Fifteen suspected drug kingpins loose, President reveals

Some 15 suspected drug kingpins arrested on charges of drug trafficking are loose in society and “there’s no way to even know when they will face trial,” President Mohamed Nasheed revealed in his weekly radio address on Friday.

Speaking from Dhidhoo in Haa Alif Atoll during a tour of Thiladhunmathi, President Nasheed expressed concern with suspects in high-profile cases released from detention while they were awaiting trial.

“Since the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) can only press charges after the investigation is complete, a long period [spent on investigation] provides the opportunity to influence witnesses, change their testimony and produce false testimony,” he explained.

Among other main challenges for securing convictions, said Nasheed, “it is also a problem when scientific and other kinds of evidence has no weight due to the absence of rules or guidelines to assess evidence presented to trial and the crime is not proven in major cases.”

Moreover, he continued, suspects arrested with large amounts of cash were not required to account for the money while Criminal Court judges often issued inconsistent rulings in similar cases.

As drug-related cases are heard only by the Criminal Court in Male’, Nasheed observed that a large backlog of cases was pending and “[suspects] have the opportunity to repeat the offence until the trial date”.

He added that it was important to amend the law to allow island courts to try local drug dealers.

The Criminal Court meanwhile issued a two-page press release the day after the President’s remarks dismissing criticism of the courts as having “no legal weight” and stating that “trying to shift the blame to another every time you are faced with something is not responsible.”

The constitution assured all citizens the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, the Criminal Court statement noted, “therefore all should believe that everyone brought before the court on suspicion of committing a crime cannot be detained and that everyone who faces criminal charges cannot be found guilty.”

The court also noted that lower court rulings, court orders and verdicts could be appealed at the High Court.

“The court does not consider the seriousness of the allegations against a person,” it reads. “The court considers the evidence presented against the person. Submitting evidence is not something the court does. What the court does is assess and weigh the evidence presented.”

The Criminal Court referred to article 49 of the constitution, which states that, “No person shall be detained in custody prior to sentencing, unless the danger of the accused absconding or not appearing at trial, the protection of the public, or potential interference with witnesses or evidence dictate otherwise. The release may be subject to conditions of bail or other assurances to appear as required by the court.”

The court also reiterated a recurring complaint that according to court records a number of suspects brought before the court had previously been sentenced to long jail terms and “no authority of the state could prove that even one of these people had been released to society on a Criminal Court order.”

Top six

Speaking to islanders of Dhevvadhoo on May 2, 2009, President Nasheed said that the identities of the top six drug dealers in the country were known to the government.

However, he added that the arrests would be viewed as politically-motivated because they included members of the opposition. Nasheed’s remarks were made a week before the parliamentary elections.

Press secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News at the time that arresting the six would effectively stop the supply of narcotics into the Maldives.

Of the six, who were responsible for “budgeting, importing and distributing” drugs, some had fled the country, he said, and Interpol had been notified.

Meanwhile, according to police statistics, the number of reported drug-related cases declined in 2010 from 2,484 in 2008 and 2,366 in 2009 to 1,618 last year. The Drug Enforcement Department (DED) investigated and forwarded 844 cases for prosecution.

However overall conviction rates were low – of the 17,854 cases closed in 2010, 3323 were sent to the PGO. Of these, 1108 were sent back and 776 ended in convictions. Only 75 convictions were recorded from cases begun in 2010.


Police seize Rf184,000 drug haul during two day crackdown

The Maldives Police Service has announced the seizure of illegal drugs with a suspected value of Rf184,000 (US$14,431) during a two day period late last month.

The drugs were found during three separate cases recorded by authorities between 30 January and 31 January.

Among these cases, police said they arrested a person at GMR Male’ International Airport’s domestic terminal on 31 January who was said to be carrying 20 bullet sized packets containing illegal narcotics as well as four small packets of cannabis.

According to the police, the airport officers on duty at the time said they has discovered the drugs during a search of the suspect.

The Police claimed that the street value of the illegal drugs found on the individual would fetch up to Rf100,000 (US$7,843).

The second case was related to a report received by police intelligence that led to a search of Mahchangolhi Kulhafilaage for drugs and the discovery of eight bullet-sized packets of suspected illegal drugs.

The Police Service said that upon searching garments in the house, 53 packets of suspected illegal drugs were discovered stored inside the pocket of two shirts as well as another two bullet sized packs.

Inside short pockets in the house, police said they additionally found packets containing suspected illegal drugs.

Police officers who searched the house also reported finding two 500ml life water bottles filled with alcohol and seven other packets containing illegal drugs on an individual.

The Police Service said that two men were arrested in connection to the case, which resulted in drugs with a value of Rf50,000 (US$3,921) being found.

In another case reported over the two day period, police intelligence said they had acted over reports that a person aboard a boat travelling to Velidhoo in Noonu Atoll was carrying drugs and conducted a special operation in collaboration with the Velidhoo police station.

Police said the suspect had thrown away a bag when he saw the police, but it was later retrieved and checked in his presence.

Seven plastic packets of narcotics, a can of cannabis and other materials linked to drug use were found inside it.

Police said the street value of the drugs found in the third case would be approximately Rf34,000 (US$2,666)


Judge claims “suspicious issues” with evidence reason for alleged drug lord’s aquittal

Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed has cited “suspicious issues” relating to the evidence presented by the Prosecutor General’s office as reason for the acquittal of Hussein Mohamed.

Hussein was labelled by the government as one of the top six drug dealers in the country, prior to the court finding him innocent of  importing drugs. He was arrested at the airport on April 9, 2009, where police alleged he was awaiting the arrival of a couple carrying a drug shipment.

Judge Mohamed said the evidence presented was inadequate to rule Hussein guilty.

Hussein was the first to be arrested of the six people President Mohamed Nasheed has previously labeled as the top six drug dealers in the country.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem described the verdict as “regrettable”, adding that the PG’s office would consider its options once it received the case report from the court.

The second of the six arrested, Adam Naseer, was also ruled innocent by the Criminal Court after police searched his home in Addu Atoll on June 30, 2009, where they found over Rf6 million (US$461,500) in cash and a tin containing drugs outside his house.

Naseer was arrested several days later on July 2, 2009.  However, the Criminal Court ruled that he was innocent because evidence presented by the Prosecutor General’s office was inadequate, and failed to prove that the money found with Naseer was obtained through drug dealing.


US Pacific Command visiting the Maldives

President Mohamed Nasheed met with the National Security Act Assessment team of the US Pacific Command who are visiting the Maldives.

The meeting took place at the President’s Office yesterday, where they focused on formulating a national defense and security plan.

President Nasheed said the main areas concerning national defense and security are terrorism, piracy in the Western Indian Ocean and drug trafficking.

The US Pacific Command, led by Army Attaché to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Smith, said they would assist the Maldives in further strengthening the national security framework.