Criminal Court dismisses bribery charges against Youth Minister

The Criminal Court on Tuesday dismissed the bribery charges raised against Youth Minister Ahmed Mahloof.

The Prosecutor General's Office charged Mahloof with accepting bribery under the Prevention and Prohibition of Corruption Act. He was charged after the police, the Asset Recovery Commission, and the Anti-Corruption Commission's joint investigation into the MMPRC graft found he was a recipient of corruption-tainted public funds. The court proceedings began on February 10, where Mahloof denied the charges raised against him and said the evidence was not collected in a manner that would hold up in court.

The State had said Mahloof accepted US$ 33,000 while he was an MP to vote in favor of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) bill and remain as a member of the then-ruling party, the Progressive Party Maldives. The State said that the bribe was given to Mahloof by former Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb through SOF Pvt Ltd.

The presiding Judge, Mohamed Misbah, Tuesday said the evidence submitted to prove the charges are unsubstantial. While the Judge had previously noted that the prime evidence to prove Mahloof accepted the bribe was a statement by Ahmed Adeeb, the State had said although this was the case, there were other evidence to support Adeeb's statement.

The Judge said although Adeeb claims Mahloof accepted a bribe, his statement was based on the word of a senior executive of SOF Pvt Ltd, Mohamed Allaam Latheef. Despite Adeeb claiming Mahloof received the bribe, the statement contradicts the statements of other witnesses, he noted. In this regard, Allaam himself had denied any bribe was given to Mahloof through him, the Judge said.

Additionally, the Judge noted that Adeeb had not provided any details on how the funds were circulated. He further said it could not be perceived that Adeeb was a person who had no fear of a loss and no hope for a benefit in testifying against Mahloof.

While the State submitted messages exchanged between Adeeb and Mahloof as evidence, the Judge noted that the messages showed Mahloof asked Adeeb for a favor after the vote on the SEZ bill was taken.

Adeeb's statement had said MPs were offered MVR 500,000 for their vote on the SEZ bill. Although the State noted that Mahloof had received the equivalent of MVR 500,000 in United States Dollars during the same period as the vote, no other evidence to support that MPs were offered MVR 500,000 were presented by the State, the Judge said.

The State also said Mahloof sent a text message to Adeeb asking him to 'arrange' something and followed up with another message thanking him. The State said that as the dates the messages and the date of the vote coincide, the two events are linked.

However, the Judge said the evidence submitted by the State to support Adeeb's statement is insufficient. He said that the State's focus was negating the defense's evidence instead of proving that Mahloof had accepted the bribe through substantial evidence. Therefore, as the case cannot proceed further, the charges are dismissed, the Judge said.