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.”
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.