High Court frees drug kingpin Shafaz citing insufficient evidence

The High Court has freed ‘drug kingpin’ Ibrahim Shafaz Abdul Razzak today, stating that evidence submitted by the state for trafficking charges was insufficient.

Reversing the Criminal Court’s 18 year jail term and fine of MVR75,000, the High Court questioned the authenticity of documents submitted by the state claiming to prove Shafaz had transferred large amounts of money gained through drug trafficking.

Shafaz was arrested in June 2011 with 896 grams of heroin after the two year long ‘Operation Challenge’. At the time, the Maldives Police Services labeled Shafaz a high profile drug dealer suspected of smuggling and supplying drugs since 2006.

The police claimed Shafaz’s network had smuggled drugs worth MVR1.3 million (US$84,306) to the Maldives between February and April 2011.

In today’s ruling, the High Court noted that the state had failed to provide transaction records to substantiate claims that Shafaz transferred large sums of money to a Sri Lankan national through Western Union and A.G.E Emporium, and that  records from Western Union did not display any official seals or marks.

The court also said the state had failed to provide proof that evidence gathered regarding Shafaz’s money transactions was obtained legally, i.e. through court orders.

Additionally, the court noted that records of money transactions were dated from 2006, but phone call recordings and transcripts between Shafaz and the Sri Lankan national were from 2011, with the result that the relationship between the two pieces of evidence was weak.

Citing Article 24, Article 51, and Article 52 of the Constitution which guarantee the right to privacy including private communications and the rights of the accused, the High Court said any evidence obtained by unlawful means is inadmissible in a court of law.

Corruption charges

The Criminal Court had sentenced Shafaz in November 2013. He was released temporarily for medical treatment in Sri Lanka in February 2014, but failed to return to the Maldives after the allocated three month period. The Sri Lankan police caught Shafaz in Colombo and extradited him to Maldives in May 2014.

Last month, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) revealed that six senior government officials conspired to allow Shafaz to leave the country despite no evidence that he required urgent medical care that was not available in the Maldives.

The ACC investigation found that former Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Hanim personally paid a visit to a doctor’s home to obtain a signature confirming that Shafaz required urgent medical care abroad. However, the ACC said Shafaz had not consulted a doctor in the week before his release.

Hanim, who is now the deputy minister of environment, also oversaw the illegal preparation of Shafaz’s travel documents and allowed him to leave the country without obtaining formal approval from the Maldives Correctional Service’s (MCS) medical board.

The investigations also revealed former Commissioner of Prisons Moosa Azim had lobbied the medical board to approve Shafaz’s release despite knowing his paperwork was incomplete.

In addition to Hanim and Azim, the ACC has recommended corruption charges be filed against two members of the medical board, a technical officer at Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), and a staff member at the MCS.

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Drug kingpin Shafaz appeals conviction at High Court

Convicted drug trafficker Ibrahim Shafaz Abdul Razzak has appealed his drug trafficking charges at the High Court, reports local media.

At the first hearing yesterday, Shafaz’s lawyer argued that the trial at the Criminal Court was conducted in a prejudiced and unfair manner.

The defence attorney, Aminath Shezleen, noted that the verdict did not specify the type of drugs Shafaz was accused of trafficking with reference to the appendix of the Drugs Act.

While the conviction was based on a phone call recording, Shezleen said the audio was submitted as evidence without a chain of custody report from police as required by regulations.

The state attorney, however, defended the validity of the report and noted that both sides were allowed to question experts at the trial concerning the analysis report of the phone recording, adding that Shafaz had not denied that it was his voice in the incriminating audio.

Concluding the hearing, the three-judge panel asked for submission of both the chain of custody report and the recording of the phone conversation.

The judges announced that a second hearing would be held after considering the evidence.

The Criminal Court had sentenced the 30-year-old to 18 years in prison in November 2013 and levied a fine of MVR75,000 (US$4,860) for drug trafficking.

In February, Shafaz was temporarily released for three months to seek medical treatment said to be unavailable in the Maldives.

However, following media reports suggesting the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) violated procedures in authorising his release, Shafaz was caught in Colombo in May and brought back to the Maldives to serve his sentence.

Shafaz was arrested on June 24, 2011, with 896 grams of heroin from a rented apartment in a building owned by ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem.

Former head of the Drug Enforcement Department, Superintendent Mohamed Jinah, told the press at the time that police had raided Henveiru Fashan based on intelligence information gathered in the two-year long ‘Operation Challenge’.

Jinah labeled Shafaz a high-profile drug dealer suspected of smuggling and supplying drugs since 2006.

He claimed that the network had smuggled drugs worth MVR1.3 million (US$84,306) to the Maldives between February and April 2011.