A five-judge panel at the criminal court decided on Sunday to deliver a verdict in former president Abdulla Yameen’s money laundering trial instead of restarting proceedings.
A new bench was empanelled to hear the case after Judge Ahmed Hailam was suspended hours before he was due to pass a verdict on November 5. The criminal court’s chief judge was placed under investigation for sharing a cartoon with the president and speaker of parliament in chains.
At Sunday’s hearing, the defence appealed for a fresh trial on the grounds that new judges would be unfamiliar with the case. Lawyers also asked for presiding Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain – who was appointed acting chief judge after Hailam’s suspension – to recuse himself for violating the code of conduct by giving an interview to the pro-government broadcaster Raajje TV.
But the bench decided to continue with the trial. In cases where a judge is unable to continue after hearing witness testimony, the precedent is to resume the trial, Judge Rasheed said, noting discretion afforded by the criminal procedures code.
A verdict will be delivered on November 28 after the judges listen to recordings and thoroughly examines the evidence, he said.
Both the prosecution and defence were allowed to present a statement before the hearing was concluded. Prosecutor Aishath Mohamed asked the court to deliver a verdict based on the evidence and witness testimony whilst the defence repeated the request for Judge Rasheed to withdraw from the bench. Yameen did not have confidence in the judge, lawyer said.
After a 15-minute recess for deliberations, the judges decided that Rasheed’s response to a question from the media did not constitute an interview, which is prohibited by law.
Rasheed had denied his predecessor Hailam’s accusations of being aware of pressure from senior government officials to sentence the opposition leader to prison.
Yameen was charged in connection with US$1 million deposited to his personal bank account by SOF, a company that was used to funnel the bulk of US$90 million stolen from state coffers during his administration. The 60-year-old opposition leader is also accused of violating an agreement signed with the Anti-Corruption Commission to hold the US$1 million in an escrow account.