Former Member of Parliament for the Fulidhoo Constituency Yoosuf Naeem’s defense lawyers argued that the claim against the defendant and the former president, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Qayyoom was filed without evidence, in reference to an incorrect article citation.
In the V. Aarah lease case, Yoosuf Naeem was charged with giving a bribe of USD 1 million to facilitate the sale of Aarah and President Yameen was charged with money laundering and accepting the bribe. Both parties pled “not guilty” to charges.
In their closing statements, the defense stated that the article “Bribery under Chapter 510(b)(d) of the Maldives Penal Code (Law No. 6/2014)” referenced by the prosecution defined official authority as the performance or non-performance by a public official of a public duty or the use or non-use of state power by a public official to grant or deny a benefit to a person or group.
Additionally, lawyer Hamza asserted that the definition is further refined by the official commentary of the Criminal Law Project and the American Professor Paul Robinson, a leading expert who worked on enacting the Penal Code. Defense noted that according to the report, the allegations of bribery must fall within the official authority of the accused, and Robison had argued that this article cannot be incited for a bribe taken for any action that falls outside of one’s official jurisdiction.
Lawyer Hamza stated that to cite this article, one’s actions should have reaped benefits not lawfully authorized by law in exchange for influencing or agreeing to influence official authority or exercising or omitting to exercise official authority. However, one without official authority could not be charged under the article.
In reference to the case, Lawyer Hamza stated that although the President of the Maldives holds the official authority to lease and transfer the lease of islands registered under the Ministry of Tourism, the prosecution could not prove that the President held authority of leasing or transferring the lease of islands under Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).
Hamza argued that according to the Maldives Tourism Act, the President holds authority to determine tourism zones, islands for development as tourist resorts and places for development as marinas. However, stating that the parties to lease the assets to is determined by the Ministry of Tourism, the defense argued that the law along with witness testimonies presented by the prosecution proved this argument.
Hamza stated that while the Ministry should be run by the Minister, the constitution dictates that the Minister must abide by the laws and regulations. The defense added that MMPRC, as a state-owned enterprise, answers to the Privatization and Corporatization Board (PCB).
Hamza stated that while Yoosuf Naeem’s defense was uncommon, the prosecution holds the responsibility of negating the defense. However, he asserted that the prosecution had failed to present enough evidence to negate Yoosuf Naeem’s defense.
Furthermore, Hamza said that the prosecution is heavily dependent on the testimonies of unreliable witnesses such as former Vice President Ahmed Adheeb and former MD of MMPRC Abdulla Ziyath, without adequate evidence to support their testimonies. The prosecution submitted the meeting agenda of the Economic and Youth Council (EYC) and a note shared by President Yameen during the meeting as evidence. However, Hamza argued that while the meeting provided no proof that President Yameen agreed to the lease agreement of V. Aarah, the EYC meeting was observed by VIce President Adheeb.
Hamza added that although the two additional letters of correspondence regarding the EYC meeting from the President’s Office, presented by prosecution, stated that President Yameen approved the V. Aarah lease agreement under advice of the EYC, it did not prove that the decision had only been taken by the President either.
Highlighting these points, Hamza cited two cases heard at American courts where the ruling stated that a person cannot be charged with bribery for paying someone to perform an act which falls outside of one’s official authority. Hamza claimed that since the verbiage of these rulings clearly resounds with the Penal Code diction.
Hamza noted that the evidence submitted by the prosecution had no chain of custody and therefore, their acquisition of the evidence remains vague and unclear. Defense asserted that since prosecution could not present the chain of custody for data collected from the phones, the authenticity of the evidence is questionable and therefore invalid.