A Maldives businessman allegedly connected with an oil tanker suspected of illegally supplying North Korea denied a terrorism charge Sunday at an emotional pretrial hearing.
The oil tanker incident occurred in March, when Japan alerted the UN Security Council of the suspected transfer of goods from a tanker operating under a Maldivian flag to a North Korean vessel.
Abdulla Fahmy was arrested that month, but granted a conditional release on medical grounds.
He was later detained for the duration of the trial because he may threaten witnesses.
He appeared in court wearing a dark green prison uniform and denied the charge as Judge Ismail Rasheed refused to free him from custody.
Fahmy, who was appearing in court more than two weeks after being taken into detention, said he was a sick man lacking basic medical care in prison.
“I have diabetes,” he told the court. “I have kidney and lung problems. But they bring me food and drinks with sugar in it. I beg everyday. If I die in jail, who will take the responsibility? My wife and two kids are about to be evicted,” he said as his sobbing wife was consoled by his mother.
Fahmy also accused a witness of giving a false statement over a US$3 million debt. It was an injustice to keep him in custody based on just one statement, he told the court.
“I beg you, honourable judge, to grant me a conditional release, I promise not to violate it,” he pleaded with the judge.
Rasheed asked if he had seen a doctor in prison.
“It is very difficult there,” Fahmy replied. “I have four cellmates and one of them has had a bone jutting out of his arm for the past nine months. They tell us there are 1,500, 2,000 inmates there and to wait for our turn.
“Only my God, myself and my wife will understand my condition,” he added.
But Rasheed ruled that there was no reason to grant him a conditional release.
An emotional scene unfolded as Fahmy hugged his crying wife before being led out by a prison officer.
– ‘Endangering security’ –
Earlier in the hearing, public prosecutor Aminath Shaama said he was charged under the terrorism act “for attempting to commit an act of terrorism by unlawfully using the Maldivian flag on an unlawfully registered boat for an unlawful transaction with North Korea.”
Fahmy, who was seated in between defence attorneys Nazim Sattar and Ahmed Muizzu, said the charge was too vague for him to understand.
“He is charged with terrorism for causing a situation which endangers national, public and social security by violating resolutions and advisories against conducting transactions with North Korea, thereby putting the country at risk of sanctions,” Shaama repeated.
Muizzu argued the charge was invalid because the acts Fahmy was alleged to have committed were not defined as crimes under the terrorism act.
“Which resolution are they referring to? What clause in the resolution says ordinary citizens of a country can be punished for violating it? Is it applicable on the people without passing a law?,” he asked.
Public prosecutor Mohamed Abdulla insisted the charge was not pressed because Fahmy had violated a United Nations Security Council resolution, but because “his actions had resulted in creating a situation mentioned in the terrorism act.”
Muizzu repeatedly asked how the actions were unlawful and Shaama responded that “he had violated international law.”
The judge issued a temporary order to make some of the evidence anonymous.
About 16 pieces of evidence were submitted against Fahmy including a statement from his brother, Ahmed Moosa.
He faces a prison term of up to 20 years if convicted.
Authorities repeatedly and vehemently denied the tanker was registered in the Maldives.
The country’s transport authority said there was no record of the Xin Yuan 18 ever being registered there and that it did not offer ‘flag of convenience’ services to vessels operating outside its waters.