COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Two arrested Supreme Court justices and a former president had been plotting to overthrow the government of the Maldives, officials in the Indian Ocean nation said, announcing they had found more than $200,000 in suspicious money in searches since a state of emergency was declared last week in the high-end tourist haven.
Lawyers and opposition leaders quickly rejected the accusations, saying President Yameen Abdul Gayoom was using the state of emergency to weaken his political opponents.
“A proper investigation would not hide under cover of the State of Emergency, or shy away from the clear light of rule of law” Maumoon Hameed, the lawyer for former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, wrote on Twitter. Gayoom, now an opposition leader, was among a group of prominent Maldivians arrested last week.
Hamid Abdul Gaffoor, a spokesman for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, dismissed the accusations. “All you can say is that it’s a big joke,” he said.
A Sunday statement from the president’s office said Gayoom had bribed government officials and judges and encouraged riots. It also said he and the two arrested justices were “attempting to overthrow the government.”
During the searches, “large amounts of cash have been discovered … hidden under a mattress” in the home of a court official, according to a Sunday police statement. Authorities also found a bag with $215,000 in U.S. currency and about $10,000 worth of Maldivian currency belonging to one of the arrested justices, the statement said.
A total of eight people have been arrested, officials said.
Yameen has rolled back many of the democratic gains the Maldives had made in recent years. His government had jailed many opposition leaders and curbed freedom of speech and assembly, with heavy fines imposed on journalists and social media users found guilty of defamation.
Exiled former President Mohammed Nasheed, now Yameen’s main political rival, wrote on Twitter last week that “under the guise of an emergency,” Yameen has gone after groups from the opposition to the media.
Political chaos has shaken the government since early February, when the Supreme Court ordered that a group of imprisoned opposition leaders, including Nasheed, be freed. The government quickly pushed back against that order, eventually declaring a state of emergency and arresting the two Supreme Court justices and other politicians.
But other than a handful of protests in Male, the capital, the country remains calm, with shops and offices open. While a number of countries have urged travelers to be cautious, Male is far from most of the archipelago’s tourist destinations, which are mostly on far-flung islands.