Court postpones delivering verdict in Siyam alcohol possession trial

The Criminal Court has postponed a hearing scheduled today to deliver a verdict in MP Ahmed ‘Sun’ Siyam Mohamed’s alcohol smuggling and possession trial, reports local media.

At the last hearing in July, Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed had said the verdict would be delivered at the next trial date. The court has confirmed that a hearing scheduled for today has been cancelled, but did not provide an explanation.

The chief judge had taken over Siyam’s case in May after the MP for Dhaalu Meedhoo requested a change of judge.

In June, two witnesses for the prosecution testified to finding a bottle of alcohol in Siyam’s luggage. Both were customs officers.

The government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) leader was charged with smuggling and possession of alcohol in November after a liquor bottle was found in his luggage in March 2012.

The bottle was discovered in the tourism tycoon’s bag when it was screened at the airport upon his return from a trip overseas.

The penalty for alcohol possession in the penal code is either a fine of between MVR1,000 to MVR3,000 or imprisonment, banishment or house arrest for up to three years.

Siyam’s MDA formed an alliance with the now-ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in August to back PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen.

In March 2012, an audio clip of a conversation between Siyam and Yameen was leaked on social media, in which the pair aired grievances against PPM leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.


Home Minister Umar Naseer’s trial concludes at Criminal Court

Home Minister Umar Naseer’s trial at the Criminal Court on charges of disobedience to order after calling for protesters in January 2012 to storm military barracks has concluded today.

After hearing closing statements, Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed reportedly said the verdict would be delivered at the final hearing if there were no further matters for clarification.

The Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office is charging Naseer with violating Article 8 (a) of the General Laws Act of 1968 for calling on anti-government protesters in January 2012 to storm the military headquarters with 50 ladders.

The clause prohibits speech or writing contravening Islamic tenets.

According to local media, the prosecution presented video footage of Umar’s remarks as evidence at today’s hearing, while Naseer contended that his remarks were open to interpretation and could not therefore be the basis for pressing charges.

If convicted under Article 88 of the penal code, Naseer faces imprisonment, banishment or house arrest not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding MVR150 (US$10).

Judge Abdulla Mohamed had taken over the case after Naseer requested a change of judge in letters to both the chief judge and Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz.

The request came after Judge Abdulla Didi refused to accept a procedural point raised by Naseer in the previous hearing in June.

Naseer had asked Judge Didi to annul Article 8 (a) of the General Laws Act on the grounds that it contradicted the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.

Didi ruled, however, that Naseer’s claim does not classify as a point of procedure. Naseer’s lawyer Adam Asif meanwhile refused to proceed with the trial until Didi’s decision on the procedural matter was issued in writing. Didi then said he took Naseer’s refusal to proceed with the trial as a refusal to speak in his own defence.

He adjourned the hearing after allowing the state to present video evidence of Naseer’s speech, and said he would hold one more hearing for concluding statements and issue a verdict in a final hearing.

On June 12, Didi had also issued an arrest warrant ordering the police to present Naseer at the court after he missed three consecutive hearings while overseas on official business.

A similar request for a change of judge was granted to Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) Leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam in May after the resort tycoon objected to the manner of the presiding judge in his alcohol smuggling trial.

Disobedience charges

On January 23, 2012, Naseer told anti-government demonstrators in front of the Maldives Monetary Authority building that they should use tactics to tire out the soldiers on duty before climbing into the military barracks, at which point “the people inside will be with us.”

“From today onward, we will turn this protest into one that achieves results,” Naseer had said.

“We know how people overthrow governments. Everything needed to topple the government of this country is now complete.”

After he was questioned by the police in September 2012, Naseer told the press that “there will be no evidence” to prove he committed a criminal offence.

Naseer was appointed Home Minister on a cabinet slot allocated for the Jumhooree Party (JP) on a now defunct coalition agreement with ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Two other ministers appointed on JP slots have switched to the PPM and its ally MDA following the dissolution of the coalition.

Meanwhile, following this defeat in the PPM primary to Yameen last year, Naseer held a rally in which he alleged widespread vote rigging and accused the PPM presidential candidate of illicit connections with gangs and the illegal drug trade.

Naseer also implicated Yameen in MP Dr Afrasheem Ali’s death, claiming he had witnessed a meeting between Yameen and an individual who was under investigation for Afrasheem’s brutal death.

The PPM expelled Naseer after he refused to apologise for his comments.


Criminal Court asks PG to revise charges against Maleesha Hajj Group owner

The Criminal Court has asked the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office to revise charges pressed against Ismail Abdul Latheef, the owner of Maleesha Hajj Group, claiming the charges filed against him were incorrect.

The PG has alleged that Latheef had fraudulently obtained MVR 8 million (US$519,000 ) from many people after they made payments to the Maleesha Hajj Group to travel to Mecca to perform Hajj.

Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed told the PG’s lawyers that the case related to the rights of many people and that the result of the lawsuit might be different if the trial was carried out in its current state, according to local media present at the court today.

The Court has given a three day period for the PG to revise the charges against Latheef.

Attending the Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Clients of the company were not able to go to Mecca this year to perform the religious obligation.

Latheef was arrested in Colombo, Sri Lanka in November 2012, a month after police issued an Interpol red notice to locate and apprehend him. Authorities were reported to have arrested Latheef while he was in the Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo.

Hajj groups are authorised by the government to provide transport and accommodation for pilgrims in Mecca, as well as offering guidance in helping them complete the religious rituals.

Latheef’s father is the head of the Athama Hajj Group.


High Court overturns Criminal Court’s July 2010 suspension of senior police officers

The High Court on Tuesday overturned the Criminal Court’s suspension of two senior police officers in July 2010, ruling that Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed’s decision to bar Superintendent Mohamed Jinah and Inspector Mohamed Riyaz from the court for six months was unlawful.

The pair was suspended after they appeared in court over the detention of then-opposition MPs Abdulla Yameen, Ahmed Nazim and Gasim Ibrahim on charges of bribery and treason.

The suspension for alleged contempt of court was appealed at the High Court by the Attorney General’s Office on July 21, 2010.

Police meanwhile filed a complaint against the chief judge at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) alleging “obstruction of high-profile corruption cases.”

The JSC has however not completed an investigation of the complaint to date. The case is among 168 complaints that the commission has yet to conclude as of December 2011, according to the JSC annual report for 2011 (Dhivehi).

In January 2012, the JSC revealed that there were 11 complaints filed at the commission against Judge Abdulla Mohamed, including allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

Procedural fairness

In its judgment on Tuesday (Dhivehi) – more than two years after the case was registered – the High Court ruled that the administrative action against Jinah and Riyaz was neither procedurally fair nor in accordance with regulations on holding persons in contempt of court.

A police media official told Minivan News at the time that court had “sent a letter signed by the Chief Judge of the court to Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh. The letter did not mention any specific reason [for the suspensions], only ‘ethical grounds’.”

The High Court noted that the Criminal Court did not reply to a letter from the Maldives Police Service – sent two days after receiving the letter from the Criminal Court on July 11 informing the Police Commissioner of the suspension – seeking clarification concerning the unprecedented action.

Police had asked the court to clarify the date the hearing in question took place, the nature of the contempt allegedly exhibited by the pair or the alleged violation of ethical codes, whether it had taken place outside the hearing and whether the police officers were given any warning prior to the administrative action.

While article 43 of the constitution guarantees the right to “administrative action that is lawful, procedurally fair and expeditious,” the High Court noted that due process was not followed by the Criminal Court as the officers were not informed either of the reasons for the action or “the date of the incident”.

The High Court ruling also referred to article 68 of the constitution, which states, “When interpreting and applying the rights and freedoms contained within this Chapter, a court or tribunal shall promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, and shall consider international treaties to which the Maldives is a party.”

“Obstruction of investigations”

Appearing on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) on July 17, 2010, then-Deputy Commissioner of Police Ismail Atheef explained that Jinah and Riyaz had appeared in court on July 9.

However, the letter from Chief Judge Abdullah Mohamed informing police of the suspension was received two days later on July 11.

“If someone is in contempt of the court, action has to be taken immediately according to provision five of the court regulations,” he noted.

Atheef added that the detectives were not given any warning nor had their conduct in court been noted by the journalists who were present.

“So when this letter came to us, the way police interpret it is that this is an obstruction specifically of our investigation,” he claimed.

It was the first time that police officers were suspended from the Criminal Court, Atheef said.

The former Deputy Commissioner contended that the suspension was a deliberate obstruction because Riyaz and Jinah, as the two lead detectives and top police lawyers, would have had to appear at court to seek an extension for MP Nazim’s detention.

Meanwhile, Jinah was among a number of senior officers assaulted by mutinying police inside the police headquarters before the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, 2012.

Following the police mutiny at the Republic Square and violent clashes with military officers, Jinah was handcuffed and taken to the Dhoonidhoo detention island.

Local media reported this week that Jinah was demoted from the rank of chief superintendent to superintendent on November 19.

Jinah was reportedly demoted over remarks he made to the media following the arrest of Gassan Maumoon, son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

However, in June this year, the Civil Court ruled in favour of Jinah in a case filed by Gassan claiming violation of his basic rights by the superintendent. In October 2011, Gassan was arrested on suspicion of hurling a wooden block into a crowd of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protesters outside the former president’s residence.

While the former head of the Drug Enforcement Department (DED) has reportedly decided to leave the Maldives Police Service, police have said the request made last month has not yet been granted as the disciplinary board was investigating a case involving the senior officer.


Yameen rejects VP’s request that judge be released and suspended

Parliamentary group leader of the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Mulak constituency MP Abdulla Yameen has rejected Vice President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s request that Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed be released from military detention but suspended from the Criminal Court bench until all charges against him have been cleared by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).

The JSC was tasked with investigating allegations against the judge last year, however its efforts were blocked by a Civil Court ruling. The Judge was arrested by Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) on January 16, 2011, after attempting to block his own police summons.

Speaking against the government’s order to have the judge arrested, the Vice President first stated his opinion on Saturday, January 21. He gave a press conference the following day, asserting that the judge’s detention was unlawful.

After questioning by police yesterday, Yameen rejected the Vice President’s statement as “unacceptable”, local media reports.

While PPM does not wish to interfere with the JSC’s investigation, Yameen argued that it should be conducted within the boundaries of law.

Since the judge’s arrest PPM and other opposition parties have led protests outside the Maldive Monetary Authority (MMA), the closest point to the no-protest zone surrounding the President’s Office and government buildings.


JSC is the right authority to investigate Chief Judge: Vice President

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed has requested the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) suspend Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed from the bench while complaints against him remain standing.

“Male’ is in crisis and many are being affected, property is being damaged,” he said during a press conference today at the President’s Office, requesting opposition parties and politicians end their political bickering and “give time” to sort out the judiciary.

Judge Mohamed was arrested on Monday, January 16 by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) following a request by police, and is being held in a military training facility on Girifushi. The Vice President this weekend expressed his discontent with the government’s detention of the judge drawing complaints from public officials.

“[I am] ashamed and totally devastated by the fact that this is happening in a government in which I am the elected the Vice President,” Dr Waheed wrote on his blog.

“Besides all the international legal obligations, the government of the Maldives is bound by the Maldives Constitution 1988 which prohibits arbitrary arrest and forced disappearance. We have just witnessed the first possible violation since the dawn of democracy in our country. I cannot understand why this is not an issue for everyone in this country,” he explained.

The European Union has also chosen to “reiterate their support for the process of democratic transition in the Maldives and note the importance of the principles underlying that transition, including respect for the constitution, due process, independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and freedom of expression are central to this process,” read a statement.

The President’s Office maintains that the arrest was made lawfully, and that constitutional reform is not a major concern. “At the moment the Constitution is not in crisis, the President is fulfilling his role as a guardian to uphold the Constitution,” said Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair.

President Nasheed yesterday urged the JSC to investigate complaints against members of the Judiciary and take due disciplinary actions, including recommendations for dismissal, as obstructions to justice are a threat to national security and public safety.

While Dr Waheed’s position came a surprise to the ruling party, he said he has “had discussions with President [Mohamed] Nasheed and expressed my views. I am very sorry if my comments have disappointed anyone,” he said, but insisted that they were “sincere and impartial”.

Judge Mohamed was last year charged with professional misconduct, and was consequently to be investigated by the JSC. However, the Civil Court ruled against the JSC’s investigation.

Minivan News asked whether this raised concern that the JSC could not be depended on to carry out a fair investigation.

“I believe the JSC is the right authority to investigate this case”, he said, indicating that suspending the judge would prevent a repeat of last year’s events, “because as you can see [keeping him on the bench during questioning] has created more disruption than we all had bargained for.”

Urging cooperative dialogue and noting that “conflict resolution is not a new thing”, Dr Waheed made three recommendations to resolve the current political crisis: release the judge, end the ongoing opposition-led protests in Male’, and require the JSC to fulfill its duties.


High Court overturns Criminal Court suspension of MP Imthiyaz

The High Court yesterday ruled that the suspension of lawyer and MP Imthiyaz Fahmy for six months by Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed for alleged contempt of court in February 2010 was unlawful.

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Maafanu North had appealed the decision in May 2010.

The three-judge panel of the High Court found that the suspension violated principles of procedural fairness and due process for declaring persons in contempt of court.

The judges noted that while the suspension was reported in local media the following day, Imthiyaz was not officially informed of the sanction until March 9, 2010.

Existing regulations however required that contempt of court must be declared either immediately during proceedings or established in a separate trial after offering the opportunity for the contemnor to answer the charge of contempt.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Imthiyaz observed that Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed faced multiple allegations of misconduct and political bias.

“Whatever do you expect again from a judge whom in fact the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has decided to take action against for his ethical misconduct?” he asked.

“This judge has a history of such issues. And never have I heard of a judge other than this judge who was in contempt of court by calling his own court ‘a political campaign camp’. One fatal flaw in the judiciary is that judges like him still sit in court.”

In 2005, then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed forwarded to the President’s Office concerns about the conduct of Abdulla Mohamed after he allegedly requested that an underage victim of sexual abuse reenact her abuse for the court.

In 2009 following the election of the current government, those documents were sent to the JSC, which was requested to launch an investigation.

“A good judge would always work towards priding himself on his ability to make good quality decisions but Judge Abdulla Mohamed seems to pride himself on something else,” Imthiyaz contended.

“In fact, if anything goes well in his court, it happens quite by chance.  And this is inevitable since the independence of judges was not well served by the vetting process that took place in August 2010 by the JSC. There are in fact criminal convicts sitting in courts as judges. The amended constitution does not allow for kangaroo courts like this.”