Maldives arrests vice-president over plot to assassinate president

Maldivian authorities on Oct 24, 2015 arrested the nation's vice president Ahmed Adeeb, former Tourism Minister,  over a plot to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen.
Maldivian authorities on Oct 24, 2015 arrested the nation's vice president Ahmed Adeeb, former Tourism Minister, over a plot to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen.PHOTO: AFP

MALE, Maldives (AFP) - Maldives Vice-President Ahmed Adeeb was arrested Saturday over last month’s alleged attempt to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen in a bomb blast on board his speedboat, the government said.

Adeeb’s dramatic arrest at the Maldives’ main international airport followed “extensive investigations by both local and international agencies,” the government said in a statement posted on the website of its high commission in New Delhi.

“The charges are extremely serious, and the government has had to act decisively,” it said, without saying whether the vice-president had been formally charged.

Home Minister Umar Naseer earlier posted on Twitter that Adeeb was in detention on Dhoonidhoo prison island. “Charges: high treason,” he tweeted.

Adeeb, 33, was arrested at around noon local time on Saturday  (3pm Singapore time) as he returned home from Singapore, where he had stopped over after attending an investment forum in China.

Maldivian police confirmed his detention was linked to an investigation into the Sept 28 blast aboard Yameen’s speedboat, which left the leader unhurt but his wife and two others slightly injured.

Adeeb was unceremoniously escorted away by police as he disembarked from a Singapore Airlines flight, with a coastguard boat taking him to the nearby prison island of Dhoonidhoo.

Dozens of Adeeb’s supporters who had arrived at the official jetty in Male to greet him were turned back by police in the tiny 2.5 sq km capital island.

By afternoon, the authorities had deployed soldiers and police to maintain calm, while special police units carried out searches at houses and offices frequented by the detained vice president.

“Security in Male has been tightened,” police spokesman Abdulla Nawaz told reporters in the capital where more than a dozen people were arrested for disturbing public order.

“Police won’t allow any violence in the capital city. Both police and the army will be deployed to patrol the streets of Male.”

Official sources said four of the vice-president’s associates were arrested shortly before Adeeb’s detention and were also being held on the prison island.

Yameen appointed Adeeb as his deputy three months ago after impeaching his original running mate Mohamed Jameel on charges of treason.

He had changed the Maldives’ constitution to reduce the permissible age of a vice president from 35 to 30 so that Adeeb could be given the job.

Adeeb, who had a meteoric rise in politics, was also a hate figure for the country’s main opposition, which accused him of sending underworld gangs to launch attacks against dissidents.

‘PURGE’ OF MINISTERS

Hours before the arrest Saturday, the President sacked his police chief Hussain Waheed, the latest in a series of firings seen by some as a purge of individuals whose loyalties may be in doubt.

Defence Minister Moosa Ali Jaleel was sacked 10 days ago, while on Thursday Yameen also fired his main government spokesman Mohamed Shareef, a minister in his cabinet.

Shareef, who flew to nearby Sri Lanka soon after the Sept 28 blast, said the explosion may have been a mechanical issue, but the authorities later declared it to be an assassination attempt.

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives – of which Adeeb is deputy leader – said in a statement it backed the president in the “challenging times”.

Yameen will not be able to sack Adeeb unless he gets the support of opposition legislators in the national parliament.

Earlier in October, authorities arrested two security personnel who had access to Yameen’s boat but have yet to disclose what caused the explosion.

The Maldives has seen its image as a peaceful holiday destination for well heeled honeymooners dented by political turmoil since the toppling of the country’s first democratically elected leader Mohamed Nasheed in February 2012.

Yameen, who came to power in November 2013 following a highly controversial election, jailed Nasheed for 13 years in March and faces international censure over his crackdown on dissent.

A UN panel last month asked Yameen to free Nasheed and pay him compensation for his wrongful incarceration, a demand the President rejected.

Yameen’s half brother, former Maldivian strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who is now a senior leader of the PPM, cancelled a scheduled visit to India following Adeeb’s arrest.