High Court freezes accounts belonging to Adam Naseer

The High Court today ruled that Adam Naseer’s bank accounts would remain frozen until the appeal process launched by the Prosecutor General’s Office is complete.

Naseer was arrested on charges of drug trafficking in July 2009, and was acquitted by Judge Abdul Baary Yousuf on 28 February, who noted there was a lack of evidence against Naseer.

The government has previously identified Naseer as one the country’s top six drug dealers, and his acquittal has raised concern among many about the integrity of the judicial system.

The High Court’s decision to freeze Naseer’s accounts follows a decision yesterday by the Criminal Court ruling that police were to return the Rf6 million (US$467,000) in cash found in Naseer’s house when he was arrested.

Police Sub Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that the police had requested the High Court suspend the order to return the money to Naseer, and to freeze his bank accounts, until the appeal process from the PG’s office was complete.

Shiyam called the court’s speedy ruling “a success” and said the police “hope future cases will be treated in the same manner.”

President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said “I don’t think [Naseer] is under arrest” but noted that he was unable to leave the country.

“Immigration has a black list of all individuals with pending judicial matters,” he said.

Shiyam confirmed Naseer was “at home” but not under house arrest.

High Court decision

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem confirmed the PG’s office submitted an appeal to the High Court yesterday for Naseer’s bank accounts to remain frozen while the appeal to his drug charges is in process.

Shameem explained that it was very important for Naseer’s money to remain frozen through the appeal process because “if he gets a hold of it, he could send it abroad or launder it.”

Under the Narcotics Law, any money obtained through illegal activities “shall be confiscated by the state.”

“We have asked the court to confiscate the money in case he is later convicted,” Shameem added.

Shameem said he thought the High Court’s ruling to freeze Naseer’s assets was “a good decision” but the noted that the case would not yet be heard in the High Court.

“They will send a summon in time. We still have to wait,” he said.

Shameem noted that the case cannot be heard at the High Court until the Criminal Court sends a formal report on the original ruling, which includes the documents that were submitted and the witness statement.

“We are still waiting on the full report from the Criminal Court, hopefully [we will get it] by the end of this week” he said. “We still need to get things started.”

Shiyam suggested “there are more charges to come” in the Naseer case,  although he would not comment on whether there will be new evidence submitted in the High Court’s hearing.

Judicial reform

There has been much public outcry about the performance of the judicial system, sparked by Adam Naseer’s acquittal.

Even President Mohamed Nasheed said at a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally on Sunday 28 February, “When there’s Rf5 million in a bag underneath the bed and the judge doesn’t think it raises any kind of doubt, I wonder how they perform their duties as a judge.”

A source familiar with the judicial reform process said the judge’s conduct needed to be “looked into”.

The source noted that 75 per cent of the country’s judges had not finished primary-level education, and had simply acquired a ‘judge’s certificate’ or been appointed by the previous regime. Historically, “a few people” instructed the judges on the law “and verdicts”.

Secretary General at the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC), Muna Mohamed, meanwhile confirmed that only 35 out of 202 judges have a degree in law, and only one has a diploma in Shari’a law. The remaining 166 have local trainee certificates.


Crime boosted by lack of witness protection, claims judge

A senior judge at the criminal court has claimed that a lack of witness protection is the main reason the justice system has failed to check rising crime rates.

At a press conference last week, Senior Judge Abdulla Mohamed said many witnesses are bribed or threatened and many fail to testify in court for fear that they or their families will be in some way hurt.

Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizzu agreed the issue was “very serious.”

“Because [the islands of] the Maldives are so small, it makes our job [of protecting witnesses] more difficult,” he said. “In some cases, witnesses are being threatened or intimidated. In other cases they might be bribed or offered rewards.”

Another major concern raised regarding witness protection was the lack of space to hold witnesses and criminals separately, with witnesses and the accused made to sit next to each other in the court houses. Muizzu says that this is something that the courts are trying to address.

He agreed with the judge that witnesses should be allowed to testify anonymously, and said improvements were being made such as allowing witnesses “to testify via video or audio link.”

Muizzu also noted that “there are some issues of witness protection that are pending in parliament.”

The police are also trying to formulate laws to improve witness protection. Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police brought up the issue of witness protection long ago, without response.

“Police get threats as well,” he said. “It’s a major concern for us; we need to give better protection to witnesses.”

Without a witness’ testimony before the prosecution, a case can be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Muizzu explained that “in most cases, confessions made to the police will not have any weight, so it is very important that the witnesses testify for the prosecution in court in order to prove the case.”

Judge Mohamed criticised the lack of cooperation between government institutions, claiming that this was causing delay and even the collapse of many important criminal cases.

The prosecutor general admitted “there have been some instances when there has been delay on our part”, but said he believes that all branches of government are doing their best.

“Our prosecutors do appear in approximately 40-45 cases in criminal court every day, and we do cooperate to the best of our availability of human resources.”

He said there are areas that could be improved, especially witness protection.

“The court will definitely need the cooperation of the police and the prosecution to effectively discharge their duties. And we are prepared for that.”

Shiyam said, “If there is anything police need to be mindful of, judges should tell us what needs to be corrected. They should at least phone senior officers.”

He insisted police are working “hand-in-hand” with other government institutions. “All authorities must come together to provide better security,” he said.

Spokesman for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said the government is “strengthening and improving facilities for all institutions and courts.”

He said issues of space for institutions such as the criminal court would resolved when the ministries move to the new Wellaanage complex, soon to be completed.

He also criticised judge Abdulla Mohamed for failing to take his concerns to the “proper channels.

“I don’t believe people in the judiciary should access media to give political messages,” Zuhair said.


Police testify against president’s office staff member over drugs charge

Two policewomen have testified in court against the deputy under secretary of the President’s Office, Aishath Eeman, after she was arrested on drugs related charge.

The police testified that Eeman refused to give them a urine sample when she was brought into the police station on suspected drug possession in December 2009.

Constable Mahdhoodhaa Saleem told the court that Eeman was requested to give a urine sample three different times, but she had refused.

Constable Thalia Ali also said she asked Eeman for a urine sample, and explained that the procedure was that the person would only give the sample if they wanted to.

When judge Abdulla Mohamed heard this, he said that giving the sample was a person’s own choice and that an accusation could’t be made just because someone refused to do something out of choice.

However the state prosecutor said that the judge had misunderstood, and that Constable Thaila had used the right of the police to request a urine sample.

Eeman’s defense team meanwhile said that Eeman could refuse giving a urine sample as part of her right to remain silent.

The policewomen’s testimony conflicted in the time Eeman was reportedly brought in. Constable Mahdhoodhaa said Eaman was brought to the station around 6:00pm in the evening, while Constable Thaila said Eeman was brought to the station between 9:00pm and 12:00pm.

Speaking on behalf of the president’s office, Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said Eeman was “technically on leave at the moment. We are providing legal assistance for her through the president’s office.”

Zuhair said the case was being conducted by the judicial system, “so even if the person is from the president’s office they must be investigated.”

The Deputy Prosecutor General Shameem said that despite the high profile of the defendant prosecutor general’s office was not giving the case any special attention and was treating it “like any other normal case.”

The trial is continuing.


HIV paedophile Irushaad jailed for three years

An HIV positive paedophile has been sentenced to three years in prison for having sex with two underage girls.

Twenty-six year-old Irushaad Moosa of Meemu Mulaku was arrested in August 2009 after returning home to the Maldives around four years prior after working on a Maldivian ship. He reportedly contracted the HIV virus while he was overseas.

Residents on Meemu Mulaku soon started complaining about Irushaad’s relationship with the young girls of the island.

In August 2009 he was reported to police for having sex with two girls aged between 16 and 17. The island chief told Minivan News that islanders were very concerned about Irushaad remaining loose in the community, as he had allegedly told them “I will infect others before I die.”

The prosecutor general’s office stated that although the sentence appeared lenient, it was the maximum possible as the crimes were committed before the new, tougher laws against sex offenders were passed.

Those laws, ratified in November, carry penalties of up to 25 years for sexual abuse of a minor. When serial paedophile Hussain Fazeel was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for 39 counts of child sexual abuse, it was the highest sentence for such a crime in the Maldives and widely regarded as a landmark decision for the country.

Aishath Velezinee, a human rights campaigner on the judicial service commission said the he three year sentence was the maximum under the applicable law “and I do not believe the judge has been irresponsible or lenient.”

“The fact is that the criminal act took place before the new harsher laws [were in place], and he cannot be penalised in retrospective.”

However, she said, “As there is no public sex offender registry, it is in the public’s interest for the media and civil society to report and monitor these convicts and their movements after their release, to ensure community safety. Paedophiles do not reform after a two year stint in jail.”

Asked if the island community was concerned about a criminal like Irushaad being released back into the community so soon, Hassan Zakaria, a social service officer formerly from the Meemu Mulaku  said the case “was probably reported because the island community was aware of the situation.”

“I believe that there is a lower possibility of something like this happening [again] on the island.”