MALE, Maldives — Two supreme court justices who have been arrested amid a deep political crisis in the Maldives took millions of dollars in bribes in return for issuing a ruling ordering the release of imprisoned politicians that sparked the crisis, the country’s acting police chief said Wednesday.
Police have “proof of these transactions” serving as evidence against Chief justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed, said Abdulla Nawaz, the acting police chief.
The two justices of the five-member court were arrested on Tuesday along with former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who Nawaz accused of bribing lawmakers “to oust the government and also creating dissent within armed forces, encouraging armed forces to rebel against the government.”
Nawaz’s leveled the accusations shortly after the U.N. human rights chief called the declaration of a state of emergency declared for the Maldives by President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and its suspension of constitutional guarantees an “all-out assault on democracy.”
Political turmoil has swept the Maldives since a surprise court the ruling last week that ordered the release of the jailed opposition leaders, including many Gayoom’s main political rivals.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the restrictions imposed on Monday “create a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of the president.”
The Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago but lost much of those gains after Yameen was elected in 2013.
Zeid said in a statement issued Wednesday by his office in Geneva that Yameen “has, to put it bluntly, usurped the authority of the state’s rule-of-law institutions and its ability to work independently from the executive.” What is happening now, he said, “is tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy.”
Zeid’s criticism came a day after the three Supreme Court justices who were not arrested annulled the earlier order to free the imprisoned opposition politicians.
The annulment followed the state of emergency, which gives officials sweeping powers to make arrests, search and seize property and restrict freedom of assembly.
The U.N. and many foreign governments including the United States, Britain and India have expressed concern over the state of emergency and have urged Yameen to respect the earlier court order.
Hours after the emergency was declared, security forces in riot gear stormed the Supreme Court building and arrested the judges. Gayoom, who was president from 1978 to 2008, was arrested the same day.
Nawaz also said police found “piles of cash under the bed” of arrested judicial commission’s administrator Hassan Saeed and said he is accused of “influencing the work of judges by distributing bribes using money gained as bribes.”
Ex-president Mohamed Nasheed said Wednesday on Twitter that Gayoom is not eating in custody and that Ali Hameed has been “ill treated” without providing more details.
The government did not immediately respond to the accusations of Nasheed, who is among the politicians named in the original ruling freeing them. He lives in exile.
The Maldives is an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands with fewer than 400,000 citizens, more than one-third of them living in the crowded capital city, Male. Tourism now dominates the economy, with wealthy foreigners flown to hyper-expensive resort islands.
But it remains, in many ways, a small community. Gayoom, the former dictator, is the half brother of Yameen.
The two men are now political enemies. Nasheed, now the opposition leader, unseated Gayoom in the country’s first democratic elections in 2008. He and Gayoom are now political allies in an opposition alliance.
The country’s main economic driver is tourism and the foreign ministry on Wednesday invited representatives of foreign governments and international groups to visit so they can assess the situation and the Maldives level of safety and security.
Most tourists head to hyper-expensive resort islands. The political turmoil has been limited to the capital of Male, far from many tourist destinations and the statement stressed that no curfew has been imposed.