DRP Leader Thasmeen settles MVR 1.9 million debt owed to Deputy Speaker

Running mate of incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan and Leader of the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has settled a debt of MVR 1.9 million (US$ 124,513) owed to the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim, the Civil Court has announced.

Deputy Speaker Nazim filed a court case at the Civil Court in March 2011 against the DRP Leader to recover the money – which is the remnant of a loan worth MVR 2.55 million (US$200,000) given by him to Thasmeen.

In April 2011, the Civil Court ordered the then-opposition leader to pay back the sum to the court in installments within a period of six months until the repayment was complete.

Sitting Judge Hathif Hilmy also ordered Thasmeen to pay Nazim MVR 1,800 (US$140) incurred as lawyer’s fees, based on a rate of MVR 300 (US$19.45) per hearing. Nazim had however claimed MVR 100,000 (US$6,485.08) in compensation for lawyer’s fees.

Following the verdict, Thasmeen appealed the case at the High Court. The High Court upheld the Civil Court ruling but invalidated the order concerning the payment of lawyer fees.  The case was presided by now-suspended-High Court Chief Judge Ahmed Shareef, Judge Abdulla Hameed and Judge Ali Sameer.

Despite the High Court ruling, Thasmeen had not paid the debt which forced Nazim to file another lawsuit in Civil Court requesting the court to enforce its previous verdict that was upheld by the High Court.

Civil Court subsequently issued a court order freezing the bank accounts of Thasmeen and withholding his passport – preventing him from leaving the country. During the hearings, Thasmeen’s lawyers told the court that they were preparing to appeal the High Court ruling at the Supreme Court.

However, the Civil Court judge responded that the civil case would proceed until such a time when the Supreme Court decides to hear the appeal.

In an announcement made on Wednesday (July 3), the Civil Court said that since Thasmeen has paid the court the sum of money, the court order freezing his bank accounts and withholding his passport will cease to have its effect.

Meanwhile former MP for Thimarafushi Constituency Mohamed Musthafa has filed a case at the Supreme Court requesting the apex court to declare the seat of Thasmeen in parliament vacant, over the unpaid debts.

As per the Maldivian constitution, “a person shall be disqualified from election as, a member of the People’s Majlis, or a member of the [parliament] immediately becomes disqualified, if he has a decreed debt which is not being paid as provided in the judgment.”

The former opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP – who lost his own seat through a Supreme Court ruling over unpaid debts – said Thasmeen’s seat is already deemed vacant as he had failed to pay in accordance with the court order.

Musthafa contested that even if Thasmeen repays the money, he would still lose his seat.

The former MP filed the case on the same precedent that unseated him from his seat, where the Supreme Court in 2012 concluded that Musthafa was constitutionally ineligible to remain in the seat over his failure to pay the debts.

Should the Supreme Court rule in favour of Musthafa, apart from losing his seat Thasmeen would face serious complications in becoming the running mate of a presidential candidate since the same constitutional prerequisite – to not have a decreed debt that is not being paid as ordered by a court – applies to those contesting for the position of president and vice president.


Deputy Speaker Nazim “mastermind” of scam to defraud atolls ministry: state prosecutors

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim was the “mastermind” of a scam to defraud the now-defunct Ministry of Atolls Development, state prosecutors told the High Court today.

Attorneys from the Prosecutor General (PG’s) Office claimed at today’s appeal hearing that Namira Engineering Private Limited – of which Nazim was a former board director – had won bids from the atolls ministry with fraudulent documents and paper companies.

The prosecutors argued that the MP for Meemu Atoll Dhiggaru, as a board director, was ultimately responsible for any corrupt dealings involving the company.

Contacted by Minivan News for comment today, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim said he was “too busy to comment on the matter”.

In February 2012, the Criminal Court dismissed four corruption charges against Nazim. The decisions came just days after the controversial transfer of power on February 7 that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed to office, with the court ruling that Nazim’s “acts were not enough to criminalise him.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office (PG) however appealed the rulings at the High Court in June 2012.

The appeal

During the first hearing of the appeal today – concerning Nazim’s Namira Engineering Private Limited winning a bid to provide 15,000 national flags – state prosecutors accused the defendant of setting up paper companies for the scam.

The bogus businesses were then used to win bids for projects worth several hundred thousand dollars, the state prosecutors argued.

State Prosecutor Abdulla Raabiu contended that board directors of a company should be liable for criminal transactions carried out in the name of a company under the Companies Act of Maldives.

Raabiu also asserted that Nazim was the “mastermind” behind the fraud and had fully benefited from the deal.

Highlighting apparent lapses during the previous trial against Nazim, Raabiu alleged that the Criminal Court had refused to hear witnesses produced by the state, referring instead to previous statements they had given to the police.

Furthermore, he stated that the court had dismissed the state’s witnesses as suspects of the same crime.

Raabiu argued that it was a familiar practice for the prosecution to withhold charges against suspects with lesser degrees of criminal liability in order to ensure successful prosecution of a prime suspect in a criminal case.

The prosecution said it believed the prime suspect would have a greater degree of criminal liability in the same case.

The state prosecutor also alleged that the case had been decided based solely on Nazim’s word and that the court had refused to give the opportunity to the state to prove its case against the defendant.

Requesting an order for a retrial, Raabiu claimed that the case was concluded in violation of the constitutional stipulation demanding equity in hearing both sides of a case.

The defence

Responding to the allegations by the state, Nazim’s defence counsel Aishath Shizleen contended that it should not be Nazim, but those involved in drafting the bid documents that should be held liable.

Instead of prosecuting the real wrong-doers, she argued, the state had produced them as witnesses against Nazim even when the investigation had clearly found the witnesses had themselves produced the fake documents.

Furthermore, Nazim’s lawyer argued that a witness needed to have certain standards as per a Supreme Court ruling, which had explicitly stated that evidence given by a witness who had even the slightest involvement in a crime could not be accepted to the court.

The lawyer said that the stipulation was also prescribed in the Quran.

This, she said, was the reason for which the Criminal Court had decided to reject the witnesses produced by the state. Nazim’s defense counsel requested the High Court to declare that the decision reached by the Criminal Court was valid and that no retrial was required.

Scam allegations

Along with Deputy Speaker Nazim, MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem (then-finance director at the ministry) and Abdulla Hameed, former Atolls Minister and half brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, were charged in late 2009 on multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the Atolls Ministry.

The scam – first flagged in an audit report released in early 2009 – involved paper companies allegedly set up by the defendants to win bids for projects worth several hundred thousand dollars, including the fraudulent purchase of harbour lights, national flags and mosque sound systems.

According to the report, the documents of Malegam Tailors, the company which won the bid, showed that it shared the same phone number as Namira. Fast Tailors, another company that applied, also shared a different phone number registered under Namira.

The other company Needlework Tailors, which submitted the bid had an employee of Namira sign the documents under the title of general manager, while the fourth company named ‘Seaview Maldives Private Maldives’ did not have any record of its existence, according to the report.

However, the auditors had noted that the Seaview bid documents had an exact date error also found on Fast Tailors documents.  According to the auditors, the error was sufficient to prove the same party had prepared both company’s bids.

The prosecution began in late 2009, after police uncovered evidence that implicated Hameed, Saleem and Nazim in a number of fraudulent transactions.

At a press conference in August 2009, 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 letterheads. Police alleged that money was channeled through the scam to Nazim, who then laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies.


Nasheed’s legal team files High Court case to defer trial until after elections

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team filed a case with the High Court today (March 24) regarding the deferment of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court criminal case until after the September presidential election.

Nasheed is facing criminal charges over the controversial detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during the last days of his presidency.

Nasheed’s legal team previously requested the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court delay the trial until the end of the scheduled presidential elections in 2013, and in a separate request, asked the Hulhumale’ court for a delay in proceedings by four weeks, during the March 7 Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing.

At the same hearing, state prosecutors said they did not object to delaying the trial until presidential elections scheduled for September this year are over.

The Hulhumale’ court dismissed the request to delay the trial until the end of the elections, but agreed to withhold it for four weeks, stating that the panel of judges by majority “had decided to proceed with the trial”.

Nasheed’s lawyers subsequently contested the decision, claiming that continuing the trial could compromise the rights of many people, arguing that Nasheed was the presidential candidate of the largest political party in the country, the MDP.

However, the court stated that Nasheed’s claim he was the presidential candidate of a political party lacked legal grounds to support it, as presidential candidates were decided by the Elections Commission after it opened the opportunity to file presidential candidates.

Filing of presidential candidates is expected to take place in July.

High Court case submission

Nasheed’s legal team submitted a case to the High Court at approximately 10:20 this morning (March 24) to defer the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court criminal case until after the September presidential election, MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy told Minivan News.

“Now the court has to formally accept the case, which will happen at a later date,” stated Fahmy.

“We expect that prior to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing, the High Court should have a decision and will ask the lower court to halt the case,” he added.

Nasheed’s legal team confirmed with Minivan News that the case has been submitted to the High Court.

“This is not an appeal. We submitted a case to the High Court for the deferment of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court case until the election is over,” said one of Nasheed’s lawyers, Hifaan Hussain.

“The court accepted the documents, but we are waiting for the court to accept and register the case,” she explained.

Hussain explained a reply from the High Court will likely be issued within three days and once the case is accepted it should take about a month to complete.

She expects the High Court to grant the deferment of lower court’s case against Nasheed until the presidential election is over.

President Nasheed’s Spokesperson MP Mariya Didi is also confident the High Court will grant the deferment.

“The prosecution has said they have no objection to deferment of the trial until after the elections,” Didi stated.

“I don’t see any reason why the court should not grant deferment when the prosecutor has no objection to it,” she added.

Politicising  justice

The MDP maintain that the charges are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent Nasheed from contesting elections in September, and have condemned the former President’s repeated arrest on the court’s order by squads of masked special operations police.

Speaking during a party rally held earlier in March, President Nasheed stated that the four-week break granted by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court until the next hearing was an opportunity for state institutions to decide on the matter.

“Delaying trial for just four weeks has no meaning. There is no reason for it nor does it help anyone. We want the trial to be delayed till the elections are over. [The prosecution] gave one month and said that they did not object to further delays,” Nasheed told his supporters.

Nasheed said that it was very clear that charge of arresting the judge was not a charge against him alone, but several others as well.

He also warned that if the magistrate court issued a verdict that would bar him from contesting the elections, a lot of people would rise up against the decision and trigger a “very dangerous political insurgency”.

Didi also highlighted the large number of Maldivians continuing to support Nasheed, speaking with Minivan News today.

“It is clear that 46,000 Maldivians have decided President Nasheed is their presidential candidate. Our campaigns show that President Nasheed will win the elections with a clear majority.

“The coup has set us back not only with regard to democracy and human rights, but in regard to investor confidence and development.

“Our international development partners have also urged the government to take account of the wishes of the people and to hold an inclusive election with – as the European Union put it – the chosen candidate of MDP Mohamed Nasheed being able to contest the elections.

“We cannot waste another five years with a government that lacks a democratic mandate,” Didi declared.

Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court legitimacy questioned

During the early-March MDP rally, Nasheed also criticised the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) stating that the problem with Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was not just the panel of judges. He alleged that the JSC had formulated the bench and have now been forcing administrative staff of the court to do specific things to impact the trial.

Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee has been investigating the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, specifically the appointment of judges by the JSC.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim told local media on Friday (March 22) that a notice had been sent to Gasim Ibrahim – who is a Majlis-appointed JSC member and also the presidential candidate for Jumhoree Party (JP) – regarding a case to remove him from his JSC post.

The parliamentary committee summoned all members of the JSC to attend the committee on Wednesday (March 20) to face questions regarding the manner in which judges were appointed to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench.

Another committee meeting is scheduled to take place tonight (March 24).

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, also raised concerns over the politicisation of the JSC during her investigative visit to the Maldives this February.

As part of a wider review of the Maldives justice system, Knaul claimed that the JSC – mandated with the appointment, transfer and removal of judges – was unable to perform its constitutional duty adequately in its current form.

As well as recommendations to address what she said were minimal levels of public “trust” in the nation’s judicial system, Knaul also addressed matters such as the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed is currently facing trial for his detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court last year, charges he claims are politically motivated to prevent him from contesting presidential elections later this year.

Knaul maintained that the former president, like every other Maldivian citizen, should be guaranteed a free and independent trial.