Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim could be facing trial on a charge of attempting to bribe lawmakers to vote in favour of a no-confidence motion against the speaker of parliament.
Briefing the press on Tuesday afternoon, MP Mariya Ahmed Didi from the JP leader’s legal team, which includes two lawmakers and a former deputy prosecutor general, said the police have forwarded the bribery case to the Prosecutor General’s office.
The business tycoon has also been barred from travelling overseas for a month, she said.
The lawyers denounced the bribery charge as “baseless and politically motivated” and accused the government of seeking a pretext to jail Gasim in a bid to undermine the united opposition.
On March 24, Gasim signed a historic pact with former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla to restore democracy in the Maldives.
In the wake of last week’s failed bid to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, Gasim was summoned for questioning at the police headquarters for declaring in a speech that the allied parties would grant tickets for the 2019 parliamentary elections to MPs who vote in favour of the no-confidence motion.
A police spokeswoman declined to comment on Gasim’s case.
Ahmed Thowfeeq, spokesman at the PG office, said the case against Gasim has not been entered in the records system. But it is possible that preliminary discussions are underway, he added.
Gasim was summoned for questioning for the second time over the bribery charge on Sunday. According to his lawyers, the police produced a court warrant to take a video and audio sample.
The lawyers disputed the legality of the warrant as it was shown after Gasim exercised the right to remain silent. But the police insisted that Gasim could not remain silent and warned that he could face an obstruction of justice charge, the lawyers said.
“The order was granted before Gasim went to the police. But the order should have been issued if he refused to give the audio. The order was issued without seeing whether he refused or not,” noted Hussain Shameem, a former deputy prosecutor general.
“When he used a right provided in the constitution, they deprived him of the constitutional right by showing a court order,” said Hisaan Hussain, who also represents former President Nasheed.
“The true purpose is to find some case, raise some charge, and convict him of a crime.”
On Sunday, the government dismissed the opposition’s allegations of intimidation and harassment of politicians, insisting that the police and judiciary are independent.
Meanwhile, at a press conference later on Tuesday afternoon, Gasim denied bribing lawmakers ahead of the no-confidence vote, stressing that his appeal at the joint opposition rally was directed at JP MPs after the party issued a three-line whip to remove Maseeh.
Gasim also suggested that he could be arrested and sentenced to jail in the near future.
“I have some problems with my health, too, of course when you get this old there would be something. When I was put in jail in 2004, I had a heart problem,” he said.
“It’s okay, everyone dies someday, I have no worries over that. I am sure, with the grace of God, I will be taken to God as a perfect believer.”
He added: “Who knows, they might take me tomorrow and sentence me. I hear it’s for three years. I wanted to meet you since I might not have a chance again, if they take me to jail, I wouldn’t be able to.”
Gasim also decried the tax authority’s decision to freeze the accounts of his Villa Shipping and Trading Company over US$18 million allegedly owed as unpaid fines and rent.
The move came after the high court overturned a civil court ruling in favour of Villa over the tourism ministry’s termination of the lease agreement for the island of Elaa in Thaa atoll.
Villa has since appealed the decision at the supreme court.
Elaa was among five properties leased as part of a settlement agreement reached with the government in December 2013 after the supreme court ruled that Villa was owed US$9.7 million from the state.
However, after the JP formed an alliance with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party in early 2015, the tourism ministry cancelled the lease agreements for the five properties and the tax authority sought US$90.4 million allegedly owed as unpaid rent and fines.
The central bank subsequently froze Villa’s accounts. The crippling freeze was lifted after Gasim announced his retirement from politics and backed the government in several crucial votes, including a constitutional amendment that barred him from contesting in the 2018 presidential election.
The high court decision in late March was the latest in a series of rulings that overturned lower court judgments in favour of Villa after Gasim backed Gayoom’s decision to withdraw support for the government in late October.
By January last year, Villa had won back all five properties seized at the height of the political crisis in February 2015 after the civil court ordered the tourism ministry to comply with the lease agreements.
However, less than a month after Gasim threw his weight behind Gayoom, the high court overturned the civil court’s ruling over the seizure of the Vaavedhdhi and Bolidhuffaru lagoons.
In February, the high court also overturned a stay order issued by the civil court to halt the take over of the Kaadehdhoo airport in Gaaf Dhaal atoll from Gasim’s Villa Air.
Additional reporting by Hassan Moosa.