MP Faris Maumoon’s legal team is preparing to appeal the criminal court’s rejection of a plea to temporarily suspend the detained opposition lawmaker’s identity fraud trial.
At a preliminary hearing Sunday morning, Judge Ibrahim Ali announced that the trial will commence on October 8 after a mandatory 30-day period required by the new criminal procedures law. But further preliminary hearings may be scheduled before the trial begins, he added.
The judge also rejected six pre-trial motions filed by the defence lawyers, including an objection to the lack of a regulation governing the conduct of trials as mandated by the new criminal procedures law.
“The absence of this regulation affects the right to a fair trial. The criminal court does not have the authority to frame this regulation because the criminal procedures law clearly states it is the responsibility of the Supreme Court,” defence lawyer Maumoon Hameed told the press Sunday evening.
The criminal procedures law, which came into force on July 2, gives the apex court three months to publish the regulations. But the judge ruled that a temporary suspension of the trial was not in the public interest as it could bring the criminal justice system to a standstill.
Hameed said the legal team has asked the court for documents “to go for an appeal without further delays”.
Faris, the son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the MP for the Dhiggaru constituency, was arrested on July 18 on a separate charge of attempting to bribe lawmakers.
He was charged with identity fraud over the use of the flag and the logo of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives at a joint opposition press conference.
Faris was expelled from the PPM in July last year for voting against government-sponsored legislation at this father’s behest.
The PPM was split into rival factions after an acrimonious leadership dispute former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his half-brother President Abdulla Yameen.
Yameen won the battle for control of the PPM after the civil court stripped the elder Gayoom of his powers as the party’s elected leader and lifted his suspension of the party’s council.
The court ordered Yameen to resume council meetings under his leadership and the governing body promptly put him in charge of the party. But Gayoom reacted by reconstituting the council and appointing loyalists to key posts, maintaining that the PPM charter prohibits a sitting president, who has a symbolic role as advisor, from managing the party.
The 79-year-old former strongman went on to sign a pact with opposition leaders to form a broad coalition to secure a majority of parliament with defections from the divided ruling party.
Faris’s defence attorneys meanwhile sought the dismissal of the identity fraud charges on the basis of an improper investigation through unlawfully obtained evidence and alleged discrimination from the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Hameed also cited repeated complaints from Faris over the inability to prepare his defence due to alleged obstruction from state authorities.
But the judge rejected both motions.
Hameed also asked the court to reject video footage submitted as evidence as the prosecution had not presented the chain of custody report and video analysis report.
In response, Judge Ali assured that an order will be issued to the PG office during upcoming hearings to compel the disclosure of evidence obtained against Faris.
Hameed went on to accuse the PG office of “concealing information, evidence and proof without a legal basis”.
“This affects the rights of my client, but more importantly, this affects the rights of the state to observe a free, fair and transparent trial,” he told reporters on Sunday evening.
“An honest and proper investigation would help the prosecution to uncover evidence that is for and against the accused. But in this case, the PG claims to have obtained evidence to only prove his guilt and nothing to help with an acquittal.”
On Sunday, the PG meanwhile formally pressed charges against Faris for allegedly attempting to bribe lawmakers to pass a no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh.
Following his arrest on July 18, the criminal court ordered his detention for the duration of the bribery trial.
The High Court is due to rule on the legality of the arrest and detention.
Faris has categorically denied the bribery allegations, expressing confidence that the police would not possess “legitimate” video or audio evidence.
Faris questioned by the police five times ahead of the March 27 no-confidence vote against the speaker. He was summoned for questioning in late April over the bribery allegations and barred from travelling overseas.