The Supreme Court has backed a payout of MVR348 million (US$22.5million) ordered by the civil court in October 2014 as compensation for the cancellation of a contract to provide ferry services in four northern atolls.
The lower court judgment in favour of Dheebaja Investment was overturned by the High Court last year. But the top court overturned the High Court decision on the grounds that the state’s appeal was filed two months after the deadline expired.
The High Court decision to accept the case after the appeal deadline contravened legal principles, a three-judge panel chaired by Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi ruled on Thursday.
Dheebaja was enlisted during the administration of former president Mohamed Nasheed in 2010 to provide ferry services in Noonu, Raa, Baa and Lhaviyani Atolls in exchange for 47 plots of land to build hotels and ferry terminals.
The agreement was terminated by former president Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government in May 2013, a unilateral decision that was deemed unlawful by the civil court.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed the reasons offered by the state for the late submission of the appeal. Despite delays in the civil court releasing the trial report, the apex court noted there was sufficient time to prepare as the report was provided a month before the appeal deadline.
Negligence by state attorneys was not a valid reason either, it added, as they work directly under the Attorney General. The appeal courts could only accept a case after the deadline if there was reasonable justification, the ruling stressed.
The ruling has prompted calls for the Supreme Court to review its decision in light of the financial loss to be borne by the state.
On Friday, former deputy attorney general Ahmed Usham – the MP-elect for Vilimalé – suggested the state should ask the Supreme Court for a review.
“Back in December 2018, when a sitting judge at the court court called me to inquire about this case, I had reasons to believe questionable dealings were involved in this case. And I informed the current AG about it,” he tweeted.