was issued to Yameen from Naeem’s account. Two days later, the money was deposited into an account opened in Yameen’s name at HSBC.
One of the key points raised by Yameen’s defence in the appeal against his 11-year jail sentence was that he had not committed any acts of money laundering. Yameen himself, when speaking at a hearing, raised the question of why he would deposit funds directly into an account under his name if he had intended to obscure the origin of the funds.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the judges asked the prosecution several questions regarding how they defined money laundering in relation to Yameen’s appeal points.
Referring to international benchmarks for the definition of money laundering, prosecutor Ahmed Shafiu highlighted that depositing money into one’s own account and adding other funds to the same account constituted obfuscation.
The prosecution’s initial charges against Yameen described his actions as money laundering, a characterisation also reflected in the Criminal Court’s sentencing report.
After the bench gave Yameen’s defence the opportunity to respond to the state’s argument, Yameen reiterated his previous point and emphasised that irregularities should have been identified by the nation’s banking system. This is in reference to the per-deposit limits set by the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) requiring banks to notify the central bank of any deposits exceeding MVR 200,000 into any account in the Maldives. When such notifications are made, the MMA investigates each transaction. Therefore, given the regulatory framework of the central bank, he had no means to launder money, Yameen argued in court.
The hearing, which was conducted with prosecution lawyers participating online via video conferencing, encountered several technical difficulties such as the audio of the prosecution lawyers cutting out over several instances.
The hearing lasted for approximately four hours with the bench deciding to adjourn till Monday. While concluding the hearing, presiding judge Mohamed Saleem noted the difficulties posed to the proceedings due to the prosecution choosing to participate online and ordered the state agency to be represented at the court for the next hearing.
The next hearing is set for Monday.
A three-judge bench, presided over by judge Saleem, also includes judges Hassan Shafiu and Huzaifa Mohamed.
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