Abdulla Yameen: The Man Responsible for Isolating the Maldives

After jailing potential rivals and isolating the Maldives from its traditional friends, former president Abdulla Yameen was put behind bars with his attempt at a political comeback thwarted.

But Yameen is a free man again after a court ruling in the tiny Indian Ocean atoll nation Thursday that set aside his convictions for graft and money laundering.

Yameen became in 2013 just the third leader of the upscale tourism hotspot since the introduction of multiparty democracy five years earlier.

He had imprisoned or forced into exile nearly all his potential rivals by the time he had been voted out in 2018.

When the Commonwealth threatened to suspend the Maldives over its repeated human rights violations, Yameen responded by taking his country out of the 56-member bloc.

“I have always said ‘no’ to the colonial influences constantly working to manipulate our affairs,” Yameen said in defence of his actions as he left office.

Yameen began cracking down on opponents after amending the constitution in 2015 to allow foreigners to buy land for the first time in the archipelago, best known for its luxury beach resorts.

The move failed to attract the desired returns, with Saudi investors who had lined up more than a billion dollars scared off by simmering political tensions.

He instead turned to China and borrowed heavily for infrastructure projects, angering traditional benefactor India.

By the end of his term, Yameen had incarcerated almost every prominent politician who could have challenged his re-election.

His once-trusted deputy Ahmed Adeeb was thrown in prison, accused of orchestrating a bomb blast aboard the presidential yacht that wounded Yameen’s wife.

He even jailed the man who groomed him for power, his half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had been president for 30 years until 2008.

Gayoom was arrested on accusations of plotting a coup and spent 19 months in jail before his conviction was overturned after Yameen’s defeat.

Several others locked up by Yameen were also released after the low-profile Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won the 2018 poll.

Yameen initially tried to cling to power but the threat of sanctions from the United States if he refused a peaceful transition ultimately forced his hand.

Solih moved to rejoin the Commonwealth soon after his victory and repaired relations with neighbouring India.

By the end of 2018, the Maldives’ top court had frozen $6.5 million in Yameen’s assets and began investigating him over the embezzlement of more than $90 million from the archipelago’s tourism promotion agency.

He was convicted for corruption and money laundering in 2022 after receiving kickbacks from a private company and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Yameen initially served his sentence at a prison on the island of Maafushi, where his foes had once been incarcerated.

He was nonetheless planning to run in the 2023 presidential elections before the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for a criminal convict to stand for public office.

Instead, he threw his support behind ally Mohamed Muizzu, who won presidential elections last September and transferred Yameen to house arrest a day after his victory.