Foreigner acquitted of resort crash deaths flees Maldives after prosecutors seek to withhold passport

A Swedish national acquitted this month of causing a quad bike crash that killed two British tourists has fled the Maldives, even as state prosecutors urgently sought to withhold his passport ahead of a possible appeal.

Filip Eugen Petre was acquitted on September 5 by the Criminal Court of all charges relating to his alleged role in a quad bike accident that resulted in the deaths of British couple Emma and Johnathon Gray at Kuredu Island Resort in August 2011.

According to a leaked communique drafted by the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) and later obtained by Minivan News, the Maldives Police Service – under a court order – returned the passport of the accused in the early hours of September 7.

Just hours earlier, the PGO had sought to file an “urgent appeal” against the decision after concerns that a “serious miscarriage of justice” could occur if the accused was allowed to leave the country without a final decision on whether to appeal his case.

According to the PGO, Petre left the Maldives in the early hours of September 7, the same day of the country’s presidential election.

“The Prosecutor General’s Office was notified at approximately 4:20pm [hours after he was acquitted on September 5] that the accused demanded his passport be returned by the Maldives Police Service,” read the leaked communique.

“As we had not received any document detailing the grounds for the [Criminal Court’s] Judgment, Maldives Police Service was advised by Prosecutor General’s Office to make a written submission to the controller of immigration requesting that the accused’s passport be withheld for 7 days under the immigration Act of the Maldives.”

Minivan News understand that prosecutors were still awaiting a detailed summary of the Criminal Court’s judgement on the case at time of press.

Communication breakdown

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali confirmed this week that he was not aware of receiving any request from the police to withhold Petre’s passport for the seven days.

Minivan News was awaiting a response at time of press to requests for information from Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef to establish if the institution had responded to the PGO’s request to withhold Petre’s passport.

“On September 6, 2013, (which is one day before the Presidential election) a Friday which is usually a public holiday, at approximately 9:00pm, we were informed that the accused had filed a motion in Criminal Court demanding that his passport be released,” wrote the PGO.

“Maldives Police Service was summoned before the Criminal Court and was questioned extensively on the request to withhold the passport. We were informed at approximately 10:08pm that an order was made by Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdullah Mohamed for Maldives Police Service to release the accused’s passport.”

The PGO wrote that it was “mindful” of the challenges of extraditing Petre should the High Court opt to appeal at a later date, particularly due to the absence of a relevant bilateral treaty with Sweden .

“However remote or challenging its enforceability could prove, we would attempt to obtain an order of stay to prevent the release of the accused’s passport for seven days,” read the communique. “[This] would give this office time to receive a summary judgment and to make a preliminary decision to appeal in the High Court and thereby attempt to obtain an assurance of the accused’s return to the Maldives.”

The PGO said that, on September 6, the High Court had accepted a request by Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz to open the court after 10:00pm to try and file a motion to temporarily prevent authorities returning Petre’s passport.

“Due to the lengthy administrative process of opening a state owned building on a public holiday at such a late hour, we decided to request that we be allowed administrative facilities available at Maldives Police Service to prepare an urgent appeal to the High Court to prevent what we strongly believe could be a serious miscarriage of justice given the circumstances,” wrote the communique.

“We were informed of the decision of Maldives Police Service to release the passport of the accused at approximately 12:56am on September 7, 2013.”

“We were also informed by the High Court that we would have to appeal the judgment of Criminal Court, which is a near impossibility as we had no documentation on the grounds for the acquittal except for handwritten notes taken by the prosecutor during judgment hearing. The High Court requested that we make the submissions the next morning.”

According to the PGO, whilst working on an appeal later that morning – election day in the Maldives – the office was informed by the Maldives Police Service at 10:54am that Petre had left the country at 01:25am.

“We have requested Criminal Court for the case report and we shall review the case for all possible avenues of appeal, despite the possible challenges of having the accused appear before the high court in the event of such an appeal,” added the PGO.

Previous hearings

Petre’s case was reported to have come to standstill in March this year, as the Criminal Court awaited responses from the parents of the deceased, regarding their preferred form of punishment for the accused.

However, both police in the UK and the respective families of the deceased insisted at the time that the families respective decisions had been submitted and then re-submitted to the court.

Petre’s acquittal was said to have been based on the argument that prosecutors had failed to prove the accused had driven the quad bike linked to the incident, according to the PGO.

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

Then 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.

The father of the accused – Kureudu Island Resort resort shareholder Lars Petre – in a statement previously published in Minivan News also admitted that his son had been driving the quad bike on which the couple had been riding.

Judge Yousuf was later dismissed from his post pending disciplinary hearings into his conduct, with Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed presiding over the case on February 2, 2013, according to the PGO.

“On September 5, 2013, a hearing was scheduled in criminal court at 11:00am presided by Judge Abdullah Didi. The Judge questioned whether there was anything further to be said in the matter by either the State or the accused,” the PGO claimed.

“Thereafter, the state was questioned as to explain the basis for the criminal charge. Our Prosecutor explained in great detail as to what had transpired in the hearings so far and also highlighted the fact that the accused had admitted to driving the quad bike and that the Court had ruled that the accused could not retract the admission. The judge questioned the accused whether he was driving the quad bike and the accused refused to answer the question.”

Judge Didi then pronounced on September 5 that as the accused had denied the charges, the burden was upon the prosecution to prove the case. He then held a second hearing the same day to acquit Petre.

Seeking culpability

Contacted this week over the details of the leaked communiqué, Robert Oldfield, a relative of Emma and Johnathon Gray, told Minivan News that the families of the deceased had been left disappointed by Petre’s acquittal.

Oldfield stressed that both families did not believe there had been any “malice” resulting in the incident that killed the couple.

However, based on previous admissions in court that Petre had been driving the quad bike, he had hoped that the country’s courts would establish Petre’s culpability for the deaths.

“He [Petre] should have held his hands up and admitted he was driving the bike that has resulted in the death of two people and left their child an orphan,” Oldfield said. “To my mind, it’s the cowards way out,” he added after being informed that Petre has since left the country.

Oldfield reiterated that the families of the deceased had not wanted the accused to face any severe or long-term action, but had nonetheless wished to see justice served in relation to outlining responsibility for the crash.

Jonathan Gray’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.”