Ex-defence minister’s appeal: Court set to deliver verdict next week

Ex-defence minister’s appeal: Court set to deliver verdict next week
March 10 21:01 2016

The High Court will issue a verdict on an appeal filed by former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim over a weapons smuggling conviction on March 15.

The appellate court heard today anonymised testimony from six police officers of the elite SWAT unit who had broken into Nazim’s home more than a year ago.

The criminal court had refused to call all but two of the 37 defence witnesses, claiming some were not relevant while others could not negate the prosecution’s case.

The testimony given by SWAT team officers today at times contradicted the other, but all denied having planted a bag containing a pistol and bullets in a bedside drawer, as claimed by Nazim.

Today’s hearing comes amidst an international effort to pressure the government to initiate talks and release political prisoners. The opposition, however, is demanding the release of jailed politicians before they sit down.

The Supreme Court this week also concluded hearings into former President Mohamed Nasheed’s terrorism conviction. The pair’s jailing triggered a crisis that continues to roil the Maldives.

Nazim’s appeal began in June last year, but was stalled half-way through when two of the five judges overseeing the trial were transferred to a regional branch. Hearings resumed in December, and on January 5, judges promised to issue a verdict at the following session.

But judges summoned witnesses “to clarify additional matters” today.

The retired colonel maintains he was framed by rogue police officers acting on the orders of then-Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, who went on to assume the vice presidency. Adeeb is now in police custody over a mysterious blast on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat.

Nazim was handed an 11-year jail term in a trial that drew widespread condemnation over due process violations.

Nazim said the SWAT officers had broken into his apartment on January 18, 2015, ushered him and his wife out of their bedroom and spent at least ten minutes unsupervised there. The officers had planted the bag containing arms during that time, he said.

The bag was discovered during a search by a forensic team that had arrived on the scene after the SWAT team departed.

At today’s hearing, some officers said no SWAT officer had entered Nazim’s bedroom, while others said two to three officers entered the bedroom to take the couple out of the room.

Some officers said they had carried a bag when they broke into Nazim’s home, while others said they did not know if a bag had been taken in.

The human rights watchdog had also questioned police conduct during the 3:00am raid. The failure to videotape the raid “raises questions about the actions of police officers,” the Human Rights Commission of Maldives had said in July.

At the previous hearing, state prosecutors, instead of asking the High Court to uphold the guilty verdict, asked judges to deliver a fair verdict after reviewing witness testimony.

Two of the three judges who sentenced Nazim and Nasheed have been promoted to the High Court.

Amnesty International has also petitioned the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of the former minister, seeking a judgment declaring his imprisonment illegal.

In January, the prisons authority granted Nazim permission to travel to Singapore for a heart surgery.