The Maldives’ ex Vice President Ahmed Adeeb has called a trial on fresh terror charges a “big joke.” He is being prosecuted over a weapons cache that was discovered submerged on a reef.
The 34-year-old is already serving a 33-year jail sentence on graft and terror charges.
Adeeb is standing trial with five others on charges of smuggling weapons, including hand grenades, firearms, bullets and semi automatic rifles, out of the state armoury and transporting the cache to Hibalhidhoo, an uninhabited island in central Baa Atoll.
He is accused under the 1990 Anti Terrorism Act with the “intent to kill or cause bodily harm to incite fear and terror,” “unauthorised import, use, storage, sale or interchange of explosives, ammunition and fire arms,” “intent to use explosives, ammunition, firearms and weapons to cause harm” and “use of terror tactics, force or threats to cause harm.”
He faces a jail term between 10 and 15 years if found guilty.
Adeeb labelled the Hibalhidhoo trial a farce when the presiding judge overruled the defence counsel’s objections to the charges.
Defence lawyer Moosa Siraj in a previous hearing claimed the new charges amount to double jeopardy, as Adeeb is already serving a 10-year sentence on a terrorism conviction on the same charges; that he had stored a firearm at the government owned Rehendhi flats with the intent of killing, causing harm or terrorising the public.
Siraj also said police have never investigated Adeeb over the Hibalhidhoo weapons cache, but only questioned him briefly during the probe into the boat blast.
The defence raised a third objection Tuesday, claiming that the investigation into the missing weapons was not complete: Security forces had obtained a warrant to search the island of Fenfushi in Raa Atoll for weapons earlier this month.
When the judge dismissed the procedural issues, Adeeb said he believed the verdict was pre-determined and urged the judge to issue the verdict on the spot. The former vice president said he had no more to say in his defence and did not wish to present witnesses.
In response Judge Shakeel threatened to hold Adeeb in contempt. “I am not here to conduct the trial and issue a verdict on anybody’s instruction,” the judge reportedly said.
Others charged along with Adeeb include Ahmed ‘Papa’ Fayaz, a former army colonel, and three others on the run – Ahmed Ishfah Ali, Mohamed ‘Oittey’ Hussain and Mohamed Allam Latheef ‘Moho’.
Fayaz is serving a two-year sentence on charges of obstructing law enforcement on the day of the blast on the president’s speedboat.
Prosecutors meanwhile asked the court to call 22 witnesses against the pair, and submitted 20 pieces of documentary evidence. Some 14 of the 22 witnesses will be anonymised and 11 documents were listed as confidential.
Two forensic reports will be submitted at a later date when they are ready, they said.
Fayaz’s lawyer, Mahfooz Saeed, asked the court to call nine witnesses for the defence, including Captain Ali Ihusan, who in a leaked audio clip, tells other Maldives National Defence Force officers that it was rather easy to smuggle arms out of the armoury. “Anyone can do it,” he is heard saying.
Mahfooz asked the court to summon the two officers in conversation with Ihusan and asked for their testimony to be taken in a closed hearing.
The court is expected to hear the prosecution’s witnesses at the next hearing. A date has not been set yet.
The three men on the run are being tried in absentia.
The police had launched a manhunt in November for the three as well as other associates of the former vice president. Interpol red notices have also been issued.
Moho was a shareholder of Biznas Maldives, the leaseholder of Hibalhidhoo where the weapons were found.
The discovery of the weapons and a bomb led to the declaration of an unprecedented nationwide state of emergency that November. It was lifted after six days.
Additional reporting and writing by Mohamed Saif Fathih
Photo by Hussain Shinan