Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom was accused of corruption and stifling dissent and the media during his time in office.

The former leader had recently been moved to house arrest.
The former leader had recently been moved to house arrest. (Reuters)

Maldives' former president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has been freed from house arrest after a top court overturned a money-laundering and embezzlement conviction.

After an appeal by Yameen, a three-member Supreme Court bench ruled on Tuesday there was insufficient evidence in the original case.

The judges said the evidence given at the initial trial had discrepancies and did not conclusively prove that Yameen had laundered $1 million in state money for personal gain.

Hundreds of supporters of Yameen's Progressive Party of Maldives gathered outside his residence in the capital Male after the verdict was announced.

Yameen was sentenced to five years in jail and fined $5 million in 2019 for embezzling $1 million in state funds, allegedly acquired through the lease of resort development rights, and laundering the proceeds. 

Because of Covid-19, his jail term was shifted to house arrest.

READ MORE: Maldives arrests ex-leader over alleged corruption

Return to politics?

The overturning of the verdict is a key moment in Maldives' often-turbulent politics, as Yameen is now free to conduct political activities and even contest the next presidential election.

Yameen, who served as Maldives' president from 2013 to 2018, is best known for drawing the country closer to China, invoking the ire of traditional ally India.

During its five years in power, Yameen's government regularly jailed opponents or forced them into exile.

He played a major role in ousting the archipelago's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, who fled into exile before returning in 2018 when Yameen unexpectedly lost power in a national election.

READ MORE: Solih sworn in as Maldives president, replaces pro-China leader

Source: TRTWorld and agencies