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Two top court judges convicted of undue influence

Criminal Court on Thursday convicted two top court judges of abuse of power to influence lower court judges and sentenced them to one year, six months and one day in prison.

Chief justice Abdulla Saeed along with top court judge Ali Hameed are facing four separate charges which includes terrorism after being accused in the plot to overthrow the government.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 had declared state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before state of emergency was declared.

In addition to the terrorism charge, the top court judges who remains in custody under the state of emergency have also been charged with abuse of power to influence lower court judges.

The judge presiding over the case had delivered a sentence four times the usual punishment for the charge which was nine months and 18 days saying that as judge of the apex court, the defendants had the foremost responsibility to ensure justice.

The prosecution had presented several court verdicts and two judges as secret witnesses against the accused.

The defence meanwhile had claimed conflict of interest after one piece of prosecution evidence was a verdict issued by the presiding judge.

The judge had referred to the prosecution evidence pointing that the testimonies of the two judges proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants had used their authorities to influence the judiciary for personal gain.

The defence meanwhile had not presented any evidence or witnesses during the trial.

The prison sentence would add to the four months and 24 days given to chief justice Saeed who was also convicted of impeding the functioning of the state last week.

With the conviction, the two judges would be automatically removed from office in accordance with a recently ratified amendment to the judges Act if the two appellate courts uphold the sentence.

According to the controversial amendment, a judge convicted of a criminal offence would be removed with immediate effect after the sentence. The amendment was also designed to bypass the constitutional article on removal of judges arguing that it does not relate to the conduct of judges.

The amendment said the judicial service commission (JSC) must suspend the judge with pay following his or her arrest. However, once the judge is formally charged he or she would cease to receive pay while he or she would be immediately removed from office if convicted.

The ruling party in its amendment has also limited the time for appeal. A convicted judge must file the first appeal within 10 days while first appellate court is given 30 days to arrive at a sentence. The same time frame has been afforded to the Supreme Court as the last stage of appeal.