The criminal court has thrown out charges raised against Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim over the alleged bribery of lawmakers after state prosecutors failed to show up at court.
A three-judge panel was due to deliver a ruling Monday night on whether to continue the trial after defence lawyers asked for a review of the charges in light of the new criminal procedures law.
The state prosecutors failed to appear at 7 pm after attending two hearings in the afternoon and presenting counter-arguments. Around 8:40 pm, the criminal court’s registrar entered the courtroom and announced that the case has been “sent back” to the Prosecutor General’s office.
The registrar said the judge’s decision was an “administrative measure” and suggested that the PG could resubmit the case.
The PG office told the media later that the case was sent back despite a request to delay the hearing for Tuesday.
Gasim was put on trial for declaring that the allied parties would grant tickets for the 2019 parliamentary elections to MPs who vote to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed. He also offered to help with their re-election campaigns during a speech at an opposition rally.
He was charged with bribery, influencing the official conduct of a public official and intimidating and improperly influencing a voter. The lawmaker was detained for 26 days in the wake of the opposition’s failed bid to remove Maseeh in late March.
At Monday’s hearing, defence lawyer Hisaan Hussain meanwhile raised procedural points with reference to the new criminal procedures law that came into force on July 2.
Citing Article 115(a) of the law, Hisaan said judges have the authority to dismiss charges if it cannot be raised based on the available evidence.
The state has failed to submit enough evidence to support the charges apart from Gasim’s speech, she contended.
During previous hearings, defence lawyers maintained that Gasim was exercising his constitutional right to free expression by seeking support for the JP and promoting his party’s ideology. The state was also unclear about the intended recipient of the alleged bribe, they said.
But the prosecutors said showing the recipient is not necessary to prove the crime and contended that the remarks constituted attempted bribery as the offer of financial assistance was directed at lawmakers in connection with the March 27 no-confidence vote.
Gasim’s arrest in early April prompted the EU and the embassies of Canada, Norway, Switzerland and the US to urge the government to respect fundamental freedoms and to allow opposition politicians “to conduct their activities without fear of intimidation or incarceration”.
The government, however, dismissed allegations of harassing and intimidating opposition leaders, insisting that the police and judiciary are independent.