High Court concludes hearings in ex-defence minister’s appeal

High Court concludes hearings in ex-defence minister’s appeal
January 05 19:51 2016

The High Court heard closing statements today in former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s appeal of his 11-year jail sentence on a weapons smuggling charge.

Presiding Judge Abdul Rauf Ibrahim said a verdict will be delivered at the final hearing. Lawyers will be duly notified of a date, he said.

At today’s hearing, Nazim’s lawyer Husnu Suood argued that the investigation of Nazim’s case was incomplete. He went on to cite several cases where the appellate court had released convicts based on incomplete investigations, and asked judges to overturn Nazim’s 11-year jail sentence.

The retired colonel was sentenced in March after police discovered a pistol and three bullets in a bedside drawer during a midnight raid. The rushed trial drew widespread condemnation over apparent lack of due process.

Nazim 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.

Suood, a former attorney general, noted several lapses including police failure to investigate threatening phone calls Nazim had received from overseas on the night police raided his apartment.

He noted that the retired colonel’s fingerprints were not found on either the bag or the pistol.

Nazim’s appeal hearings resumed at the High Court on December 3 after a five-month hiatus. The appeal had stalled in June when the Supreme Court transferred two judges on the five-judge panel to a newly-created regional branch in the south.

The High Court had summoned witnesses during several hearings held last month. During Nazim’s trial, 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.

In his closing argument, Suood also contended that the police obtained a search warrant from the criminal court under false pretences after misleading the judge about intelligence information.

The police officer who obtained the warrant had said that he had personally received incriminating information about Nazim, but later said at court that his superiors had ordered the then-defence minister’s arrest. 

The police SWAT team that searched Nazim’s apartment had not videotaped the raid as required by established procedures, he added.

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.

Suood also noted that police officers spent 10 minutes in the bedroom after taking Nazim and his wife outside.

Referring to weapons that had gone missing from the state armoury, Suood said the pistol could have been planted to frame Nazim.

Nazim kept spare keys to his apartment and car at the defence ministry, he said, suggesting that rogue police officers could have stolen the key and entered Nazim’s apartment before the raid.

In their testimony at previous hearings, Nazim’s former bodyguard and driver had said that they never saw Nazim carrying a bag similar to the one found in his apartment.

In response, state prosecutor Aishath Mohamed told judges that the lack of Nazim’s fingerprints does not prove that the pistol did not belong to him. Noting that Nazim’s wife had spent a lot of time out of the apartment on the day of the raid, the prosecutor suggested that Nazim could have hidden the weapon without her knowledge.

Instead of asking the High Court to uphold the guilty verdict, the prosecutor asked judges to deliver a fair verdict after reviewing witness testimony. The move is surprising as state prosecutors usually ask to support the lower court’s verdict at the appeal hearing. 

At a previous hearing, Suood had asked the High Court to consider sentencing Nazim under the new penal code if judges decide to uphold the criminal court’s verdict.

Under the new penal code, the punishment for weapons possession is a jail sentence not exceeding one year. Nazim would have served a one-year prison sentence by April next year.

But state prosecutors contended that the new penal code is irrelevant in Nazim’s case as it came into force after he was convicted.