Ex-pres requests for bench to hear case

Former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyom has requested the Criminal Court to proceed with his money laundering trial with a bench of judges instead of a single judge presiding over the case.

The former president made his request in a letter sent to Acting Chief Judge of the court Ali Rasheed Hussain.

Yameen's money laundering trial was being overseen by Chief Judge of the court Ahmed Hailam. However, on the day on which a verdict was set to be delivered, Hailam was suspended by the Judicial Service Commission over a controversial Victory Day greeting he sent to a private group on a social media platform. The cartoon illustration shared to the Criminal Court's recreation club's Viber group depicted president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Speaker Mohamed Nasheed handcuffed and being dragged in chains behind the perpetrators of the November 3,1988 attacks by the fallen hero of the attack, Martyr Hussain Adam.

While Judge Hailam has apologized for his action, he has claimed that he was not aware the president and the speaker were illustrated on the drawing.

According to the Criminal Procedure laws, the power to make a decision on how to proceed with the case in Judge Hailam's absence lies with the Acting Chief Judge of the court. The power to assign judges to a case also lies with the Acting Chief Judge.

While the former president has requested for a bench to oversee his case, he made a similar request at the beginning of his trial. However, Judge Hailam had at the time made the decision to preside over the case alone. Judge Hailam had stated that overseeing cases as a bench is usually reserved for upper courts.

A bench of judges do not oversee Criminal Court cases as a usual practice. The last time a bench tried a case was for Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim's bribery trial. The bench was later dissolved.

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.

The court is yet to make a decision regarding the former president's request to form a bench.