Ex-pres submits complaint over bench to Supreme Court

Former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom's legal team has lodged a complaint at the Supreme Court regarding the five-judge bench formed by the Criminal Court to oversee his money laundering trial.

Yameen's lawyer Dr. Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said the case was submitted as the bench was formed unlawfully.

While a bench can only be formed after discussion among the Judges Council, the bench was formed instead by the acting chief judge of the court Judge Ali Rasheed, said Jameel. Jameel said it is not acceptable that Judge Ali Rasheed should sit on a bench that he himself formed.

President Yameen during his last hearing had expressed his concern regarding Judge Ali Rasheed's presence on the bench, and requested for the judge to excuse himself from the case. This was due to a recent interview given by the judge to local channel Raajje TV, while the Judges Act prohibits judges from giving interviews. However, Judge Ali Rasheed had stressed that 'it was not an interview' and the judges concluded that the circumstance does not call for the judge to remove himself from the bench.

A bench was formed to oversee President Yameen's trial on the request of the defense. The case was being overseen by suspended Criminal Court Chief Judge Ahmed Hailam, before he was suspended over a controversial Victory Day greeting he shared to a social media group which depicted President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed being dragged in chains. Hailam was suspended the same day a verdict was to be delivered on the money laundering trial, mere hours ahead of the hearing.

According to Criminal Procedural 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.

Judge Hussain Rasheed was appointed as the acting chief judge in Hailam's absence. He put together a bench, and held a hearing earlier this month to complete procedural arrangements. It was decided at the hearing that the trial will be picked up from where it was left off instead of starting a fresh trial. It was announced that a verdict will be pronounced on November 28.

The five member bench is comprised of Acting Chief Judge Ali Rasheed, Judge Ahmed Shakeel, Judge Mohamed Sameer, Judge Ali Adam and Judge Hussain Faiz Rashad. President Yameen's lawyers have expressed concern, stating that the bench does not include any senior judges at the court.

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 been 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 the 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.