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Maldives oil tanker suspect to remain in custody over ‘witness threat’

The oil tanker was suspected of illegally supplying North Korea.



A Maldives businessman allegedly connected with an oil tanker suspected of illegally supplying North Korea is to be kept in detention because he may threaten witnesses, a court heard Tuesday.

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.

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.

Abdulla Fahmy was arrested that month, but was granted a conditional release on medical grounds.

He appeared in Criminal Court on Tuesday for the first pretrial hearing of his terrorism case.

Fahmy, who was dressed in a red shirt and jeans, had cotton swabs covering an injection wound on his right hand when he appealed to Judge Ismail Rasheed to consider his health before ordering his detention.

Public prosecutor Mohamed Abdulla provided the court with a secret statement of a witness who accused the defendant of threatening him.

– ‘He owed me money’ –

Fahmy, who appeared without a lawyer, denied the accusation and said the police had closed the case on the alleged threat. He accused the state of connecting two separate cases to keep him in custody.

“I talked to only one person (witness). And I talked to him calmly because he owed me money. I asked him to pay what he owes. I have not threatened anyone,” he told the court.

He named a former colonel of the Maldives National Defence Force who appears to be the witness.

“I haven’t met Colonel Ziyad since 10 September 2017. The conditions for my release do not say that I cannot ask people to pay back my money,” he insisted.

Ziyad, a nephew of President Abdulla Yameen, earlier denied accusations of links between him and the oil tanker.

Fahmy asked the judge to refer to his medical documents and family situation when deciding on the prosecution’s request for his detention.

“I live on rent in Malé and I have two kids who go to school,” he said, giving the judge a police document to prove the case had been filed away.

But the prosecutor said the document had not been received by the Prosecutor General’s office and asked the judge to refer to the paperwork before making a decision.

The judge announced there was enough evidence to believe Fahmy may threaten witnesses if allowed out of custody and ordered his arrest for the duration of the trial.

But he said the defendant could request to review the order after the Prosecutor General’s office was informed of the case filing or during other stages of the trial.

The judge concluded the hearing and walked out of the courtroom as Fahmy raised his hand to ask about house arrest.

He had earlier told the court his lawyer was unable to attend because of a Civil Court case scheduled at the same time.