Three anonymised police officers provided testimony with serious contradictions last week in former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s trial on weapons possession charges.
The three officers were part of a search team during the controversial midnight raid on Nazim’s house on January 18. Their testimony indicated the Maldives Police Services did not follow stringent police regulations in conducting the search.
The search team did not videotape the raid as required, and provided conflicting testimony on whether mandatory photographs were taken. One witness said photos were only taken of the illegal weapons, while a second witness said photographs were taken from the moment the raid began.
Nazim — accused of smuggling illegal weapons — maintains he was framed by rogue SWAT police officers on the orders of Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb.
The three officers said they entered Nazim’s apartment after masked SWAT officers broke down the then-defence minister’s door. Nazim’s wife and two daughters were inside the apartment’s living room with the officers at the time, they said.
Police claimed to have discovered three bullets and a pistol in a black bag in a bedside drawer during the raid. Nazim was subsequently dismissed and arrested on additional charges of treason and terrorism.
If convicted of smuggling weapons, the retired colonel faces a jail term between ten and 15 years.
State prosecutors have now concluded summoning witnesses. A total of six individuals testified in four hearings last week. They included five police officers and one Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officer.
The defence is to call witnesses at the next hearing on Sunday.
The Criminal Court held four hearings on March 17, 18 and 19. Nazim’s defence team questioned the three anonymised police witnesses on procedures followed during raid, search and chain of custody in evidence.
At the March 17 hearing, the chief Investigative Officer (IO) said he had sought a court warrant to search Nazim’s apartment building, Galholhu Enif, on his superior’s orders.
Intelligence information indicated weapons were kept either on the seventh or eighth floor, he said via telephone. The search team entered Nazim’s apartment ten to 15 minutes after SWAT officers entered the apartment and secured the premises, he said.
The police team searched Nazim’s bedroom first, in his presence, when the weapons were discovered, he said. Police officers searched all of Nazim’s apartment and a second apartment on the eighth floor, but did not search the seventh floor, he said.
The IO said Nazim had fully cooperated with the search. The police did not keep a record of observations in a special notebook or issue a list of items confiscated from the former defence minister’s home as per regulations, the cross-examination revealed.
One anonymised witness on March 18 said the search team did not check the ceiling, while the second said the team brought in a chair to check the ceiling and cupboards.
The legal team had previously claimed that the items found at Nazim’s house were planted by the police, saying that officers spent ten minutes inside Nazim’s bedroom unsupervised before the search began. Police have called the claims “untrue” and “baseless”.
On March 19, state prosecutors summoned Sub Inspector Ameen Abdul Gayoom regarding a forensic digital analysis report of a pen drive confiscated from Nazim’s apartment along with the weapons. The state has previously said documents on the pen drive indicate Nazim was plotting to harm President Abdulla Yameen, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb.
Journalists and observers were barred from the defence’s cross-examination of Gayoom due to the confidential nature of the documents on the pen drive.
Prosecutors then summoned MNDF First Lieutenant Mohamed Nazeem to prove the pistol and bullets were functioning. Nazeem said the a weapons expert had fired the pistol in his presence, but they had not tested the bullets. However, a visual inspection shows the bullets were not dummy rounds, he said.
Defence lawyers have named President Yameen, Commissioner Waheed, Chief of Defence Forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam, Home Minister Umar Naseer and several senior ranking police and military officers as witnesses to prove charges were fabricated in a conspiracy engineered by Adeeb.
The Criminal Court said the court would summon defence witnesses only if they appear to negate the prosecution’s evidence.
On March 7, lawyer Maumoon Hameed claimed Adeeb framed Nazim after the former defence minister alerted President Yameen of the tourism minister using SO SWAT officers to commit criminal acts, including the chopping down of all of Malé City’s areca palms in October last year.
The tourism minister has said he was “shocked” by the allegations, and has dismissed accusations as lies.
Defence lawyers have also called Superintendent of Police Ahmed Nafiz and former head of police’s intelligence directorate, Mohamed ‘MC’ Hameed, to prove a complaint was lodged over SO officer’s alleged criminal activities, and that SO officers had engaged in criminal activity.
The defence has also called senior ranking police and military officers to prove that a Special Protection Group Corporal had lost a 9mm Browning pistol at Shangri-La resort in 2014, that police officers did not follow due process in raiding and searching Nazim’s residence, and that police intelligence had not received any information that illegal weapons were smuggled into Malé prior to the raid.
The MNDF promptly dismissed allegations of missing weapons.