The Criminal Court today ordered the release of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Musthafa and Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim of the opposition People’s Alliance, who were arrested in the early hours of the morning on suspicion of bribing MPs and a civil court judge.
Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed ruled that there were no reasonable grounds to grant an extension of the MPs’ detention based on the evidence presented by police.
“Both of them were arrested last night on charges of bribing a civil court judge. According to the information we have, they offered US$6,000 and a two-way ticket for a trip abroad, and exerted influence on a civil court case,” said the police lawyer in court today.
“If they were released from detention, it could potentially obstruct the investigation of the case and we therefore request [authorisation] to to keep them in police custody.”
Police obtained a recording of a conversation on July 18 that implicated both MPs in the alleged crime.
Dhiggaru MP Nazim, also the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, has been under house arrest after being charged with bribery, attempting to influence independent commissions and plotting to physically harm political opponents.
“It is just the onset of the investigation and there is a wide opportunity for them to destroy evidence if they were released, and we still have more to find out,” the police attorney continued. “We note that this is the third such case against Nazim.”
As the crime was “sinister” in nature, he added, the MPs’ release could “disrupt the peace and harmony of the nation” and pose dangers to the society.
Asked by Nazim’s defence attorney Mohamed Saleem for details of the allegations of bribery in parliament, the lawyer replied that the information could not be disclosed at the current stage of the investigation.
In his turn, Saleem accused police of “abusing” the rights of the MPs.
“Police showed no respect at Nazim’s residence, used force, tore down the door of Nazim’s house and broke using force and weapons and disrupted the peace,” he claimed.
Saleem presented the court CCTV footage of the arrest, which reportedly lasted over half an hour when Nazim refused to cooperate with police.
The judge asked police who granted them “authority to destroy people’s property”, the police lawyer replied that it was “only to reach Nazim”.
Reprimanding the police, Judge Abdullah Mohamed said the arrest warrant did not authorise police to destroy private property.
Police informed local media early on Monday morning that despite the arrest warrant issued after midnight last night, Nazim had refused to either answer his phone or reply to a text message requesting his cooperation.
Saleem said a recent Supreme Court verdict declaring the arrests of MPs Abdulla Yameen and Gasim Ibrahim illegal should be considered as precedent in this case.
Requesting a ruling to hold police in contempt of court for violating the constitution, he added that police were ignoring the Supreme Court verdict.
Media present at the court, including Minivan News, observed that Television Maldives (TVM) was denied access to the court chamber. On Saturday night the station aired damning claims by police officials that the criminal court was regularly obstructing their investigations of “large and serious” crimes, and evidence presented to judges was being leaked to defense lawyers.
Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that Nazim and Musthafa had been released from custody, and stated that police would continue to investigate the two MPs over the corruption allegations and hoped “to finalise the investigation quickly.”
Addressing the judge, MP Mustafa claimed that police had violated numerous articles of the constitution as well as the chapter of rights and freedoms in his arrest.
The ruling party MP said the government had “sacrificed” him to justify its investigation of MPs to the international community.
“Don’t think that you also won’t be sacrificed one day,” said Mustafa, pointing at police. “I was one of the men who sacrificed their life to bring this government to power, but last night they sent police squads and abused me physically and psychologically.’’
Musthafa spoke vocally against corruption of the judiciary over a loudspeaker during the first gathering of the ongoing ‘People’s Court’ protests by the MDP, held earlier this week.
Both MPs were meanwhile escorted to today’s sitting of parliament, which was cancelled due to the controversial detention of Mulaku MP Abdulla Yameen, who remains under Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) ‘protective custody’.
Raising a point of order shortly after today’s sitting began, Musthafa demanded to know whether Speaker Abdulla Shahid was informed before he was “arrested and taken by a 25, 30-man military force that entered my house in their [military] boots last night at 2.45am.”
“The charges against me are that I conspired to bribe MPs and I am suspected of bribing judges of the court,” he continued. “And it’s also suspected that, asked by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, I tried to bribe the President, Speaker of Parliament and the Chief Justice, these three people. So I want to know: did I talk to the Honourable Speaker to offer you a bribe? Then I want to clarify with the President – did I plan to bribe him? Then I want to question Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, did you ask me to bribe the three powers?”
Shahid answered that the Commissioner of Police Ahmed Faseeh informed him by telephone after midnight of the impending arrests, adding that he requested arrangements to be made to escort the detained MPs to parliament in the morning in accordance with articles 202 through 205 of the Majlis rules of procedure.
Responding to criticism that the Speaker should have instigated an internal investigation in the wake of the corruption allegations, Shahid said the parliament, as an institution where decisions are made politically, should not become involved in a criminal justice matter.
In subsequent outbursts, Musthafa claimed that police had put in solitary confinement and “physically and psychologically” harmed him.
“It is your [Speaker Shahid’s] responsibility to look into this,” he said. “I am under arrest and said to have bribed the three powers of state. It is your responsibility to clarify this. Abdullah Yameen isn’t the only person isn’t this Majlis. We can take solitary confinement, it is you who can’t endure it.”
Responding to Musthafa’s question as to why he was placed in solitary confinement while Yameen was taken to presidential retreat Aarah, Shahid said “it wasn’t the Speaker of Parliament who did that.”
On the detention of MPs, said Shahid, the Speaker was required to submit the case to the parliamentary privileges commitee within 24 hours of the arrest and seek the committee’s counsel.
The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair would not comment specifically on Musthafa’s case, adding that it was a police matter, but said the government would do “everything in its power to expose corruption” regardless of political alignments.
“The President said following the resignation of cabinet that he was prepared to even investigate members of his own family in his efforts to eliminate corruption,” Zuhair said.
“[Musthafa’s arrest] I believe highlights the government’s intention to investigate parliament and the judiciary regardless of party politics.”
MDP Chairperson Mariya Didi said she was “really surprised” to hear of Musthafa’s arrest, but promised that the party would be indiscriminate when it came to purging corruption.
However Mariya said she was concerned about the executive’s ability to see cases to their conclusion through the current judiciary.
“People have lost faith in the system – it is no longer just about parliament,” she said. “The public are very annoyed at the judges as well – it is not enough for justice to be done, justice must be seen to be done.”
The public’s lack of faith in the court’s ability to rule fairly in cases concerning wealthy, established and powerful individuals had led people to “feel hopeless” about any resolution to the current crisis.
Law and order has to be kept, but the whole place is a mess,” she said. “These are not political opponents [on trial], this is Gayoom’s younger brother (Yameen), and people who were ministers in Gayoom’s regime of 30 years.
“This one and a half years has been quite rough, but we have not arrested our political opponents as many urged us to do. [MDP] lost the parliamentary elections and became unpopular because of that,” she said.
“I don’t know how the international community must see it – they probably see it in terms of the same sorts of laws and practices as they used to in the West. The fact that most of the judges were appointed during and even before Gayoom’s 30 year regim is very difficult for them to understand,” she added.
“It took the Western world a very long time to reach where they are, and it’s unfortunate that they seem to expect us to get there overnight.”