MALE, Maldives (Diya TV) – A court in the Maldives has overturned the conviction of former President Abdulla Yameen and canceled his 11-year prison sentence. The High Court declared his 2022 trial unfair and ordered a new trial.

“The lower court ruling was not fair,” stated Judge Hassan Shafeeu while reading out a lengthy decision broadcast live.

This decision comes three days before the Indian Ocean archipelago nation holds a parliamentary election, in which Yameen is fielding candidates from a political party he formed while serving his sentence. Yameen was convicted on two charges when a court found he had accepted a bribe to grant a lease on an islet for tourism development while he was in power from 2013 to 2018.

Thursday’s ruling set that verdict aside. The High Court overturned the prison sentence due to procedural irregularities and ordered a lower court to restart the trial on charges of bribery and money laundering. Yameen is also on trial for separate bribery charges at the court.

Yameen’s co-accused Yusuf Naeem, a businessman who was said to have paid the alleged bribe of $1 million, was also freed. Yameen, 64, had been held at the high-security Maafushi Prison but was transferred to house arrest the day after his ally, Mohamed Muizzu, won presidential elections in September.

While in office, Yameen had borrowed heavily and built thousands of flats and other infrastructure in the nation of 1,192 coral islands scattered some 800 km (500 miles) across the equator. Political observers believe that no party in the country can win an outright majority in Sunday’s elections, and Muizzu may be forced to work with a coalition.

Muizzu has followed in Yameen’s footsteps by strengthening ties with China at the expense of traditional benefactor India. He awarded a string of infrastructure contracts to Chinese state-owned companies last Sunday. That included a US$225 million deal for the Dongfang Electric Corporation to build three fish-processing plants and an airport upgrade by another firm.

An aide to Muizzu told Agence France-Presse he was keen to ensure a parliamentary majority to press ahead with his ambitious infrastructure projects without being stalled by a hostile legislature.

However, he may have to work with smaller parties in the event of a hung parliament. Yameen himself is not contesting Sunday’s vote but is fielding a considerable number of candidates who could end up joining a coalition with Muizzu’s party, sources close to both sides said. Yameen was unable to contest last year’s presidential election because of the criminal conviction, but he supported Muizzu, who came to power promising to free Yameen.

Muizzu had also pledged to get rid of some 89 Indian troops deployed in the Maldives to operate three aircraft gifted by New Delhi. The soldiers are expected to complete their withdrawal by May 15.