'Chief of Staff exerts influence on court cases': former judges

Former Chief Judge of High Court, Sujau Usman and former Criminal Court Judge, Hassan Najeeb has said Chief of Staff at the President's Office, Ali Zahir attempted to influence the court's decisions on multiple occasions while they were on the job.

Audio clips were recently leaked on social media, in which three judges who were on the bench that convicted former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom of money laundering, are heard speaking regarding the case. In the clips, a judge claimed the bench was forced to issue the conviction against Yameen, while a second judge claimed he did not know what the court's ruling said and that he was on the bench on government orders. He also said he was given instructions on the matter by Chief of Staff, Ali Zahir.

Following the audio leak, some former judges and lawyers held a press conference on Saturday to voice their concerns on the country's judicial system. Speaking during the press conference, former Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Sujau Usman said he believes the government exerted influence on President Yameen's trial, adding that the rumors that Ali Zahir influenced judges are true.

'Ali Zahir even called me. He called me on multiple occasions regarding different High Court cases. Not once, twice or thrice, he called me several times. I was very upset about it and I even threw my phone [like this] at my legal officer [out of frustration]. It is these very people - the ones who claim they would not exert influence, who say they will not meddle with cases, who say they will ensure the judiciary is independent- that are making calls over these cases,' said Sujau, who stepped down from his post after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) made the decision to terminate him.

Sujau said the Maldives' judicial system is tainted with influence, and that he is very concerned over the matter. He went on to claim that Ali Zahir made the calls regarding court cases on the direct order of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

'In his calls to me, Ali Zahir has said the President specifically mentioned certain cases, and advised me on how to proceed with the cases,' said Sujau.

Speaking at the same press conference, former Criminal Court judge, Hassan Najeeb said the sentence that was handed to President Yameen is not the fairest, and that the leaked audio clips further prove it. Najeeb said he has closely witnessed and experienced the amount of influence on the judicial system, and went on to share some conversations between himself and former Criminal Court Chief Judge Ahmed Hailam, who was initially tasked with President Yameen's graft trial.

'I am someone who closely witnessed the influence [on President Yameen's trial]. President Yameen's case was first overseen by then Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Al-Ustad Ahmed Hailam. I still remember the conversations between Hailam and I while the case was ongoing. I was in my office one day when Hailam came into the room. At the time, Hailam was in charge of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom's case. I said to Hailam that I have heard that Husnu-al-Suood is being appointed as a Supreme Court Judge. I am telling the truth, with no influence exerted on me, with no political purpose, and no selfish reasons, I am speaking out about this as I wish to make the public aware,' said Najeeb, who also resigned on his own after JSC decided to terminate him.

'Hailam immediately called minister at the President's Office, Ali Zahir. Ali Zahir called Hailam back in less than a minute. Hailam answered the call and put him on speaker phone. He put him on speaker phone so I can hear [the conversation], and referred to Ali Zahir as Alipee, not Ali Zahir. He asked, Alipee, what is this that we are hearing. I heard Ali Zahir say, what is the matter. In response, Hailam said, "Is not Husnu-al-Suood being appointed to the Supreme Court. There is no way that anything can be done from my side." This is the truth. I swear by Allah that this is true. Ali Zahir then said to Hailam that there was no need for him to worry, and that it has been confirmed that Hailam will be appointed to the Supreme Court. This is the reality. This is what I heard,' Najeeb said, adding that neither Hailam nor Ali Zahir can deny it.

Najeeb then spoke about current Supreme Court Judge Ali Rasheed, who led the five-judge Criminal Court bench that found Yameen guilty of money laundering.

Najeeb said Ali Rasheed was one of his teachers and that he respects the judge. However, Ali Rasheed is someone who detests President Yameen, and one of his adverseries, said Najeeb. Ali Rasheed himself has spoken of his hatred for Yameen to Najeeb, he added.

As both Ali Rasheed and Najeeb reside in Hulhumale', they ride together to Male' in Criminal Court's vehicle, said Najeeb. He spoke of conversations that took place during these trips.

'I am stating this with sincerity. While we were getting on the bridge, Ali Rasheed said to me, "I shake when getting on the bridge. I shake when I see the 25-storey Dharumavantha Hospital building. There is so much corruption [in these infrastructures]. I detest President Yameen for this reason". What I am trying to say is, it is not appropriate for someone who detests President Yameen to deliver a judgement on him', said Najeeb.

Najeeb went on to say that as his teacher, Ali Rasheed had always preached that no judges must deliver a judgement when high on emotions, or on someone they detest. He said Ali Rasheed had averted from following his on teachings.

Najeeb said he did not speak on the matter before this as he wished to wait for an appropriate time. He further said if the people wished for justice, they should stand up for it and work towards it.