Sources close to Assistant Attorney General Ismail Wisham have described his arrest on an alcohol and drug abuse charge on Monday night as a ”targeted arrest,” but said they do not know why he is being singled out.
Wisham was arrested on an intelligence tip-off along with his wife, Hana Waheed, at 11:30pm in a late-night raid. Beer cans and hash oil were reportedly discovered on the premises.
The couple were transferred to house arrest for five days today. Hana is a senior public prosecutor at the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office.
A prominent lawyer who had previously worked with Wisham said: “He was definitely targeted.”
Law enforcement agencies are discreet when dealing with charges against senior government officials and “usually provide an opportunity to minimise damage to the institution’s reputation and public confidence before the arrest of a lawyer or an employee of the AG or PG offices,” he explained.
The fact that news of the arrest reached the media through unofficial channels so quickly after the arrest suggests Wisham was targeted in a campaign aimed at publicly shaming him and his wife and their workplaces, the source said.
The police today published photos of the beer cans and packets of hash oil found at Wisham’s apartment. They include six unopened cans of beers, two empty cans of beer and six pieces of cellophane containing hash oil.
Wisham was working on the government’s response to the UN working group on arbitrary detention regarding former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment.
Alcohol and cannabis use, though illegal, is common in the Maldives. Alcohol possession and abuse charges have previously been filed against high-profile politicians who represent both the ruling and opposition parties.
MP Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, who heads the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA), and is a close associate of President Abdulla Yameen was brought to trial for alcohol possession. The resort tycoon, however, was acquitted by the criminal court in December 2014.
In 2012, several opposition politicians, including former MPs Hamid Abdul Ghafoor and Abdulla Jabir, were arrested and charged with alcohol and drug abuse following a raid on a private picnic island. Jabir was convicted, while trials against others are pending.
Following Wisham’s arrest, Ismail Fayyaz, an MP with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said in a tweet: “From time immemorial use of alcohol by powerful rich and elite has been rife. Only the poor and those fallen from favor are punished.”
Even if a radical Islamist government is put in place, the result would be the same, he suggested. The only just and reasonable way would be to decriminalise the use of alcohol and drugs and leave the punishment to Allah, he added.
Speaking to The Maldives Independent on the condition of anonymity, a lawyer who works at the Attorney General’s (AG) office said: “The general feeling at the office is a sense of sadness and shock. I personally feel the arrest was targeted as there seems to be no explicit public policy reason for police to carry out such a raid.”
Describing Wisham as “a well-regarded and highly talented lawyer and a great asset to the state,” his colleague expressed doubt that the police could have conducted a raid without being aware whose house they were raiding.
However, the lawyer said he had no knowledge of any conflicts between Wisham and senior government officials. He went on to describe Wisham as a “pro-government, technical lawyer.”
Police have refused to comment on the quantity of alcohol and hash oil found at the house. Alcohol use carries a jail term of up to three months and 40 lashes, while drug abuse carries harsher prison sentences.
Wisham is the latest government official to be arrested on criminal charges. In January, the police discovered a pistol and three bullets at then-Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s home in a late night raid.
He was sentenced to 11 years in prison on weapons smuggling charges in a trial widely criticised for lack of due process. Nazim maintains he was framed by rogue police on the orders of then-Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb.
Adeeb, who is now the vice president, denies the allegation.
Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed was also caught on camera fornicating with three foreign women in a Colombo hotel room, but police closed the investigation citing failure to obtain sufficient evidence.
Hameed is now also the chair of the judicial watchdog, a body that investigates complaints of misconduct against judges.
Additional writing by Zaheena Rasheed.