Witnesses testify about coffee-table conversation in ‘sniper’ plot trial

Witnesses testify about coffee-table conversation in ‘sniper’ plot trial
September 19 18:55 2016

Two anonymised witnesses testified about a coffee-table conversation today in the trial of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, two of his associates, and a Sri Lankan man on charges of conspiring to assassinate the president.

Adeeb, who is serving a 33-year prison sentence on corruption and terror charges, is accused of hiring the alleged Sri Lankan sniper, Lahiru Madushanka, to shoot President Abdulla Yameen in October last year.

Adeeb’s associate Fazeel Hameed is accused of conspiring with him to hire the sniper. The fourth defendant, Ishaq Hussain, who was charged with accessory to murder, is alleged to have delivered the payment.

Testifying via teleconference with a disguised voice, the first prosecution witness said he met Fazeel the day after the September 28 blast on Yameen’s speedboat, an assassination attempt for which Adeeb has been convicted.

In a conversation among four people, Fazeel said of the incident, “This would have been over if it was done in one go,” according to the witnesses.

The second witness said Ishaq told a group of five people that he gave US$20,000 to Fazeel. The witness described Ishaq as a close friend who often talked about distributing money from Adeeb to various people. 

Ishaq is the younger brother of Mohamed Hussain ‘Oittey,’ the former vice president’s driver who fled the country last year.

A secretly filmed confession by Oittey about delivering US$1 million in cash to Yameen was featured in an Al Jazeera corruption exposé aired earlier this month.

Meanwhile, offered the opportunity to cross-examine the witness, Ishaq’s lawyer, former Attorney General Husnu Suood, strongly objected to the testimony.

“Is this all that Ishaq has been held been held in detention for eight months for?” he asked as the judge urged him to question the witness.

Asked when and where the conversation took place, the witness said it was in a restaurant and claimed not to know the five others present.

The witness also never saw Ishaq personally distributing or handling money.

Judge Ali Adam concluded today’s hearing after announcing that the testimony of the remaining three prosecution witnesses will be heard later. The next trial date was not announced.

A Sinhala translator was meanwhile arranged for the Sri Lankan defendant today. His lawyer told the judge at the last hearing that he could not fully understand the English translations from the court interpreter.

The defence lawyer also asked to call two Sri Lankans as witnesses to explain why he came to the Maldives.

Madushanka has been detained since October 24, the same day Adeeb was arrested on suspicion of links to the explosion on Yameen’s speedboat.

The 27-year-old is accused of accepting the contract and flying to the Maldives earlier in the month.

At the first hearing of the trial on August 10, the judge ordered both Madushanka and the alleged co-conspirators to be detained pending a verdict.

In July, the Sri Lankan government reportedly rejected requests by the Maldivian police to question Madushanka’s family.

“I just want my son to come back. We know he is not involved in this. He has been there for nearly a year without evidence against him. He has a wife and a four-year-old son, who suffers deeply without his father,” Madushanka’s mother told the Sunday Times.

Sri Lankan media previously reported that Madhushanka was a dry fish seller, and the Colombo-based Daily Mirror, citing the defence ministry, said he was not attached to the Sri Lankan military.

Former Home Minister Umar Naseer had claimed that Adeeb hired the sniper after Yameen escaped unhurt from the bomb blast.

“Though a sniper rifle hasn’t yet been found, police have recovered a telescope and bullet used in such rifles. It’s now established that the suspect knew that his target was the president. Investigations have confirmed that there was a planned sniper attack on the president,” Naseer told Reuters at the time.

At the time of his arrest, reliable sources said Madushanka was first arrested on a charge of “distributing money to groups and attempting to create unrest.”

The police announced his arrest after Yameen declared an unprecedented 30-day state of emergency in early November.

Madhushanka’s arrest along with the expulsion of a Maldivian social media activist from Sri Lanka had strained relations between the two neighbours. In an unprecedented move, Sri Lanka criticised the emergency decree and warned the Maldives against creating “regional instability.”