Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed has taken over the alcohol smuggling and possession trial of Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) leader MP Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam.
Citing a letter sent from the criminal court secretariat to Judge Ahmed Sameer Abdul Aziz, who was previously overseeing proceedings, Haveeru has reported that the action was taken in response to a letter from the Supreme Court.
The decision has come amid media reports that Judge Aziz was to be replaced with Judge Shujau Usman after a request from government coalition leader Shiyam
According to the court spokesperson, the action was taken following complaints regarding the case, and was done under Article 55 (e) of the Judicature Act.
The article specifies that it is the responsibility of the senior judge in superior courts to “take action in relation to delays and other complaints related to cases submitted to the court”.
Shiyam request allegedly stated that Judge Aziz’s “hand gestures and facial expressions” indicated a personal grudge against him which could lead to an unfair trial.
According to reports, in addition to making the request for the removal of Judge Aziz from the Criminal Court and Supreme Court, Shiyam wrote a letter to Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz stating his belief that his complaints regarding the judge had further increased the risk of receiving an unfair trial.
In a letter addressed to the chief justice, which was acquired by the media, Shiyam was reported to have said he had received reports that the judge may be “considering a hastened and strict verdict” against him.
Denying reports that the case had already been handed over to a new judge, the court today said it still remains with Chief Judge Abdulla.
Shiyam was charged with smuggling and possession of alcohol in March 2012 after customs officers at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) discovered a bottle of alcohol in his luggage.
The case remained in the investigation stage for a year after the Prosecutor General’s Office sent it back to the police in August 2012 citing a lack of necessary information.
Since the trial began in November 2013, the Criminal Court has cancelled four scheduled hearings after being unable to deliver the summons chit to Shiyam.
He appeared before the court for the first and the only hearing held in the case on March 13 this year after a court order was issued to bring him before the court under police custody. Shiyam denied the charges and requested more time to research the case.
The second hearing in the trial has been rescheduled three times, the most recent instance occurring earlier this week.
In late March, CNM reported that Judge Abdulla – prior to the official schedule date for the second hearing – had attempted to hold an unofficial hearing while judge Aziz was on leave.
If found guilty Shiyam could lose his seat in parliament as per Article 73(c)(2) of the constitution which states that members of the parliament will be disqualified upon receiving a criminal sentence of more than twelve months.
Meanwhile, a hearing in the trial of Shiyam’s brother, Ahmed Salim Mohamed, for disobedience to order have also been cancelled this week, on the same date Shiyam’s latest delay.
Haveeru reports that Chief Judge Abdulla has on several occasions asked presiding Judge Muhtaz Hussein to hand the case over to him, though the court informed Minivan News today that this has not yet happened.