Maldives court throws out bribery charges over Feb 1 order

Maldives' criminal court on Wednesday threw out bribery charges against the four suspects implicated over an alleged plot to overthrow the government following the Supreme Court order on February 1 due to lack of evidence.

According to the prosecution, opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) leader and Villa Group owner Gasim Ibrahim's son had bribed the now jailed former chief justice Abdulla Saeed and fellow top court judge Ali Hameed into issuing the landmark ruling ordering the release of several jailed opposition leaders including self exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Prosecutors had presented a letter signed by Siyad Gasim found inside a black backpack recovered during a search of the now jailed chief judicial administrator's residence who had also been charged with the same offence.

According to the prosecution the letter shows that funds amounting to USD2.4 million given by Villa Shipping & Trading Company Pvt Ltd to the judges and their relatives of those suspect towards purchasing properties from a foreign country.

The document proves that the beneficiaries of the payment were judge Hameed's son, Chief justice Saeed and the ex-wife of the chief judicial administrator, prosecution had said.

However, during the hearing on Wednesday, the judge threw out the case saying that the prosecution had not presented sufficient evidence to directly link the properties purchased by Villa to the judges.

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Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before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

Chief justice Abdulla Saeed along with top court judge Ali Hameed facing four separate charges which includes terrorism after being accused in the plot to overthrow the government were convicted of abuse of power to influence lower court judges and sentenced to one year, six months and one day in prison in June.

The criminal court's verdict comes in the wake of the opposition's resounding victory in last month's presidential elections.

Since the election victory on September 23, most of the jailed opposition leaders has either been released or granted bail.