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Maldives court frees opposition leader convicted of bribery

MALE, Maldives (AP) — A court in the Maldives freed an opposition leader on Monday, setting aside a lower court’s conviction for bribery.

The High Court, in hearing an appeal by Qasim Ibrahim, said there were procedural violations by the Criminal Court in convicting him.

Ibrahim, a political party leader and businessman owning a chain of tourist resorts, was sentenced to more than three years in prison last year after he joined forces with the opposition in trying to unseat President Yameen Abdul Gayoom. He was accused of offering to fund re-election campaigns of government lawmakers in return for voting for an opposition-sponsored no-faith motion against the parliamentary speaker.

Ibrahim was among many opposition politicians, former allies and officials jailed by Yameen’s administration after trials criticized for being politically motivated and for alleged due process violations.

Ibrahim was ill at the time of his conviction and went into exile in Germany following heart surgery in Singapore and only returned home earlier this month after Yameen’s presidential election defeat.

Opposition alliance candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih defeated Yameen in the Sept. 23 presidential election. Yameen challenged the result in the Supreme Court, citing alleged vote rigging, malpractice and corruption. But the top court dismissed his petition Sunday.

Since Yameen’s election defeat, the court also freed former strongman and Yameen’s half brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was imprisoned for not cooperating with police investigating an alleged plot to overthrow the government.

Former Vice President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who was Yameen’s running mate in the 2013 election and later fell out with the president, also returned home from exile after the election.

Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, is scheduled to return on Nov. 1 despite a pending 13-year prison term.

The Maldives became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule. But Yameen has rolled back many of the democratic gains since being elected in 2013.

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