The opposition has always maintained several points of concern regarding the Criminal Court verdict that sentenced former President Yameen Abdul Gayyoom to five years in prison. Among these points of concern has been the accusation that the government had blatantly exerted undue influence over the proceedings of the court case against the former president, who still remains the leader of the largest political opposition to the government.
Although the Solih administration had been voted in with promises of justice and of establishing a fair judiciary, the underhanded way in which the Yameen trial had been handled shows the extent of the government's influence over the judiciary.
Adeeb and Ziyath's Testimony Accepted In Violation Of Supreme Court Ruling
Maldivian law maintains several pre-requisites to accepting the testimony of witnesses in a court case. The case against the former President had been built on the testimony of Ahmed Adeeb, his former Vice President, and Abdullah Ziyath, the former Managing Director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC). The court had already ruled Adeeb and Ziyath as being guilty of the same charges laid against former President Yameen.
However, as per a prior Supreme Court ruling, the testimony of a defendant in a case may not be used either for or against another defendant in the same case.
Both Adeeb and Ziyath had plead guilty to the charges of embezzling the acquisition fees of leasing several islands, including Fuggiri (Raa atoll); a charge that had also been laid against the former President by the State. As per the Supreme Court ruling, neither Adeeb's nor Ziyath's testimony against the former President should be accepted.
In addition, both Adeeb and Ziyath remain in custody following a criminal investigation into the MMPRC embezzlement scandal.
On President Solih's inauguration, both Adeeb and Ziyath had entered into plea bargains with the government. Both Adeeb and Ziyath remain under house-arrest.
The opposition claim that they had been allowed to remain under house-arrest so that they may be used as witnesses in building the case against the former President.
During the ongoing appeal at the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court's bench pointed out to the prosecution that the cheque number in the case file did not match the cheque number listed in the SOF Pvt Ltd financial statement. The judges also mentioned that the lower court had not submitted the cheque, but rather it had been submitted by the appellant.
Justice Mahaz noted that the number on the cheque itself, the cheque number on the receipt, and on the account statement did not match. Ahmed Naufal, on behalf of the prosecution, said that the discrepancy was of a few characters, but that this was no more than a typographical error made in the preparation of the account statement. Naufal said that the deposited sum and the dates match, and these other circumstances demonstrated that this cheque had been used to deposit the funds into SOF Pvt Ltd’s account.
On behalf of the appellant, Abdullah Shiyaz stated that the prosecution had neglected to inform the lower court and the appellant of the discrepancies with regards to the cheque number. He said that this proves the State’s negligence.
Justice Mahaz asked the prosecution if it could be proven beyond reasonable doubt Mauritius Commercial Bank cheque had been used to deposit the funds into the account. He noted that all of the cheques referred to in the account statement were Bank of Maldives cheques.
Naufal responded that based on the cheque number and the receipts, it was clear that an MCB cheque and a BML cheque had been used. However, he admitted, the cheque referred to in the account statement was unknown. Naufal maintained that based on the cheque and its deposit slip it was clear that this was the cheque used for that transaction. No other transaction of one million USD had taken place on the date, he said.
Anti-Corruption Commission's Fmr Chief was Threatened
An audio recording had recently leaked in which the former President of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Muavviz Rasheed, was said to have been threatened into testifying against the former President. As per the audio recording, Muavviz had reportedly said that even if he were not testifying against Yameen, he would have to respond to the court summons as he was residing in the Maldives.
He is also heard saying that if he did not respond to the summons, it was was very possible that a case may be fabricated against him. He said that his own name was included in the MMPRC list. He is also heard saying that after he leaves a 10-year career, there would be several things that could be used against him. He is further heard saying in the audio recording that it had not been concluded that the USD$1 million that had entered the former President's bank account had been embezzled from the State. He is also heard saying that since the source of the funds was suspect, it had been the former President Yameen himself who had requested that the money be placed in an escrow account.
A second person on the audio recording is heard asking Muavviz if the funds that had been deposited in the former President's account had belonged to the MMPRC. He denied the claim. He also said that he had not sent a letter to the Maldives Police Service claiming that the funds in the former President's account actually belonged to the State. He also stated that the testimony of "people residing in England" were taken illegally. He had also said that they were the true perpetrators of the MMPRC embezzlement, and he said that he believed that considering them witnesses in the case and traveling to the United Kingdom on tourist visas to record their testimony violated the law. Muavviz is heard saying that they would "come after" him with a fabricated criminal case if he were to refuse to testify.
He said that the people who had transferred the funds to the former President's account had not been questioned, as they were in the United Kingdom. He is heard saying that the funds in the former President's accounts cannot be determined to belong to the State if the people in the United Kingdom were not interrogated. He also said that no investigation into the matter would be complete without interrogating them. He further stated that the investigation was still incomplete.
Muavviz is further heard saying that he believes that the charges against the former President are "politically-motivated", engineered to "destroy" him. He had said that the former President had in no way interfered with the Anti-Corruption Commission's investigation. He is also heard saying that the Solih administration's priority was to bar the former President from running for election again.
Judge Dismissed Just Before Verdict
The first judge to preside over the former President's case had been Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Ahmed Hailam.
The Judicial Service Commission had decided to suspend the presiding judge, Ahmed Hailam, in the morning of the day that the hearing had been scheduled. The hearing had been scheduled for 1pm that day. Chief Judge Hailam had been suspended after the JSC had claimed that he had refused to respond to the JSC's summons at 8am that morning.
The JSC had begun inquiring into an issue of misconduct by Hailam. He had shared a political cartoon on Victory Day with the Criminal Court's internal Viber group. The political cartoon depicted Speaker Nasheed and President Solih in chains. Hailam had been suspended for a period of 60 days.
Hailam had publicly apologised for sharing the cartoon and maintained that he had done so by mistake. The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party had, nevertheless, called for a criminal investigation.
Hailam Admitted To Undue Influence Over Yameen Case
After his suspension, Hailam had released a statement in which he had claimed that after the money-laundering charges had been laid against the former President, "officials of varying ranks" within the government had attempted to exert their influence over Hailam through people close to him. In his statement, he had said that the biggest efforts had been made on the 3rd and the 4th of November [in 2019].
"People in very high posts within the government have directly, and through people I know, sought assurances that Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayyoom will be sentenced to prison", wrote Hailam in his statement.
Hailam had said that he would refuse to give such an assurance, and they had threatened him with a case involving a financial transaction between Alhan Fahmy and himself.
Hailam Replaced With Ali Rasheed Illegally
Immediately prior to the issuing of the verdict, the presiding judge Hailam had been removed from the case and suspended. The case had been handed over to Judge Ali Rasheed.
Speaking with The Maldives Journal, Hailam said that although he had been suspended due to the inquiry into an accusation of misconduct by him, it would not be known for sure if he would have indeed be found guilty of miscoduct, or even if he would be dismissed from the bench. He also said that there was no way that Ali Rasheed could take over a case that he had been presiding over, even if he was dismissed.
"A case that I had been presiding over should not have been handed over to him the next day. As I had been suspended on the fifth day, the case should not have been handed over [to Judge Ali Rasheed] on the sixth day under the pretext that he had been appointed as Chief Judge of the Criminal Court", said Hailam. "Perhaps Ali Rasheed may say that he took the case with good intentions. That he took the case in order to issue a verdict within 30 days of the summary statement [as per the law]. Then my question is, out of all of the cases over which I was presiding that required a verdict to be issued within 30 days of the summary statement, why was this the only case to be handed over?"
Judges' Panel Assembled Against The Law
The judges' panel had been assembled in violation of several regulations governing court proceedings.
As per the regulations, the chief judge has power over the assembly of the judges' panel. However, the chief judge would not have such power if a panel were assembled to preside over an ongoing case. The power would be granted, instead, to all the judges of the Criminal Court as a decision to be made among themselves.
However, a statement released by Chief Judge Ali Rasheed indicates that he had assembled the judges' bench given the powers granted him by the regulations. The regulations also state that senior judges be prioritized in assembling a bench. However, this regulation had not been considered by the Chief Judge.
Audio That Proves Undue Influence
An audio recording of Judge Hussain Faiz had been recently leaked. Judge Hussain Faiz had been on the bench that had sentenced the former President to prison. A forensic analysis conducted by the Maldives Police Service at the request of the JSC had positively identified the voice on the recording to belong to Judge Hussain Faiz.
In the recording, Faiz is heard saying that the judges had been "taken hostage" in order to issue a guilty verdict against the former President. He had said that there were several ways by which one could be taken hostage, and he said that even if he was directly not threatened, people close to him; such as wife; were vulnerable to such dangers.
Judge Faiz is heard saying that the guilty verdict had been issued not for a single reason, but for several. However, he had refused to go into detail. "Presiding over political cases is a strange matter", he is heard saying. Judge Faiz had said that support for the former President would only increase with the days he spends enduring the sentence of an unjust verdict.
Another audio recording of Judge Ali Adam, who had also sat on the bench, had been leaked around the same time as the prior recording. The forensic analysis had not positively identified the voice on the recording to belong to Judge Adam. In the recording, the voice believed to belong to Judge Ali Adam is heard saying that he did not know what was in the verdict that sentenced the former President to five years in prison. The voice is heard saying that all that the government had ordered was to sit on the panel.
"The gentleman had told me to sit on the bench with Judge Ali Rasheed on President Yameen's case. He had told me not to say anything, and that Ali Rasheed would carry everything out", the voice is heard saying.
The voice is heard saying that he was met by Ali Zahir, Chief of Staff at the President's Office, regarding the trial. He had also said that the government had promised to promote him to Chief Judge. He said that despite the verdict, the government had not followed through with their promise.
Promotions Based On Verdicts
On 6 August 2020, President Solih had tweeted that he had nominated Dr Mohamed Ibrahim and Ali Rasheed for the Supreme Court and had requested the JSC for their counsel on the nominations. The opposition had previously accused Criminal Court Chief Judge Ali Rasheed of issuing the verdict in exchange for a Supreme Court nomination.
Whole Country Awaits For Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court of the Maldives has scheduled a hearing on President Yameen’s case for 30th November 2021, where they will render their verdict.
The whole country waits for the Supreme Court’s decision as it will determine the political future of the country. If the court decides to uphold the Criminal Court ruling, it will bar the opposition leader President Yameen from running in the next presidential elections.