The Criminal Court refused to allow journalists to observe today’s hearing of the ongoing corruption trial of Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim, who is facing charges of multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the former Atolls Ministry.
Local daily Haveeru and Sun Online reports that the hearing was scheduled to start at 12:00pm but was conducted one hour earlier at 11:00pm. The court did not inform any of the reporters who registered at the court this morning of the time change.
According to Haveeru, court reporters who learned of the time change and requested entry were told that “the judge has decided to hold a closed hearing.”
Asked by the reporters to offer a reason for the closed hearing, the court official asked the reporters to wait, went inside and did not appear until the hearing was over.
Almost two hours after the hearing concluded, Criminal Court Media Officer Ahmed Mohamed Manik told the court reporters that they were not allowed to enter because “negative perceptions of the court were being created [among the public] because of some journalists.”
Manik was not responding to Minivan News at the time of press.
Queried by the court reporters, the Criminal Court official insisted that the judge was authorised to exclude the public from trials under article 42 of the constitution.
Article 42(c) states that, “Trials of any matter shall be held publicly, but the presiding judge may exclude the public from all or part of a trial in accordance with democratic norms: 1. in the interests of public morals, public order or national security; 2. where the interest of juveniles or the victims of a crime so require; or 3. in other special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.”
However, according to Haveeru, a member of the public was allowed to attend today’s hearing. Under normal court procedure, only trials involving child sexual abuse are closed to the public.
The Criminal Court has since issued a press statement explaining that the judge decided to hold a closed hearing “because the reporters allowed in to the hearing on May 24, 2011, gave the false depiction of the court to the public and because the court believes this depiction could obstruct the course of justice.”
Nazim meanwhile appeared at court today after reportedly failing to comply with eight summons during the past few months.
The minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) parliamentary group leader is facing four counts of conspiracy to defraud to the Atolls Ministry, which were first identified in an audit report of the now-defunct ministry.
Following an investigation into the claims in the report, at a press conference in August 2009, Chief Inspector Ismail Atheef said police had uncovered evidence that implicated former Atolls Minister Abdullah Hameed, Eydhafushi MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, former director of finance at the ministry, and Nazim in a number of fraudulent transactions.
Police exhibited numerous quotations, agreements, tender documents, receipts, bank statements and forged cheques showing that Nazim received over US$400,000 in the scam.
A hard disk seized during a raid of Nazim’s office in May 2009 allegedly contained copies of forged documents and bogus letter heads.
Police maintained that money was channelled through the scam to Nazim who laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies.