New high court judges raise concern as jailed ex-president alleges executive influence

The promotion of two criminal court judges who presided over the widely criticised sentencing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed to 13 years in jail has raised concerns of corruption and executive influence over the judiciary.

Judges Abdulla Didi and Sujau Usman were appointed to the High Court on Monday, just ten days after the Supreme Court overturned a High Court ruling, which had noted several flaws in the new regulation on selecting judges to the appellate court.

The High Court took issue with the awarding of points on educational qualification and work experience, and with the final secret vote among Judicial Services Commission members to decide appointees.

Minivan News’ attempts to clarify the educational qualifications of Judges Didi and Usman, or the outcome of the evaluation of candidates were unsuccessful.

The High Court said it had not yet received information of the two judges, while Latheefa Gasim, the only JSC member who responded to calls, said the ten-member commission will have to make a decision on the issue.

Minivan News understands that Didi and Usman hold degrees in Islamic Shari’ah and law, a two-year accelerated degree course established at the College of Islamic Studies specifically for judges without higher education.

Usman, who had previously served as a magistrate judge in Gaaf Alif Villingili had been accused of corruption in 2010 for reportedly pocketing MVR 56,600 ($3670) for travel expenses he had not made. The criminal court in the same year dismissed charges.

President Nasheed’s lawyers in a statement yesterday said Didi and Usman’s transfer is a “blatant attempt to strengthen President Abdulla Yameen’s grip over the judiciary.”

Foreign governments and international bodies, including the UN, have noted the criminal court did not give Nasheed adequate time to prepare a defence, barred him from calling defence witnesses, and at times, denied him legal representation.

The pair’s transfer comes at a time when the government has insisted Nasheed must appeal his 13-year jail sentence at the High Court. But lawyers maintain the government has blocked them from filing an appeal.

Didi, Usman and Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf also sentenced ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim to 11 years in jail on weapons smuggling charges. The retired colonel has filed an appeal, the high court has said the pair will not oversee the appeal.

Hassan Fiyaz, a lawyer who contested the JSC regulation to appoint high court judges said: “I am concerned over the regulation as well as the selection of the judges. I believe there are qualified lawyers or judges in Maldives. But there are no chances for them here to work in judiciary.”

Other candidates who had filed for the two vacant positions are: civil court Judge Mariyam Nihayath, who holds a masters in law from a U.S. university; Aishath Rizna, the UNDP’s assistant representative who also holds a masters degree from a U.K university; Hussain Mazeed, who holds a degree from a Malaysian University; and Aishath Sujoon, a former civil court judge who holds a masters degree from an Australian university. Sujoon withdrew her name later.

A prominent lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, also objected to the JSC drawing up new regulations for new appointments.

“This time they’ve favored people with experience more. They also drew up a new regulation, which for me, raises the possibility the JSC wanted specific people to elected,” they said.

The JSC’s new regulation awarded block 30 points to candidates with ten years of experience as a judge.

Some critics said the criteria does not differentiate between judges who have more experience. Others said the criteria does not do justice to the relatively young, but highly qualified people in the legal sector.

Another lawyer, who represents clients at the high court, said: “We need highly qualified people who can do complex research for cases. We can’t do research in Dhivehi. So a judge, especially a High Court judge should be fluent in at least English or Arabic. I believe Didi and Usman do not have that basic qualification.”

The High Court said the criteria appeared to grade candidates on the title of their degrees. For instance, a candidate who had a combined degree in Islamic Shariah and Law received 25 points, while candidates who had done a degree in law would receive 20 points, even though the latter may have studied the same number of modules in Islamic Shar’ah as the former.

The High Court also noted an individual who had done a degree in common law or Islamic Shariah, and held a masters, would receive 25 points, the same as an individual who had just done a degree in Islamic Shariah and common law.

Photo by Vnews. Published with permission.


Judicial watchdog criticised over 12-member trip to Thinadhoo

A former member of the judicial watchdog has called a 12-member trip to the south for training purposes “unnecessary and for personal interests.”

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) team, which includes six commission members and a criminal court, Judge Abdulla Didi, left to Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo on Wednesday for a training session for magistrates and to investigate several cases, a JSC official said.

The total number of people in the delegation is nine, the JSC has said. But the Thinadhoo council confirmed that a total of 12 people with the JSC delegation met with the council yesterday.

A former JSC member, Shuaib Abdul Rahman, said the commission’s decision to leave Malé with a 12-member delegation despite hundreds of pending cases was “unacceptable.”

“A substantive number of people are saying the criminal court has handed out unfair verdicts [against ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim],” he said.

“The commission has the power to investigate issues on their own initiative. So ignoring what is important and leaving with a 12 member team to an atoll is unacceptable.”

The criminal court has been criticised for lack of due process in the sentencing of Nasheed to 13 years in jail and Nazim to 11 years in jail on terrorism and illegal weapons charges, respectively.

In 2014, the JSC conducted four trips to the atolls to present appointment letters to magistrates. Members also went on two international trips to Zambia and China.

Shuaib said only one or two members were sent to the atolls for investigation during his term at the JSC.

“It is totally unnecessary to put together a team that large. This probably includes personal interests,” he said.

JSC’s media officer Hassan Zaheen dismissed the criticism and said: “The commission is conducting training programs to magistrates about some criminal proceedings.”

He also defended Judge Didi’s presence on the training trip, saying “Judge Didi was a former member and a Criminal Court Judge. I see him to be fit for the purpose and there are no legal barriers.”

Didi was the presiding judge in Nasheed’s trial, and sat on the three-member panel in Nazim’s trial.

The judicial watchdog, formed in 2008, has 111 cases pending, a majority of which relates to the integrity of judges. Complaints over criminal court Judge Abdulla Mohamed’s misconduct and an alleged sex scandal of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed are still pending.

Hameed was recently appointed as the president of the JSC.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has accused the JSC of failing to fulfil its mandate of ensuring ethical conduct among judges.


High Court orders JSC to stop headhunt for High Court Judge

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has revealed that it has stopped its search for a High Court judge after receiving an order from High Court.

In an announcement released yesterday (August 17), the JSC said that it received the order on Monday (September 15) from the court instructing it to stop its headhunt until a decision is reached on the court case seeking the annulment of current selection regulations.

The final hearing of the case, submitted by lawyers Anas Abdusattar and Hassan Fiyaz, was completed on September 10. The lawyers claim that the regulations are in contradiction of Articles 17 and 20 of the Constitution.

Articles 17 and 20 concern non-discrimination and equality, respectively.

Nine people have applied for the post of High Court judge including judges from the Criminal Court, Family Court, and Civil Court.


Judicial watchdog considers probe into Drug Court Judge’s blog

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) is considering a probe into a blog post by Drug Court Judge Mahaz Ali.

The judge’s May 8 blog post disagreed with the Attorney General’s (AG) advise on the ongoing leadership vacuum at the independent Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office.

JSC member Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman said the commission had started discussions on whether to proceed with an investigation, but said a decision has not been made yet.

“I do not believe the commission should take up this matter. Article 41 of the Judges Act allows judges to engage in academic writing,” Shuaib said.

Clause 41 (a) of the Judges Act states judges may write essays and academic documents as long as they do not intend to politically benefit any party.

According to Shuaib, AG Mohamed Anil, who also sits on the JSC, had agreed with him on the matter.

In his legal opinion to President Abdulla Yameen, Anil last week said the senior most official at the PG office must takeover the PG’s constitutional obligations in the aftermath of acting PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation.

State prosecutors had stopped work at the time, bringing the criminal justice system to a halt.

Anil said prosecutors must resume work even in the absence of guidance by the PG, claiming the country was in a “state of necessity” where extra legal actions by the government could be deemed lawful.

However, Mahaz wrote that the state of necessity argument was valid only if there was no legal solution to the crisis, suggesting that there was no reason President Yameen could not propose a name for approval by the current People’s Majlis.

Yameen had said he would only submit a new nominee to the newly elected parliament, which is set to convene on May 28.

The current Majlis is in recess. It had rejected Yameen’s previous choice – his nephew Maumoon Hameed – for the position in March.

Mahaz said any criminal trials in the PG leadership’s absence is unconstitutional.

“A state of necessity is faced only when all legal avenues have been exhausted. In the current situation, the solution is to appoint a new prosecutor general. The current People’s Majlis is not in a situation where it cannot carry out its duties,” wrote the judge.

“The authority that must nominate a candidate [the President] is able to do so. Unless these two parties are in a state in which they cannot carry out their constitutional duties, a state of necessity will not be faced in the prosecutor general’s case.”

However, prosecutors were forced to end their strike on Tuesday following a Supreme Court ruling on the matter on Monday. The ruling upheld Anil’s state of necessity argument.


Stalled Ali Hameed cases “exposes state of Maldivian judiciary,” says MDP

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has expressed “surprise and concern” with the revelation yesterday (May 4) that documents of a corruption case against Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed were destroyed in a coffee spill at the Criminal Court.

An official from the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office told Minivan News that the Criminal Court requested resubmission of the case files three weeks ago, but has so far refused to present the allegedly damaged documents.

Justice Hameed is facing charges over the illegal transfer of credit from his state-funded mobile phone in 2010.

In a press release yesterday, the main opposition party stated that the lack of progress in cases involving Justice Hameed as well as “these incidents that occur when a case reaches court exposes quite well the state of the Maldivian judiciary.”

“As the documents of the corruption case raised by the state against Ali Hameed were destroyed after coffee was spilled on them, the party hopes that the Criminal Court will not decide that the charges cannot be proven for that reason,” the MDP’s press release stated in conclusion.

The Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) regulations stipulate that action must be taken within 48 hours of a criminal case being filed against a judge. However, the judicial oversight body told local media last month that a decision would be made once the court decides to hear the case.

The Criminal Court’s media official told Minivan News on April 13 that the court had not decided whether or not to accept the case.

Cases filed by the PG office are scrutinised in the order of submission “to make sure all the paperwork is complete and that there are no missing documents,” he said. The process normally takes “two to three days,” he added.

The case against Justice Hameed – accused of abuse of authority to benefit a third party – was sent to the PG office in July 2013 by the Anti-Corruption Commission after investigating allegations in the 2010 audit report of the Department of Judicial Administration.

Auditors found that a Supreme Court Justice transferred MVR2,223 (US$144) from his state-funded mobile phone on different occasions during 2010.

Sex tapes

Justice Hameed is also the subject of investigations by both the police and the JSC over his alleged appearance in a series of sex tapes that emerged in May 2013.

A further video showed Hameed and a local businessman, Mohamed Saeed, discussing political influence in the judiciary.

After the secretly taped videos of Hameed engaging in sexual relations with three prostitutes in a Sri Lankan hotel room surfaced online, the JSC set up committees to investigate the case twice – in May and December 2013.

Both subcommittees unanimously recommended the JSC suspend Hameed pending an investigation.

However, in July 2013, the JSC disregarded the recommendation citing lack of evidence, while a JSC decision on the December subcommittee’s recommendation is still pending.

The MDP meanwhile stated that disgraced judges accused of corruption or blackmail should be suspended pending the outcome of a trial, noting that the practice was “regrettably” alien to the Maldivian judiciary.

Justice Hameed’s continued presence on the Supreme Court bench violated international best practices and judicial norms, the party contended.

Other cases

Meanwhile, the 2010 audit also discovered that MVR13,200 (US$856) was spent out of the apex court’s budget to repair a state-owned car used by an unnamed Supreme Court Justice, later revealed in the media to be Justice Hameed.

According to the police report cited by auditors, the driver of the justice’s car was responsible for the accident, which occurred on January 23, 2011.

However, the official driver insisted the car was undamaged when he parked and left it the previous night.

Despite the findings of the audit report, in March 2011 the Supreme Court dismissed allegations of corruption reported in local media regarding phone allowances and use of court funds to repair Justice Hameed’s car.

Moreover, in September 2011, the ACC began investigating allegations that over MVR50,000 (US$3,200) of state funds was spent on plane tickets for Justice Hameed’s official visit to China in December 2010.

The complainant alleged that Hameed also visited Sri Lanka and Malaysia both before and after his trip to China to attend a conference by the International Council of Jurists.

A return ticket on a direct flight from Malé to Beijing at time cost MVR16,686 (US$1,080).

Furthermore, in May 2012, the ACC revealed that Justice Hameed was among three sitting judges illegally occupying state-owned apartments.


Amount proposed by GMR for out-of-court settlement too big, says president

President Abdulla Yameen has said that the compensation proposed by GMR for an out-of-court settlement is too big and the government does not believe that it has to be paid.

“GMR is seeking a very big compensation. We, the government, do not believe that we can pay such an amount, or that it is necessary to pay it. So now we are facing [the issue of] unmatching numbers,” Yameen was quoted as saying in local media.

Yameen suggested that the large compensation being sought is the reason the parties have failed to reach an out-of-court settlement.

Both sides are now awaiting the conclusion of the arbitration, revealed Yameen, and further discussions will continue afterwards if it is necessary. He did not reveal the amount proposed for an early settlement.

Proceedings of the arbitration case, in which GMR is seeking US$1.4 billion as compensation for the abrupt termination of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) contract, has already begun in Singapore.

Last week the government appointed sitting Supreme Court Judge Abdulla Saeed as a legal expert in the arbitration case, with the Saeed promptly travelling to Singapore.

According to the Judges Act, however, any judge leaving the country to take part in a judiciary or law-related event should first obtain special permission from the independent Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Judicial Service Commission (JSC) member Sheikh Shuaib Abdurahman – one of the two members legally required to give consent for such a trip – has said said he was unaware of Judge Abdulla Saeed’s departure, though the Attorney General’s office has told local media that all necessary permissions were acquired.

The Maldives’ legal team includes Attorney General (AG) Mohamed Anil,  Deputy AG Ahmed Usham, and a team of experts from Singapore and the UK.

Haveeru has reported that GMR hired former Sri Lankan Attorney General Mohamed Shibly Aziz, former Maldivian Deputy Solicitor General Ibrahim Riffath, and Maldivian lawyer Fayaz Ismail to assist them in matters related to the Maldivian legal system.

The AG’s Office is now looking into Riffath’s involvement in the case, stating that he could have accessed privileged information when working at the office during the cancellation of the GMR agreement and several other GMR related cases before that.

The office has noted that information obtained through holding such a position cannot be utilised in such circumstances.

The AG’s Office earlier stated that the Maldives would be represented by Singapore National University Professor M. Sonaraja, while former Chief Justice of the UK Lord Nicholas Addison Phillips were to represent GMR.

The arbitrator – mutually agreed upon by both GMR and the Government of Maldives – is retired senior UK Judge Lord Leonard Hubert Hoffman.

Legal experts are expected to present their opinions to the arbitration panel today, local media has reported, while the process is expected to continue until Wednesday.

Airport development plans

The government owned Maldives Airports Company Limited which took over the airport’s management from GMR after the cancellation of the agreement, is now planning further development.

A US$5 million work project to develop ground handling at INIA was announced in January, with more plans to be announced in the near future based on a revised version of the previously compiled Scott Wilson airport development master plan.

Since assuming office President Yameen has made repeated assurances that the country is safe for foreign investors, calling for new developers from the Arab-Muslim countries in particular.

“The thrust of the government is to welcome foreign investment, ‎and to assure all investors that your investment – your money – is safe ‎with us, and your stay here in Maldives is going to be conducive ‎for you”, Yameen said earlier this month at a housing project inauguration in Hulhumalé.

The president yesterday shared the government’s INIA development plans with a delegation of Singapore’s Changi Airport Group and Changi Airport International in a meeting at the President’s Office, although a subsequent press release did not specify the exact reasons for the visit.

President Yameen will also travel to Singapore later this month to inaugurate the Maldives Investment Forum, a government initiative to showcase ‘high level’ investment opportunities in the country.

During the forum, the government’s development plans and projects will be revealed to international corporate and individual investors. One of the key five projects being scheduled for presentation is the the development of INIA.

Earlier this month Maldives Tourism Development Corporation Plc – 45 percent of whose shares are held by the government –  sold Herethera Island Resort in Addu City for US$33 million to Singapore’s Canaries Private Ltd.


Chief Justice Faiz previously alleged bribery in interim Supreme Court: Nasheed

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz alleged in 2010 that judges on the interim Supreme Court “openly accepted bribes”, advising then-President Mohamed Nasheed to “bring the interim court to a halt,” Nasheed has claimed at a campaign rally in Male’ last night.

In 2010, then-interim Supreme Court Justice Faiz requested an audience with the president, Nasheed explained, noting that it was the first time he had met with a sitting judge.

“Faiz came and said the judges on the interim Supreme Court were openly accepting bribes and that Faiz knew of it,” Nasheed said.

He named the judges who were accepting bribes, Nasheed added.

“Faiz told me that the work that went on in the interim Supreme Court was not establishing justice but buying and selling. He said the court must be brought to a halt,” he continued.

Faiz advised the president that he was obliged to rein in the interim court, Nasheed said.

Interim bench

Nasheed referred to the five-member interim Supreme Court – headed by interim Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed – declaring that it was permanent ahead of the constitutional deadline for the interim period on August 7, 2010.

Apart from Faiz, the interim bench sworn in on September 18, 2008 consisted of Justice Abdulla Saeed, Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, Justice Abdulla Areef, and Justice Yousuf Hussain.

Nasheed noted that the then-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) did not have a majority in the People’s Majlis, through which the permanent Supreme Court was to be instituted.

Referring to Justice Ali Hameed’s sex tape scandal, the former president revealed that his first seven nominees to the apex court did not include “disgraced judges.”

The original candidates included sitting MPs and a relative of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, he added.

Nasheed alleged that Jumhooree Party Leader Gasim Ibrahim offered an unlimited amount of money to MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in exchange for confirming Ali Hameed to the Supreme Court bench.

On August 7, 2010, when the constitutional interim period expired, President Nasheed ordered the military to confiscate the keys of the Supreme Court after the interim court declared itself permanent.

Three days later, parliament hastily passed the Judges Act and approved Nasheed’s nominees to the new Supreme Court bench in a deal reached with the then-opposition parties who controlled parliament.

The president’s member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Aishath Velezinee, described Faiz at the time as “a well-respected man amongst the judges. I have never heard anybody question his independence or impartiality. He is a learned man and amongst all the politicking and hanky-panky going on, he has maintained his integrity.”

Nasheed meanwhile went on to severely criticise Faiz for issuing a harshly worded statement condemning international partners who expressed concern with the Supreme Court’s controversial removal of the Elections Commission’s chair and deputy chair.

The Supreme Court was “destroying the future of generations to come,” he said.


MDP majority will reform Supreme Court and JSC, says Nasheed

President Mohamed Nasheed has said that Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will change the number of judges in the Supreme Court and strive to bring their thinking closer to that of the people, and closer to justice.

“We can never accept the level of political influence and the ugly money of corruption that has entered most courts of Maldives. We have to reform these courts. Development for the Maldives can only be achieved if the people Maldives are able to get justice and equality.”

Speaking at a parliamentary campaign rally in Thinadhoo, Gaafu Dhaalu atoll, Nasheed said that the judicial watchdog will also be reformed by amending the Judicial Services Commission Act.

He said that the MDP’s priority was judicial reform, and that nothing else could be carried out in the Maldives without such reform.

Nasheed said that society does not accept the offering and taking of bribes by judges or their meddling in political affairs.

“We cannot accept the judiciary’s meddling with the Elections Commission under the parliament’s guardianship. With a Maldivian Democratic Party majority in the 18th People’s Majlis, we will – God willing – reform the judiciary,” he said.


Nasheed said the MDP was competing in the parliamentary elections with a promise of obtaining the ownership of local resources for locals.

“We have to empower the councils. As long that power is retrained, we won’t be able to achieve the development we want,” Nasheed said.

Stating the central government in Malé could  not achieve development without decentralisation and the empowerment of local councils, Nasheed said that islands are capable of carrying out their development activities by themselves.

“The wealth of our country is widespread and enormous. Our people have even today started accepting that this is not the rightful amount for the people. Our objective is to get for the people their rightful due,” said the former president.

Referring to the ‘southern rebellion’ of 1959, Nasheed said that it was the same rightful due that the people of Thinadhoo and Huvadhoo hoped and protested for in the past.

“Back then most of us saw the people’s protests as acts against the state. By any modern standard they were protests. Excessive force was used to disperse those protests and many people died.”

“We don’t want to see that, but people will stand up if they these powers are not given to them, and they will work to get their powers,” Nasheed said.

A key objective of the MDP in the parliament was to hold the government accountable as an opposition party, he added, reiterating that the MDP would encourage the fulfillment of government pledges in line with the party policies.

During campaigning for his Progressive Party of Maldives last week, President Abdulla Yameen told party supporters that an MDP majority would seek to oust his government from office.

Indeed, following the local council elections in January, Nasheed pledged that his party would take advantage of any legal means to remove Yameen after what it maintains was a fraudulent presidential election last year.


No legal grounds to question Speaker’s JSC membership: Majlis secretariat

Read this article in Dhivehi

There are no legal grounds to question whether Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid should remain in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) whilst seeking re-election, the People’s Majlis secretariat said in a press release today.

The statement follows Majlis’ removal last week of its representative to the judicial oversight body, MP Ahmed Hamza, who is also seeking re-election.

In a letter informing the commission of Hamza’s removal last week, Speaker Shahid said the decision was made in reference to Article 10 of the JSC Act, which stipulates that a commission member will lose his seat if he stands in an election.

Both Shahid and Hamza are contesting in the upcoming parliamentary polls on opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) tickets.

The Majlis statement explained that Article 161(b) of the constitution “clearly shows” that a member appointed to the 10-member commission by virtue of his office (ex officio) would remain a member as long as he holds the post.

The article states that the speaker, the attorney general, and the chair of the civil service commission would remain “a member of the Judicial Service Commission only as long as that office is held.”

“Therefore, as the person in the post of speaker of the People’s Majlis is a member of the commission by virtue of office, there is no room to raise legal questions over whether he will remain a member of the Judicial Service Commission as long as he is in the [speaker’s post],” the press release stated in conclusion.

The statement was issued following media reports casting doubt on Shahid’s membership on the judicial watchdog.

Hamza meanwhile told Minivan News last week that the speaker and Majlis representative should be exempted from Article 10 “as it creates a legal vacuum.”

Prior to the speaker’s decision to remove him from the commission, JSC President and Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla sent letters to both Hamza and President Abdulla Yameen claiming that the MPs’ position was vacant following his submission of candidacy papers to the Elections Commission.

Hamza responded by contending that Adam Mohamed’s attempt to remove him was intended to reduce the number of members who advocated for judicial reform and to block an investigation into Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed’s sex tape scandal.

Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman – the public’s representative on the JSC  – has also accused Justice Adam Mohamed of stalling the JSC’s investigation into the sex tapes.

Adam Mohamed had refused to schedule a vote on whether to suspend Hameed following his refusal to cooperate with the investigation, Hamza said.

“The JSC cannot be productive as long as Adam Mohamed remains the president,” he said. “I call on the public to pressure the JSC to table the motion to suspend Ali Hameed.”