Trials begin for boat blast suspects

Trials begin for boat blast suspects
March 30 17:53 2016

The trials of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and five soldiers, who were charged in connection with the September 28 blast on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat, began at the criminal court today.

Adeeb was brought to Malé this afternoon for the first hearing of his trial on a terrorism charge. A spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s office said Adeeb requested 30 days to appoint a lawyer, but the three-judge panel gave him seven days.

Adeeb was silent when the charges of terrorism and abuse of authority were read out, the spokesperson said.

The former vice president and his former military bodyguards, Sergeant Hassan Rikaz and Corporal Ahmed Amir, are accused of planting an improvised explosive device on the Finifenma speedboat. The PG office said the three went on the speedboat a day before the blast “in order to plant the IED.”

The terrorism offence carries a jail sentence of between 10 to 15 years.

Rikaz and Amir pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges today. The soldiers were given seven days to hire legal counsel.

The criminal court is no longer updating the court schedule on their website. Lawyers say it is because the court is in the process of moving to a different building.

The court’s spokesperson was unavailable for comment.

Three other soldiers – charged with obstruction of justice and obstructing law enforcement officers following the alleged attempt to assassinate Yameen – meanwhile pleaded not guilty at the first hearings of their trials today.

Former Colonel Ahmed Fayaz ‘Papa’ along with Ahmed Thiham and Moosa Zameer – both explosives experts with the Maldives National Defence Force – are accused of preventing police officers from going onboard the Finifenma speedboat to inspect the crime scene immediately after the blast.

The Prosecutor General’s office said earlier this month that Fayaz brought the crime scene under his control, but failed to take measures to protect and preserve evidence.

Fayaz – former head of the military’s Special Protection Group tasked with providing security for the president – allegedly ordered the explosives experts to remove evidence from the speedboat.

The soldiers tampered with evidence by removing items that could be considered evidence from the boat, the PG office said.

Thiham and Zameer were given seven days to appoint a lawyer today while Fayaz was given until April 10.

The court also ordered the police to keep the defendants in custody until the trial ends.

Fayaz – who was also in charge of the military’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit – reportedly told the court that he was following orders from Chief of Defence Force Major General Ahmed Shiyam.

Shiyam had asked him to make sure there were no other explosive devices, he said.

Fayaz also claimed that official procedures for preserving evidence were not in place. However, state prosecutors argued that the ex-colonel’s actions on the day breached the standard operating procedure for the military’s bomb squad.

Thiham and Zameer’s arrest on October 5 was the first sign that the government suspected foul play over the blast.

Fayaz was removed from his post on the same day. He was placed under administrative detention at the military barracks without access to family members and lawyers in October and transferred to police custody on February 24.

The mysterious explosion occurred around 8:00am on the morning of September 28 just as Finifenma docked at the Malé pier. The speedboat was carrying the president and first lady from the airport upon their return from performing the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Yameen escaped unharmed, but First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim, a presidential aide, and a bodyguard sustained minor injuries. The first lady was hospitalised for more than a month with spinal injuries.

Adeeb was arrested on October 24 upon his return from an official visit to China. He was accused of masterminding a plot to assassinate the president.

The government insists that a bomb targeting the president caused the explosion despite contradictory findings from forensic experts.

The FBI found no conclusive evidence of an explosive device on the speedboat, but the government said Saudi Arabian forensic experts found traces of a powerful chemical explosive.

Adeeb is meanwhile standing trial on multiple counts of corruption in connection with the embezzlement of nearly US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion company – a corruption scandal of unprecedented scale in Maldivian history.