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Verdict looms in Rilwan abduction trial

It is almost four years since the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan.



A verdict in the trial of missing Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan could be scheduled within five days, after closing arguments were presented at the Criminal Court Tuesday.

Alif Rauf and Mohamed Nooradeen are accused of forcing Rilwan into a car at knife-point outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé in August 2014. Both were arrested in April 2016, but were freed two months later.

After nearly two years of denying any link between Rilwan’s disappearance and an abduction reported outside his building, police said in April 2016 that he was indeed forced into a car at knife-point.

Judge Adam Arif said he would schedule the verdict hearing within five days if possible. According to the Criminal Procedures Act the verdict hearing has to be held, at the latest, within 10 days of closing arguments.

Defence lawyers accused the state of negligence in its investigation of Rilwan’s abduction and said questions about DNA evidence cast doubts on the case.

“This is the biggest crime that has happened in the Maldives in recent history,” Noorusalaam Aboobakaru told the court on Tuesday. “However, during the prosecution of this case, the state has proved that negligence occurred during the investigation and prosecution of the abduction.”

The prosecution’s case is primarily based on DNA from a hair found inside a red car alleged to have been used in the abduction. The DNA matches that of Rilwan’s found in a toothbrush inside his apartment and his mother’s DNA.

Noorusalaam said prosecutors had not submitted the chain of custody report for the hair which was lifted from a car that, prosecutors say, belongs to Aalif.

“The DNA report is based on evidence that does not have chain of custody. We have no idea when it was taken or where it was taken from except the state’s claim that it came from a red car. The expert that the state produced in court was someone who translated the DNA report, not the person who analysed the DNA,” the defence lawyer told the court.

The two DNA tests for the hair found in the car were carried out in Thailand and Vietnam.

– ‘Many red cars’ –

In February the court heard from Rilwan’s neighbours, who saw a man being forced into a red car that sped off with its back door open. One of the witnesses said he called the police after he found a knife left on the ground.

A policeman who was on duty at Hulhumalé station told the court that the knife was taken by forensic officers as police searched for a red car.

“There is a high chance that the abduction detailed by witnesses in this court was that of Rilwan’s, said Noorusalam. “However none of the witnesses saw or claimed to have seen my clients.”

He added that police did not conduct any analysis or forensic investigation of the knife found at the scene.

Noorusalaam accused the investigation team and prosecution of refusing to check security camera footage of the Palm Boutique Hotel in Hulhumalé, where the car was always parked.

The two defendants retracted the written statement they had given to police, which had included Aalif admitting ownership of the red car.

Their lawyer said the state had not produced anything to prove the ownership of the red car.

“My client has never denied taking his car to Hulhumalé,” said Noorusalam. “This is not illegal. But the state has not produced any evidence to prove the ownership of the red car in question. The least they could have done is produce the ownership registry.”

“There are many red cars, honourable judge,” he said.

Prosecutor Aishath Mohamed told the court a chain of custody document for the DNA evidence had been submitted, proving that the evidence was handled according to regulations.

But the judge said that the chain of custody document had not been introduced as evidence even though it had been received by the court.

Rauf and Nooradeen remain free despite facing terrorism charges.