Criminal Court has stated that it remains undecided if former president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom's money laundering trial will be re-started afresh despite the formation of a five-judge bench to hear the case.
The former president's case was initially overseen by now-suspended Criminal Court Chief Judge Ahmed Hailam. All hearings of the trial were televised live on national TV, and a verdict was set to be delivered last Tuesday after concluding all hearings.
However, an unforeseen turn of events saw Judge Hailam being suspended by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) mere hours ahead of the hearing, over a controversial Victory Day greeting sent by the judge to a social network group.
The image shared by Judge Hailam depicted the Victory Day hero, Martyr Hussain Adam dragging President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Parliament Speaker former president Mohamed Nasheed and those convicted for the November 3, 1988 terror attack by a chain locked around their necks.
Following Hailam's suspension, Judge Ali Rasheed was appointed as the Acting Chief Judge of the court for the duration of Judge Hailam's suspension.
According to Article 152 of Criminal Procedure laws, 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.
Judge Ali Rasheed formed a five-judge bench on Tuesday to hear the former president's money laundering case. This is the first time in recent years that a five-judge bench will preside over a Criminal Court case. Following the announcement, several local medias reported that the Criminal Court has decided on a re-trial.
However, Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) said a decision has not yet been made thus far whether to proceed the trial from its current point, or to hear the case afresh. A decision will be made on the matter by the newly formed bench, said DJA.
The bench is made of up Acting Chief Judge Ali Rasheed, Judge Ahmed Shakeel, Judge Mohamed Sameer, Judge Ali Adam and Judge Hussain Faiz Rashad.
Last week, former president Yameen requested the criminal Court to arrange for a bench to hear his case. He made a similar request during the initial stages of his trial. However, Judge Hailam had at the time made the decision to turn down the request and chose to preside over the case alone. Judge Hailam had stated that overseeing cases as a bench is usually reserved for upper courts.
While the Criminal Court has now decided to grant Yameen's request for a bench to hear his case, cases overseen by the Criminal Court is not usually heard by a bench. 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.