The controversial chief judge of the criminal court, Abdul Bari Yoosuf, has taken charge of all five trials on graft and terror charges against former Vice President Ahmed Abeeb.
In an abrupt move announced on Wednesday, Bari said he was taking over from the various judges previously overseeing the cases.
On the same day, Bari wrapped up hearing evidence in a trial on a terror charge against Adeeb for allegedly possessing weapons, a second on a charge of embezzling state funds, and a third on a charge of abuse of authority that relates to a blast on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat.
Adeeb was not allowed to call defence witnesses in the graft trial and was not able to summon witnesses in the boat blast trial with lawyers saying they were only given an hour to do so.
He had not asked to present defence witnesses over the weapons possession charge.
Bari said the court will hear concluding statements in all of the three trials on Saturday.
A verdict could be announced on the same day or at a later date.
The five separate trials had faced a number of delays in the past with hearings cancelled over procedural issues, state prosecutors’ inability to call witnesses and the transfer of criminal court judges to other courts.
Some six judges of the criminal court have been transferred to other courts in the past year.
Bari had also sentenced three opposition leaders to jail; former President Mohamed Nasheed, former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla.
He has scheduled back-to-back hearings in the remaining count of terrorism against Adeeb today.
The court is in the process of hearing evidence today.
The terrorism charge relates to a claim that Adeeb had planted an improvised explosive device on Yameen’s speedboat.
At a hearing at 10am on Wednesday, Bari appeared in court instead of the three-judge panel which had comprised of Saeed Ibrahim, Muhthaz Fahmy and Ahmed Rasheed.
State prosecutors called in three anonymous witnesses, two of whom said Adeeb had allowed them to handle a black pistol at his home ahead of a major opposition protest on May Day last year.
The pair, who claimed to be close associates of the then-tourism minister, said he had also displayed an explosive device. Adeeb also carried bullets in the bag, one of them said.
The third anonymous witness, a firearms expert, said he had seen Adeeb carry pistols on two separate occasions. He claimed to have taken a photo of the pistol without Adeeb’s knowledge.
Adeeb’s lawyers challenged the authenticity of the photo, arguing it was unclear when and where the photo had been taken.
Abuse of authority
State prosecutors presented four witnesses to back their claim that Adeeb had abused his powers to board Yameen’s speedboat, Finifenmaa, on the eve of the boat blast.
A crew member of the boat confirmed that Adeeb travelled on the boat to the presidential retreat island, Aarah, on September 27, while three soldiers said Adeeb’s bodyguard Hassan Rikaz had specifically asked the army to arrange the Finifenmaa boat for the trip.
Adeeb was not able to call in any of the 13 witnesses, with Bari dismissing the need to hear testimony from some and defence lawyers saying they were unable to reach others in the timeframe provided.
The 13 included eight soldiers, some of whom are in police custody, three crew members and two of Adeeb’s secretaries.
Lawyers representing Adeeb told The Maldives Independent that the standard procedure is for the criminal court to summon witnesses, and not the defence team.
They also noted the court had previously cancelled hearings in the weapons possession charge because the state had requested for more time to summon witnesses.
Adeeb was summoned to a third hearing on Wednesday night over the embezzlement of US$5million from the acquisition fees for the island of Maabinhuraa in Lhaviyani Atoll.
Two of Adeeb’s alleged accomplices, his relative and business partner Hamid Ismail and the former head of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, Abdulla Ziyath, are standing trial on the same charge.
The judge who had presided over the case had entered not guilty pleas on behalf of all three at a previous hearing, when lawyers said they needed to see the case documents before responding to the charges.
The money was embezzled through Hamid’s Millenium Capital Management and a second company owned by Adeeb’s family, Montillion Pvt Ltd, prosecutors have said.
Two employees of MCM testified saying Adeeb had transferred US$5million to the company’s bank account in June 2014.
Amjad Ismail and Ahmed Nizam said they returned US$4million to Adeeb in cheques of US$1million each. The remaining million was a repayment of a loan Adeeb had taken from the company, they said.
Hamid was neither involved in nor informed of the transactions, they added.
Adeeb’s brother, Shahid Hussain, a shareholder at Montillion, meanwhile testified saying he had received cheques from Amjad.
Hamid is accused of money-laundering and Ziyath is accused of aiding and abetting graft.
Two anonymous witnesses for the prosecution, both employees of the state wholesaler, the State Trading Organisation, said they had received a US$1million cheque signed by Hamid in exchange for Maldivian rufiyaa.
Adeeb’s lawyers had previously requested the court to find a man called Abdulla, the name on the US$5million cheque deposited with Millenium’s accounts, and had also asked the court to obtain several documents from the MMPRC and the two companies involved.
Without ruling on the request, Bari wrapped up the hearings and told lawyers to present concluding statements on Saturday.
Adeeb’s lawyers asked for more time noting they are scheduled to present concluding statements in the trials on the weapons possession and abuse of authority charges. But Bari dismissed the request.
Adeeb’s fifth trial relates to the embezzlement of state funds for the lease of a lagoon in Malé atoll. The court is yet to hear evidence in the case.
The 34-year-old former vice president is being held at a police remand facility until a verdict is reached in the corruption and terror trial.
Additional reporting by Mohamed Saif Fathih. Writing by Zaheena Rasheed