The Criminal Court on Thursday morning acquitted Abdulla Algeen Abdul Gayoom, half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, of corruption charges more than three years after the trial began.
Algeen, younger brother of MP Abdulla Yameen, was accused of embezzling US$177,460 of Japanese funding from the Department of Meteorology (DOM), where he was the Director.
Algeen allegedly sent three separate invoices to the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) between May 2006 and April 2007 on behalf of DOM.
All three invoices demanded payment to Algeen’s personal Bank of Maldives account.
In the verdict (Dhivehi) acquitting Algeen today, Judge Abdulla Didi ruled that the state could not prove that the money in question was owed by JAMSTEC to the government.
The first hearing of the corruption case was held on June 9, 2009 with Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed presiding. The second hearing took place over a year later on July 1, 2010.
Newspaper Haveeru reported on March 4 this year that the case was further delayed after the presiding judge was changed for a third time.
After the case changed hands from Judge Abdulla Mohamed to Judge Zubair Mohamed, it ended up with Judge Abdulla Didi, who held his first hearing of the case on March 4.
The local daily reported the judge as saying that although the trial had been completed and witnesses heard, he wished to hear the case again as there were certain points to clear up.
Prior to Judge Didi restarting the case, the last hearing was held on October 19, 2011 where the trial was concluded with closing statements.
Concluding the new hearings on April 11, 2012, Judge Didi had said he would issue a verdict in two weeks.
The case against Algeen
In August 2007, Minivan News reported leaked documents showing JAMSTEC was funding a two year DOM research project into the oceanography and meteorology of the Indian Ocean.
In a Memorandum of Understanding signed in early May 2006, JAMSTEC agreed to meet “all expenses incurred in connection” with the project.
Later that month an agreement was signed requiring JAMSTEC to transfer $92,000 dollars to the DOM. In April 2007, the agreement was renewed for a year, with a payment of $70,000 required.
Both the 2006 and 2007 agreements require JAMSTEC to transfer money to a “bank account… designated by DOM.”
Algeen was the sole signatory on behalf of DOM for both agreements.
He issued the $92,000 dollar invoice on May 22, three days after signing the 2006 agreement, and the $70,000 dollar invoice on April 8, 2007, the same day he signed the 2007 agreement. A third invoice for a balance amount of $13,248.34 was issued on 22 December, 2006.
All three invoices were issued on DOM letterheads and the two most recent had Government of Maldives stamps. The bank account quoted was Algeen’s personal one.
“Wiping the slate clean”
Following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, the Criminal Court dismissed corruption charges against Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim and Eydhafushi MP Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem.
On February 20, the Criminal Court ruled that Nazim could not be prosecuted on charges of defrauding the now-defunct Ministry of Atolls Development, in the purchase of 220 harbour lights worth MVR1.95 million (US$126,000) in 2004.
Nazim, leader of the People Alliance (PA), along with MP Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem (then-finance director at the ministry) and Abdullah Hameed, former Atolls Minister and half brother of Gayoom were charged in late 2009 on multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the Atolls Ministry.
Eight days after Nazim’s case was dismissed, the Criminal Court acquitted MP Saleem – now a member of former President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – of involvement in the scam.
Following the verdict, the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) accused President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik of being controlled by supporters of former President Gayoom, who were “intent on purging the People’s Majlis of MDP MPs and MDP-leaning MPs in order to secure a controlling majority.”
“Recent days have seen cases against three MDP-supporting MPs fast-tracked in order to disqualify them from parliament while serious corruption charges have been dropped for opposition leaning MPs,” the party said in a statement, noting that MP Saleem’s case had been “unreasonably delayed in the court process since 2009.”
On February 20, the Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling disqualified MDP MP for Thimarafushi constituency, Mohamed Musthafa over a decreed debt and stripped him of his seat.
“While in government, MDP consistently maintained that key parts of the judiciary are in the hands of the supporters of former President Gayoom. Now we are seeing the truth of that claim. Dr Waheed regime is using the courts to settle old scores, to reduce MDP’s parliamentary majority and to wipe the slate clean for government supporters,” MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said at the time.