Presiding judge suspended, what happens to ex-pres' trial?

This Tuesday, the whole nation was holding its breath while the Criminal Court was set to deliver a verdict on former president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom's money laundering trial.

However, an unforeseen turn of events saw the hearing scheduled for 1:00 pm in the cancelled mere hours ahead of the impending verdict, after the presiding judge Ahmed Hailam was suspended earlier the same morning, bringing the case to a halt.

The former president's trial was conducted within an ample amount of time. While all hearings were concluded last month, the verdict was to be delivered in a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, well within the period stipulated under the Criminal Procedure Act. However, with the recent developments, the date will now change.

Judge Hailam was suspended over a cartoon greeting he forwarded to the Criminal Court's recreational group's Viber platform on the occasion of Victory Day. The illustration depicted President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Parliament Speaker and former president Mohamed Nasheed handcuffed and being dragged in chains by fallen hero of the November 11 1988 attacks, Shaheed (martyr) Hussain Adam.

The issue escalated and Hailam was placed under immediate suspension by the judicial watchdog in a rushed move. While Hailam's suspension could last up to 60 days, we have no idea how the investigations against him would ensue, what its findings would be, and what action will be taken against him.

While this is the case, it is now likely that President Yameen's trial will be prolonged and delayed by a long period. Article 152 of the Criminal Procedure laws clearly state what action may be taken in the case a presiding judge is unable to sit over a case.

According to the article, in the case the judge before whom a trial began cannot proceed with a trial for any reason, a judge assigned to the court shall proceed with the trial or will be granted a fresh trial. Under the article, the power to make the decision lies with the Chief Judge / Acting Chief Judge of the court. According to the law, the judge must make a decision and inform both the prosecution and the defense on how the trial will proceed.

Even if the trial is assigned to a new judge, a hearing will be held to complete procedures. If a new trial is pursued, this again is the start of a long procedure - witness statements will have to be re-recorded, the whole trial will be repeated started afresh.

The power to decide on how to proceed with the case now lies with Criminal Court Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain who has been temporarily handed over the administration of the court. While Judge Hailam was the chief judge of the court, JSC made the decision to appoint Ali Rasheed to take over Hailam’s responsibilities for the duration of his suspension as the Acting Chief Judge. Therefore, how President Yameen's trial will proceed from this point now rests in Judge Ali Rasheed's hands.

JSC transferred Judge Ali Rasheed to Criminal Court from the Civil Court this February. While he is now the acting Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, he has also applied for High Court judgeship.

President Yameen is accused of defying the agreement between himself and the Anti-Corruption Commission, which stipulated the former president to move funds in his Maldives Islamic Bank (MIB) account that are suspected of having being laundered, into an escrow account set up between the two parties.

While two cheques worth US$ 1 million were deposited into Yameen's MIB account by a private company named SOF Pvt Ltd, the funds are said to be embezzled state funds that were to be received by Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company as acquisition cost for leasing islands for tourism purpose.

ACC instructed Yameen to move the deposited funds to the escrow account, however, President Yameen transferred US$ 1 million from his Bank of Maldives (BML) account instead of from the account in question. The transferred funds are reported to have been deposited into President Yameen's BML account by former Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer.

Yameen is accused of attempting to cover up the source and trail of the original funds in his MIB account in an attempt to launder the funds. The original funds deposited by SOF Pvt Ltd were moved to President Yameen's investment account at Maldives Islamic Bank.

While Tuesday's hearing was set to deliver a verdict on the trial, Judge Hailam's suspension hours ahead of the hearing has left the country wondering how the trial would now proceed. The Criminal Court’s decision regarding Yameen’s trial remains unclear at this point.