Maldives: Rise and fall of Ahmed Adheeb

Vice President Ahmed Adeeb was impeached on 5 November 2015. Photo: Wikimedia/ Molhu Photographer
Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb was impeached on 5 November 2015.
Photo: Wikimedia/ Molhu Photographer

Adheeb was under ‘house arrest’, still not an uncommon legal practice in the country along with such archaic penal provision like ‘island arrest’  

N Sathiya Moorthy, 2 August 2019

For a person who has arrived as an ‘extra hand’ on a dhow to neighbouring India, former Maldivian Vice-President, Ahmed Adheeb, has had a ‘chequered career’, which saw him becoming the youngest VP at 33 only to serve the shortest term in office, and arrested for attempting to assassinate his boss — the even more controversial (then) President, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Adheeb was under ‘house arrest’, still not an uncommon legal practice in the country along with such archaic penal provision like ‘island arrest’, even under the new penal code, formulated in the era of democratic reforms, where much of the rest of the nation’s law and administrative practices have changed.

As he was moving towards the peak of his political glory, the political Opposition of the time, especially the now-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of current President Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih, would call him Yameen’s henchman and manager of the ‘Male gangs’ purportedly employed for political purposes. But Adheeb was a suave operator being a graduate from Staffordshire University (2007) plus a Masters in Business Administration from Edith Cowan University in the very next year.

All of 37 (born 11 April 1982) now, Adheeb began his career in the Maldives Customs Service, and soon became a businessman in his own right and ending up as the office-bearer of local chambers, one ladder upon the other. And when the nation was still immersed and/or recovering from the multi-party democratic presidential poll of 2008, which saw MDP’s Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed replacing Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, dubbed an ‘autocrat’ as President after 30 long years, young Adeeb saw his opportunity, and began talking about economics – which not many politicians in the country were much interested and even less aware of.

But he did not miss the eyes of Yameen, Gayoom’s controversial Finance Minister over the past years, who also prided himself as an otherwise reclusive ‘economic administrator’, rather than charismatic political leader. So much was Yameen impressed by Adheeb that when he became President in 2013, he made the ‘lad’ the Tourism Minister, the most coveted Cabinet position after that of the President. Adeeb was a first-term minister at that time, and though there were murmurs of protest within the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), founded by Gayoom, none contested his presumed abilities.

When political trouble began knocking at President Yameen’s doors continuously from end-2014, he began suspecting his own chosen Vice-President from 2013 polls, Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed. Fearing imminent arrest, Jameel escaped to the UK, where the likes of Nasheed had already obtained ‘political asylum’. Yameen would have Parliament impeach Jameel, a PhD holder in criminology from a reputed British University, and made Adheeb take his place.

Assassination plot?

What was even more impressive about Adheeb’s overnight elevation was the unique manner Yameen got it through – having the Parliament to amend the Constitution and other relevant laws for bringing down the minimum age for vice-presidency to 30 years from the prescribed 35. This, even as he had pegged an upper age-limit for the presidency and vice-presidency at 65 years, that too with the Opposition MDP, among other parties in Parliament.

None else could stand better as testimony to the adage, ‘what that goes up has to come down’ than Ahmed Adheeb, in the Maldivian scenario, especially. Becoming VP out of the blue on 22 July 2015, he would not only lose the job but also be arrested ahead of his own impeachment (5 November 2015), that too, of all things, for attempting to assassinate President Yameen.

The ironic meeting point, though pure coincidental, was that Yameen was returning from Saudi Arabia and the police waited for Adeeb to return from a 10-day maiden tour to China – two nations that were incongruous ideologically but were meeting and working separately on Maldivian development under Yameen. Yameen escaped unhurt when a bomb went off under the President’s chair in his official speed-boat, but First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim, reportedly suffered injuries.

House arrest and more:  Not stopping with hauling Adheeb up for the assassination-attempt, the Yameen administration also charged him with a host of other crimes, including a massive embezzlement of public funds through a marketing organisation with which he was associated. The irony, after Yameen’s exit, or even when he was in power, both Maldivian authorities and more so his successor Solih Government, have been linking much of those illegal funds, amounting to millions of dollars and in an exchange-racket, to Yameen himself. A court case is already on in this regard, and it is possible that Adeeb could as well become a witness.
However, there is a possible twist to the tale. Even as in the post-Yameen era, courts converted Adheeb’s prison-term to house-arrest, he also went overseas for medical treatment – and returned, supposedly to face his court cases and appeals. But if Adheeb has now jumped those court cases and the nation’s authorities and laws, there was this recent episode of Abdulla Lufthfee, the brain behind the failed 1988 coup-bid against President Gayoom.

Lufthee, who was serving a life-term under anti-terrorism law following arrest by Indian forces on high seas, after foiling the coup-bid under ‘Operation Cactus’, jumped law, while in India for medical treatment, only to suddenly appear in Maldives’ Colombo Embassy in March this year (after the change of govt in Male). Last month, there was a lot of noise in Maldives, especially Parliament, for ‘extraditing’ Lufthee. It was promptly accomplished.

Now, thus, it is the turn of Adheeb, maybe; but to what end, it is unclear as yet.

The article appeared in the Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age on 2 August, 2019

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