The Maldives’ top two judges were Thursday found guilty of influencing official conduct and sentenced to one year, seven months and six days in prison.
Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed were accused of influencing judges. Their trial was closed to the media and public and held in secret. Both had denied the charge.
The verdict had to be rescheduled after Hameed was rushed to hospital on Wednesday with breathing difficulties.
The basic sentence for the charge is nine months and 18 days, but Judge Hussain Shaheed ramped up the punishment.
“Judges must hold their integrity and must not allow the public to raise questions about their honesty, loyalty and righteousness,” he said.
“But Saeed and Hameed acted in contravention to the oath of justices of the highest court and violated the ethical and disciplinary standards of judges. They also influenced judges of the lower courts and damaged the judiciary.”
The act of influencing judges of lower courts had caused decisions by those judges to also be outside legal boundaries, he added.
Shaheed declared that the testimony of two secret witnesses and several court orders submitted as evidence proved Saeed and Hameed were guilty beyond doubt.
The testimony of secret witness one was identical to a statement given to police by Criminal Court Judge Ahmed Areef.
The secret statement, leaked online last week, describes how he had acted upon instructions from Saeed and Hameed following the February 1 Supreme Court ruling to cancel arrest warrants for key political figures.
But according to the judge, the secret witness denied having acted on the justices’ orders when he testified in court. The witness said he did not follow orders from Saeed and Hameed, but cancelled the arrest warrants after reviewing them.
Despite the partial retraction, Shaheed ruled there was evidence to prove the witness had been influenced.
“Saeed and Hameed committed treason against the constitution and acted against their oath,” the judge stated, adding that the constitution and laws compelled judges to rule without any influence.
“Issuing orders and making any decisions under influence is a criminal offence and they must be held responsible for that,” he declared.
— ‘A well-devised plan’ —
The second secret witness also testified against the justices and his testimony was similar to the leaked police statement of Civil Court Judge Mohamed Haleem.
He said Hameed had changed one of his rulings and that Saeed also talked when Hameed contacted him to give instructions on issuing rulings.
Shaheed said there was proof that Saeed and Hameed “executed a well-devised plan” and influenced the secret witness in his rulings.
Thursday’s hearing also revealed that the presiding judge had rejected all motions by the defence and conducted one proceeding in the absence of defence lawyers. The defence did not submit witnesses or evidence.
Everyone in the courtroom, except Saeed, stood up when Shaheed concluded the trial and began walking out of the room. Hameed and Saeed, both in white shirts and blue ties, then shook hands with lawyers as Saeed told the lawyers that “upholding the constitution is a massive job.”
Although the trial was held in secret, the sentencing hearing was open for the media and public.
Presiding Judge Hussain Shaheed had earlier ruled there was no conflict of interest, despite his statement being considered as evidence against the justices.
Civil Court Judge Mohamed Haleem and Criminal Court Judge Adam Areef testified about working under “influence” to issue rulings, according to secret statements leaked online.
It triggered demands for action against the judges, who admitted to following the orders of Hameed and Saeed, with two former attorney generals calling for their resignation.
Saeed, the country’s first chief justice to face criminal prosecution, was Tuesday found guilty of obstruction of state functions and sentenced to four months and 24 days in prison.
Both judges face additional charges of obstruction of justice and terrorism in connection with an alleged coup plot. They have denied these charges.
Their convictions will trigger automatic removal from the bench if the verdict is upheld by the appeal courts.
Controversial legal changes were pushed through in March to remove convicted judges without the parliamentary vote called for by the constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority to approve a finding of gross incompetence or misconduct by the judicial watchdog.