Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed presides over second hearing in Shiyam trial

Chief Judge Abdula Mohamed has today presided over the hearing of Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) leader MP Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam, after taking over the case last week.

Abdula Mohamed responded to the points taken by MP Shiyam’s attorneys, who said they had no witnesses that they would like to call after the prosecution had produced five witnesses, including the officer who detected the bottle and other customs officials, reported Haveeru.

Abdulla took over Shiyam’s alcohol-smuggling trial after the defendant had requested the change – suggesting that Judge Aziz’s “hand gestures and facial expressions” had indicated a personal grudge against him in the first hearing.

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.

Prior to the recent change, the trial has experienced multiple delays, with today’s hearing only the second to be completed.


Senior PPM official files Supreme Court case against Elections Commission

The Supreme Court is to hold the first hearing into a case against the Elections Commission (EC) filed by a senior member of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

PPM Appeal Committee member Ahmed Zaneen Adam filed a case against the EC with the Supreme Court on Monday (August 26), requesting the court order an independent audit of the commission’s IT systems to “ensure they are credible”, and to order state security forces to “ensure the election does not face any undue influence”.

Adam claimed the case was filed in his “personal capacity” and not on behalf of his party – who have denied knowledge of the case.  The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has disputed this claim.

Adam’s submission also requested the court determine whether the voter re-registration process had been conducted fairly, and asked the court to order the EC to place a copy of the original electoral register – signed by all presidential candidates – in all polling stations.

The Supreme Court has accepted the case and scheduled the first hearing at 2:00pm on Thursday (August 29).

“I have not been informed whether the party has submitted a case to the Supreme Court concerning the competency of the Elections Commission’s work,” PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News today.

Nihan claimed that the party was cautious of backing any action that could compromise the election scheduled for September 7.

“I certainly believe that we do not want to take any action that would halt the election. We have to be very careful going forward,” he said. “We will have to wait to see if anything is submitted.”

The Supreme Court hearing follows a series of recent complaints against the EC issued by both the PPM and Jumhoree Party (JP).  The PPM claimed last week their concerns had gone “unaddressed” and they would seek a legal resolution against the Commission.

PPM vice presidential candidate and former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed is heading the party’s legal team concerning the issues it has raised against the EC.

PPM trying to delay elections: MDP

“The PPM wants to delay elections or have the Supreme Court intervene to do so,” said MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy.

“I haven’t seen PPM conducting nationwide campaigning. They just started conducting door to door campaigning two weeks ago,” Fahmy continued. “They are delayed or not ready for elections at all.”

Fahmy alleged that the PPM would have known Adam was filing a case against the EC and that Adam would not have acted without the party’s consent, given his leadership role.

“As a member of PPM’s Appeals Committee, he would not have taken action without the PPM’s consent and approval,” he said.

“If Adam were a member of an MDP committee and wanted to take legal action in a personal capacity, the party would not allow that,” he added.

Fahmy said be believed the PPM would not succeed in delaying the presidential election considering the EC was constitutionally established as an independent commission and had successfully carried out every democratic election in the country since its inception.

“The Commission has already set the date for elections, all the preparations have been made, the voter registry list has been completed, and political parties – especially the MDP – are ready for elections,” he noted.

“The Supreme Court should reject the PPM case because it is not within their mandate to stop elections, they should not intervene,” Fahmy continued.

“People all over the Maldives are ready for the election. If something unexpected happens it will be a really big issue that people will not accept at all. I don’t think the Supreme Court will take that action,” he added.

MDP to enter the fray

The MDP today submitted a petition to the Supreme Court to join the case as a third party. However, the court rejected this application due to a “technical problem”, Fahmy stated.

He explained that the court had asked for more details in the paperwork, despite the documents submitted by the PPM not being provided.

The MDP’s legal team plans to re-submit the appropriate paperwork tomorrow morning in a process one party lawyer said can be completed in minutes.

“We will submit our application to join the case as a third party tomorrow morning. MDP not only has an interest in the case, but a jurisdictional right to join the case,” he continued.

“There are no grounds for the PPM to question [the EC’s work] by submitting a case against them. They have conducted their work and dispersed information very transparently,” he added.

Elections Commission Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz, and PPM vice presidential candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed had not responded to requests for information at time of press.


Elections Commission to draw lots to determine candidate order on ballot paper

The Elections Commission (EC) has confirmed lots will be drawn next Sunday (July 28) to determine the order presidential candidates’ names will appear on voter ballots, unless a case questioning a candidates’ legitimacy is filed with the Supreme Court, reports local media.

The deadline for presidential-hopefuls to file their candidacy was 2:00pm yesterday (July 24) EC President Fuwad Thowfeek told local media.

There is a five day window, beginning the day a candidate registers with the EC, that cases regarding the legitimacy of a presidential candidate can be filed with the Supreme Court, according to local media.

The five day period has passed for cases to be filed against Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) former president and current presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed as well as President Mohamed Waheed, who is contesting as an independent, according to Sun Online.

However, cases can still be submitted to the Supreme Court against Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP and presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen, as well as resort tycoon and Leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP) Gasim Ibrahim, as they filed their candidacies with the EC Monday (July 22).

Assuming no cases are filed with the Supreme Court, lots will be drawn Sunday to determine the order presidential candidates’ names will appear on voter ballots, said Thowfeek.

In the event a case is filed against a presidential candidate, the Supreme Court must issue a verdict within seven days, according to CNM.


Uncertainty over 2011 case of British couple killed in resort quad bike accident

The Criminal Court has said it still requires statements from the parents of a British couple killed in a quad bike accident at Kuredu Island Resort in 2011.

Swedish national Filip Eugen Petre, a son of a shareholder in Kuredu Island Resort, is currently facing trial for his alleged role in crashing a quad bike carrying British nationals Emma and Jonathon Grey at Kuredu on August 6, 2011.

The case is at a stand still as the court awaits responses from the parents of the deceased, regarding the preferred form of punishment for the accused.

However, both police in the UK and the respective families of the deceased have both insisted that the families decision has been submitted and then re-submitted to the court.

Earlier today, Director of the Department of Judicial Administration Ahmed Maajid, contacted the Criminal Court media official on behalf of Minivan News for more information on the case.

“The Criminal Court media official, Mr Manik, told me that the trial hearings are now over. However, the court is currently awaiting statements from all of the family members regarding the preferred form of punishment for the accused. Only then will there be a final verdict,” Maajid claimed.

In October, 2012, Maajid told Minivan News that the court was awaiting a response from only of the victim’s family in regard to the accused’s punishment.

“A Criminal Court media officer tells me that what remains in the case is to obtain the word of the family of one of the victims, as to whether they want a sentence of execution, or blood money or to forgive,” Maajid told Minivan News back in October.

Minivan News attempted to contact the Criminal Court media official today, but he was not responding to calls or text messages throughout the day.

Maajid, when asked to clarify the information in relation to the previous comments made by courts, said that the official from the Criminal Court had later found more information regarding the case.

“Criminal Court has said they have a statement from the mother of the deceased man. But they have not received one from the father of the man, or either of the parents of the deceased woman,” Maajid claimed.

Under Islamic law, the family of the victim is given the option to sentence the accused to execution, blood money or to forgive them.

A relation to the deceased told Minivan News today that their statements had been submitted multiple times on different occasions to the courts.

According to the relation, the last the family had been told by the court was that the final verdict of the charge would be delivered at the next scheduled hearing.

“On the last hearing, which was held on February 27, closing arguments were given by the state and the defense. The judge has stated that the final verdict of the charge would be delivered at the next scheduled hearing.

“Furthermore, in the same hearing the court indicated that, they would contact the families of the deceased if they find there is a need to do so,” the relative said the family had been told.

UK police re-submit family requests

In October 2012, UK police were made to resubmit requests from the relatives regarding the punishment.

A relation of the Grays confirmed to Minivan News in October 2012 that neither victim’s family had received any official notification from the Maldivian courts themselves.

The UK police however, through a family liaison officer, confirmed that their Maldivian counterparts were informed “months ago” of the families’ preferred sentence.

“The police have said that they are going to re-submit the issue to the Maldives police today,” claimed the relation.

“That’s what is holding up the case right now, [the police] do not seem to have forwarded this information to the courts.”

The relative added that while they did wish to see some form of punitive sentence for the driver if he was convicted, they did not want any severe or long-term action to be taken against the defendant.

“He’s just a young guy. We don’t want to see his life ruined,” the relative said.

Jonathan Grey’s mother Cath Davies told UK-based newspaper the Halifax Courier in March 2012 that the prospect of Petre facing the death penalty was “shocking. It’s absolutely horrendous.”

Previous hearings

In previous hearings, the prosecution claimed that the charge of ‘disobedience to order’ Petre stands accused of resulted from his decision to carry people on a vehicle which was not intended for passengers.

The prosecution contended that his criminal action began from the moment he allowed the couple to ride with him on the vehicle.

Presiding Judge Abdul Baary Yousuf declared in court during earlier hearings that Petre’s lawyer had himself confessed during the trial that his client had driven the quad bike carrying Emma and Jonathan Gray as it crashed on the tourist property.

As a result of this confession, the judge said the state did not have to produce any evidence to prove Petre was the driver of the vehicle during the collision.

Representing the prosecution, State Attorney Aishath Fazna also contended that because Petre had “confessed” to driving the quad bike, she did not believe the state had to produce evidence to support this assumption.

However, Petre’s lawyer Areef Ahmed responded at the time that his client had not directly confessed to driving the quad bike and argued that his client continued to deny the charges against him.

Areef additionally claimed that the judge could not declare a verdict regarding the alleged confession said to have been during the previous hearing.

Areef contended that his confession could be withdrawn before the case reached to a conclusion, but the state attorney argued that after confessing in the trial, there was no way it can be withdrawn.

Petre’s lawyer has also contended that his client could not be charged under Islamic Sharia because his client is non-Muslim.


High Court upholds Civil Court injunction against investigation of Judge Abdulla by judicial watchdog

The High Court today upheld a Civil Court injunction against the Judicial Services Commission (JSC)’s investigation of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed.

Abdulla Mohamed was a central figure in the downfall of former President Mohamed Nasheed, following the military’s detention of the judge after the government accused him of political bias, obstructing police, stalling cases, links with organised crime and “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist” to protect key figures of the former dictatorship from human rights and corruption cases.

Abdulla Mohamed obtained the Civil Court injunction against his investigation by the judicial watchdog in September 2011, after it produced a report stating that he had violated the Judge’s Code of Conduct by making a politically biased statement in an interview he gave to private broadcaster DhiTV.

The JSC appealed the injunction on January 24, claiming that the Civil Court had disregarded the commission’s constitutional mandate which allowed it to take action against judges, and argued that the court did not have the jurisdiction to overrule a decision of its own watchdog body.

The commission further argued the Judge Mohamed did not have the authority to seek the injunction preemptively as the commission had not yet taken action against him.

The JSC had therefore requested the High Court to terminate the injunction, citing contradictions to legal and court procedures.

However presiding High Court Judge Dr Azmiralda Zahir contended that the commission had not provided the court “any reason to terminate the injunction”.

Zahir further observed that the High Court would be violating the court procedures if it decided on the injunction before the Civil Court had reached its own verdict in the case.

She also added that that JSC could not establish a connection between the Civil Court’s injunction and jurisdiction of the court, and concluded it is not a reasonable argument to terminate the injunction.

Therefore, she ruled that the judges who evaluated the case had found no grounds to change the civil court’s injunction.

Former President’s member on the JSC and whistleblower Aishath Velezinee for several years contended that Abdulla Mohamed was a central, controlling “father figure” in the lower courts, answerable to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and a key figure responsible for scuttling the independence of the judiciary under the new constitution.

“When Abdulla Mohamed [was arrested by Nasheed’s government] I believe the opposition feared they were losing control over the judiciary, and that is why they came out on the streets. If you look at the so called public protests, it was opposition leaders and gang members. We did not see the so-called public joining them – they were a public nuisance really,” Velezinee observed, in a recent interview with Minivan News.

“For nearly three weeks they were going around destroying public property and creating disturbances. It wasn’t a people thing – we can say that. We locals – we know who was there on the streets. There is footage and evidence available of it. We’ve seen the destruction they were causing in Male’ every day.”

Following the arrest of the judge, Nasheed’s government appealed to the international community – in particular the Commonwealth, the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) and the UN – for assistance in resolving the spiralling judicial crisis. A Commonwealth team arrived in the Maldives the day before Nasheed’s government was overthrown after a group of police sided with opposition demonstrators, attacking the military headquarters and seizing control of the state broadcaster.

Velezinee bemoaned the local and international focus on the arrest of the judge rather than the decline of the institution that led Nasheed’s government to such desperate interference in the judiciary.

“To the international community [the protesters] were a crowd of people – and to them that’s the public. It’s a public protest to them. But it was not. We need to consider who was involved in the free Abdulla Mohamed campaign. These are the same people I have previously accused of covering up and being conspirators in the silent coup,” Velezinee told Minivan News in an interview in February.

The first complaints against Abdulla Mohamed were filed in July 2005 by then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed – now Dr Waheed’s political advisor – and included allegations of misogyny, sexual deviancy, and throwing out an assault case despite the confession of the accused.

Asked in February this year whether he was satisfied with the investigation into the judge’s conduct and the action taken since his complaints in 2005, Dr Saeed replied that “under that constitution [President Gayoom] was the head of the judiciary. So it was my legal and moral obligation to raised that issue with him, which I did.

“I did not know if it was followed up. Obviously if there are issues it has to be resolved in accordance with the established laws and institutions.”

During the same interview, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan said it was “for the judiciary to decide what to do with him, not for me.”

“I don’t want to interfere in the judiciary. I want our constitution to be respected, and work with everybody to make our constitution work. This is a new constitution, and it is the first time we are trying it out. And so there are difficulties in it. We need to find ways of solving it. It is time for us to work together, and if there are problems with the judiciary we need to work together to solve them – they are intelligent good people in the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).”

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) last week summoned former President Mohamed Nasheed, former Home Minister Hassan Afeef, and former Defence Minister Tholath Ibrahim for questioning over their detention of the judge. It had promised to conclude the investigation by April.


Gayoom to pursue defamation case against Miadhu, Hashim and Naeem over NYT article

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has confirmed he is pursuing legal action against newspaper Miadhu, after it reported that the New York Times had published a story containing allegations he embezzled US$400 million during his time in government.

Spokesman for Gayoom, Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, confirmed that Gayoom was also building a case against Finance Minister Ali Hashim, who was quoted in the NYT article, and former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, upon who’s 2009 report the article was largely based, as well as the proprietor and managing editor of Miadhu.

Contrary to earlier reports, Gayoom was not seeking to sue the NYT or the author of the article, Matthew Saltmarsh, Mundhu said.

“I think that’s been misinterpreted, we have no interest in Saltmarsh,” Mundhu said.

“We don’t know him but we’re sure he’s a good journalis, and the NYT is obviously reputed and widely circulated globally,” he said, adding that Gayoom’s response had been to send a letter the NYT editor.

Mundhu noted that according to the NYT article, the journalist Saltmarsh had claimed he attempted to contact Gayoom for his side of the story.

“Mr Gayoom was not in town, but has confirmed he received no calls, either to himself or his secretary,” Mundhu said. “I too was not in town, but my Maldivian mobile was switched on. Mr Saltmarsh says he could not get through, but there was not even an email or a message.”

Mundhu said he did not believe such an article was justified without a right of response, and that Gayoom had written to the NYT editor requesting a right of reply, or a correction.

“This is not the first time we’ve come across issue. We can only ask for the right to respond and the opportunity to put forward our point of view – our letter serves that purpose and there is no need to take Saltmarsh or the NYT to court.”

Mundhu said Gayoom was more concerned with the story being reported in the local media.

“We want to address [the matter of] the ruling party’s engineering of the article for political benefit,” he said.

The foundation of the NYT article was the former Auditor General’s report, he said, “and the Auditor General has been discredited – by the Anti-Corruption Commission, not just us. The report doesn’t stand to scrutiny.”

But he added that comments made by Finance Minister Ali Hashim in the NYT report did not come from the Auditor General’s report – “this US$400 million [alleged embezzlement] is something he’s conjured up in the Haruge (MDP headquarters),” Mundhu said.

“The issue is that whether as a former president or an individual, Mr Gayoom has rights, a family and a reputation to protect.”

Miadhu’s Managing Editor Abdullah ‘Gabbe’ Latheef said he would “be glad to go to court”, and that “already three international journalist associations have offered support and want to send observers to the hearings.”

“Until a court rules that the Auditor General’s report was fabricated, the media has a right to report it – it is a public document. Until then, the media can write about it five times daily if they wish,” he said.

Latheef added that he was looking forward to the opportunity the court case would provide to open the orginal audit reports to public review.

“Then everyone will understand where the US$400 million has come from,” he claimed. “Some people misunderstand the government budget – when you include the private-public companies, such as STELCO, Dhiraagu and MIFCO, US$400 million is nothing.”

Latheef said he believed the local media had done a “responsible job” in reporting the NYT story, “as the NYT is the number one newspaper in the world and is a credible source. There’s no obligation on us to clarify all the facts that the NYT has reported, because it is such a credible source. What about when the Israelis attacked the aid flotilla recently? Should we have gone to Israel to check all the facts for ourselves? No – we have to rely on credible sources, and the NYT is not an anonymous blog.”

“Gayoom is used to attacking people who speak out against him. They used to be taken to jail, now they are taken to court. Maybe one day he will invite them to coffee on the beach,” Latheef said, adding that “there are a lot of diplomats here who are very scared the media will die off because of threats like these.”

Speaking yesterday at the Commonwealth’s media development workshop, Attorney General Husnu Suood acknowledged that if an article was published in the Maldives, even if the source was from abroad, the onus was still on the particular journalist to prove its truth.

“But there are defences available,” Suood noted. “In the regulation on defamation there are certain defences – one is the the defence of truth. In this particular instance, if you are relying on figures given by the government’s Auditor General, then I think that might be a defense.”

Hashim had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.