Government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) Leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Siyam Mohamed was acquitted of alcohol possession and smuggling charges by the Criminal Court on Thursday (December 4).
Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed found the resort tycoon not guilty on the grounds that due process was not followed in accordance with the Maldives Customs Act.
The MP for Dhaalu Meedhoo was charged with smuggling and possession of alcohol in November 2013 after a ‘Johnny Walker Black’ bottle was found in his luggage at the airport upon returning from Sri Lanka in March 2012.
In June, two witnesses for the prosecution testified to finding a bottle of alcohol in Siyam’s luggage.
While the customs officers testified that they discovered the bottle when Siyam’s bag was screened, a Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) staff member who handled the luggage said they were unaware of its contents prior to screening.
However, Siyam’s lawyer argued that the MP was being framed, noting that according to the prosecution’s witnesses the luggage was not searched in his presence.
Following multiple delays and cancellations of hearings, Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed took over the case from Judge Ahmed Sameer Abdul Aziz in May after Siyam claimed the latter’s “hand gestures and facial expressions” indicated a personal grudge against him which could lead to an unfair trial.
Siyam wrote to both the chief judge and the Supreme Court requesting the removal of Judge Sameer from his case.
Responding to criticism of the court for providing preferential treatment to the coalition leader, Judge Abdulla declared at a ceremony in September that the court would provide VIP treatment and escort persons facing trial in and out through the back door in circumstances where it sees fit.
Siyam was reportedly escorted in and out of the backdoor when he arrived at the court for a trial date and was also seated in a separate area.
The penalty for alcohol possession in the penal code is either a fine of between MVR1,000 to MVR3,000 or imprisonment, banishment or house arrest for up to three years.
Under Article 73 of the constitution, an MP convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to more than one year in prison will lose his or her seat in parliament.
Siyam’s MDA formed an alliance with the now-ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in August to back PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen.
In March 2012, an audio clip of a conversation between Siyam and Yameen was leaked on social media, in which the pair aired grievances against PPM leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
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