Chief Justice threatens action against dissemination of “invalid information”

Legal action will be taken against media organisations or journalists who disseminate false or inauthentic information concerning the judiciary, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain has warned.

Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony yesterday (October 27) for seven new judges to the superior courts, the Chief Justice warned of measures against those who report “invalid information, if it relates to courts or judges.”

“Citizens need valid information. Freedom of expression means expressing valid or authentic information. Whether it is information relating to individuals or state institutions, the information conveyed should be valid, there should be no error or deceit in the information,” he said.

“If the court is held in contempt, action will be taken,” he asserted. “I will not allow the court to be [held in] contempt through deception. If the court is [held in] contempt, I will do what I can within the bounds of the law,” Faiz added.

The Chief Justice’s remarks came after the Supreme Court last week ordered police to investigate opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV for airing a report on October 19 criticising the judiciary.

Raajje TV News Department Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was summoned to the police headquarters last night concerning the investigation of the report, which raised issues surrounding the leaked sex tape of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed.

Following the police interrogation, Asward told local media that he was accused of contempt of court over the Raajje TV report criticising the apex court.

Asward said he exercised the right to remain silent in protest of the police taking over the mandate of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) – the institutions legally empowered to investigate complaints regarding the content of media outlets.

Both the MCC and MBC have expressed concern with the court ordered investigation of Raajje TV, contending that it threatens press freedom and encroaches on the mandate of the media watchdog bodies.

Appealing to the apex court to withdraw the order to investigate, Mohamed Shaheeb from the MBC told local media yesterday that he was informed by Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz that the police were obliged to obey the Supreme Court’s order.

Following an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of Raajje TV on October 7, Reporters Without Borders criticised the police’s failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for protection.

Moreover, Asward was attacked with an iron bar in February this year while Raajje TV’s offices were vandalised in 2012, with cables severed in the station’s control room.

Judicial reform

Faiz meanwhile contended that altering the composition of the 10-member Judicial Service Commission (JSC) –  consisting of three representatives each from the executive, legislature and judiciary as well as a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners – was necessary to strengthen the judiciary.

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriela Knaul, stated that there was near unanimous consensus during her visit that the composition of the JSC was “inadequate and politicised.”

The issue was also highlighted in a report by the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) in 2010.

“Because of this politicisation, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly,” said Knaul.

While the composition of the JSC in the Maldivian constitution was based on the South African model, Faiz said in his speech yesterday that he was told by a retired South African judge that the model had “failed” in his country.

“A lot of people believe that every fault of the JSC is reflected in the judiciary,” Faiz said, adding that proper functioning of the oversight body would benefit the judiciary.

The JSC should work together with the courts following extensive consultation to implement changes to strengthen the judiciary, Faiz suggested.

The JSC should also expedite investigations of complaints concerning judges and “free” them from the allegations to ensure public confidence in the “integrity of judges,” he said.

“If not, the issues we are facing now, what is being said [about the judiciary] now will continue in the same vein,” Faiz said.

However, he added, criticism of the judiciary or “a complaint against a judge” does not warrant disregarding court judgments.

“If the decisions of the courthouse are not enforced, rule of law will not be maintained in this country. The courthouse has been entrusted with upholding rule of law. So the decisions of courts should be and will be enforced in this country,” Faiz asserted.

Under no circumstances could the enforcement of a court decision be delayed or ignored, he stressed.

Faiz revealed that he had spoken to the speaker of parliament regarding a recent Supreme Court judgment, referring to the apex court disqualifying two MPs over an alleged decreed debt.

“I told him that the Supreme Court’s decision must be enforced. There is no question about it. Who will determine if the Supreme Court’s decision is legitimate? Who will determine if the Supreme Court decision was made in accordance with the procedures? It will still be determined by the Supreme Court,” Faiz said.


Police summon Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed for questioning over sex tape scandal

Police have summoned Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed for questioning over his alleged appearance in a leaked sex tape.

According newspaper Haveeru, Justice Hameed was summoned to police headquarters in Male about 8:00pm in the evening and left at around 1:30am after spending more than five hours in the building.

Police however did not confirm the summoning but said only that the case is currently being investigated.

Last Thursday police formally notified the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the Prosecutor General and President Mohamed Waheed Hassan regarding their investigation into the case.

The existence of a video footage allegedly involving Justice Hameed indulging in adultery came into media limelight following the arrest of Ahmed Faiz – a senior Council Member of President Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP) and former Project Advisor at the Housing Ministry.

Following the arrest, Faiz was dismissed from his government position and the Spokesperson of President’s Office Masood Imad – who is also a GIP council member – denounced any links with the government regarding the video.

Still images from the sex tape, allegedly showing the judge committing adultery with an unidentified foreign woman, are meanwhile circulating on social media networks.

A police media official told Minivan News that individuals believed to be involved in the scandal had been either summoned to the police for questioning or had been arrested with a court warrant.

“We are currently investigating two cases concerning the video. One is the case of those who had been using the video to blackmail the people in it, and the other concerns the content of the video,” the spokesperson said at the time.

The video also prompted the JSC to establish a five-member committee to look into the matter upon receiving a letter from police. Local media reported that the committee included commission members Latheefa Gasim, Ahmed Rasheed and Abdulla Didi, and two external lawyers: Hussain Siraj and Mohamed Anil.

A second video also surfaced on social media networks apparently depicting Hameed and a local businessman discussing political influence in the judiciary. Local media identified the businessman as Mohamed Saeed, the director of local business firm ‘Golden Lane’.

Justice Hameed in the video also goes on to reveal his political ‘hook-up’ with Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom – the current Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate – claiming that he was one of Yameen’s “back-ups” and that his stand was “to do things the way Yameen wants”.

Following Sunday evening’s police questioning, local media reported that Hameed had avoided the usual exit doors at the police headquarters in order to avoid the media.

“Senior figures of the state such as Ali Hameed often use the police main entrance, however Hameed knowing that media was present at that entrance, ran to the exit doors located in Boduthakurufaanu Magu. Hameed had also rushed to get into a white car waiting for him at the door after media followed him,” reported Haveeru.

Local media reports claimed that this was the second time Hameed was summoned to the police for questioning. However, a source close to Hameed denied the reports claiming that police had not summoned Hameed at the time.

Police have also searched the house of Mohamed Saeed on the same night at around 7:45pm. The police claimed that they searched the house after obtaining a search warrant.

The raid was allegedly carried out to find if Saeed had been withholding any material related to the sex tape.

The police have previously summoned Saeed twice for investigation but details of the case or the topic of questioning have yet to be revealed.

Saeed’s lawyer Noorban Fahmy told media earlier that Saeed opted to remain silent in the later session after he was first questioned without the presence of a lawyer.


State appeals High Court ruling favouring Sultans of the Seas in US$8.5 million fraud case

The state has appealed a High Court judgment overruling a Civil Court verdict ordering luxury yachting company Sultans of the Seas to pay Rf110.2 million (US$7.1 million) in fines and unpaid duties.

In September 2009, Maldives Custom Service filed a case at the Civil Court to recover US$8.5 million in fines and unpaid customs duties from Sultans of the Seas – a company associated with the family of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader and Kendhoo MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali – for allegedly defrauding customs to evade import duties for two luxury yachts.

At a press conference in June 2009, Director of Customs Abdul Rasheed Ibrahim revealed that Sultans evaded import duties for two Italian Azimut yachts, imported in December 2007 and March 2008.

“In the invoices, they said they purchased two used launches,” Rasheed explained, adding that an investigation by the customs internal audit discovered that Sultans had purchased two of Azimut’s latest models, which cost 12.3 million euros or Rf226 million (US$17.7 million).

However, the quoted price in the invoices and documents the company submitted to customs was Rf18 million (US$1.4 million).

While the Civil Court ruled in favour of customs in late 2009, the High Court overruled the verdict late last year.

According to local daily Haveeru, at the first Supreme Court hearing last Monday, State Attorney Ahmed Usham explained that the state decided to appeal the High Court ruling because the evidence was sufficient to establish fraud as documents submitted by Sultans claimed that the vessels were used when the two luxury speedboats were brand new.

The fraud was discovered when information was clarified through the Bank of Maldives Plc Ltd (BML), Usham added.

Sultan’s attorney Ibrahim Riza however argued that Sultans should not be held responsible for the actions of the former collector of customs and insisted that the Bank of Maldives documents did not clearly state that the vessels were new.

Adjourning the hearing, Justice Ali Hameed said a further hearing would only be held if the court wished to clarify certain matters after studying the appeal.

In May this year, former Principal Collector of Customs Ibrahim Shafiu, also ex-registrar of DRP until the 2008 presidential election, was charged with corruption for his role in the Sultans fraud case.

Shafiu had been living in Canada since former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s election defeat and returned to the Maldives following the controversial transfer of power in February.

Shafiu was charged with abuse of authority for allegedly helping change details of the yachts through his influence over the valuation committee to decrease duty payable for the vessels. The former DRP registrar pleaded not guilty to the charges.

BML loans

Gayoom and ThasmeenMeanwhile in October 2011, the High Court upheld Civil Court verdicts ordering Mahandhoo Investments and Kabalifaru Investments – two resort businesses with close ties to DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and running mate of former President Gayoom in 2008 – to repay millions of dollars worth of loans to the Bank of Maldives.

DRP MP Mohamed Nashiz, brother of the DRP leader and managing director of Kabaalifaru, and DRP MP Ali Azim, a loan guarantor, were among the appellants at the High Court.

Both MPs had signed ‘joint and several guarantee and indemnity’ agreements for the loans issued in mid-2008.

In the first case involving Mahandhoo Investments, BML had issued a US$23.5 million demand loan, a US$103,200 bank guarantee and US$30,090 letter of credit on July 10, 2008.

The second case meanwhile involved a US$3.3 million loan issued to Kabaalifaru Investment and the appeal of a Civil Court verdict on September 30, 2009 ordering the company to settle the debt in the next 12 months.

Both verdict were however appealed at the High Court and remained stalled for almost two years before the rulings in October 2011.

Moreover, in December 2009, the Civil Court ordered Sultans of the Seas to pay over Rf654 million (US$50 million) in unpaid loans, fines and accumulated interest to the Bank of Maldives in the course of one year.

Ruling in favour of the bank, Judge Aisha Shujoon said the company was liable for loans of US$15.3 million, US$8.7 million and €12.5 million as well as US$500,000 in combined credit limit facilities as agreed upon in June 2008.

The judge ruled that records and documents presented to court proved that as of December 7, 2009, Sultans owes US$18 million on the first demand loan, US$10 million on the second and €14 million on the third.

In a BML audit report released in January 2009, Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem warned that defaults on bank loans issued to influential political players could jeopardise the entire financial system of the country.

Over 60 per cent of the US$633 million worth of loans issued in 2008 was granted to 12 parties, the report noted.

According to the report, US$45 million was issued to Sultans of the Seas and US$36 million to Fonnadhoo Tuna Products, two loans which comprised 13 per cent of the total loans issued in 2008.

The report noted that Fonaddhoo was owned by DRP Leader Thasmeen while the owners of Sultans of the Seas were closely associated with the former minority leader of parliament.