Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s trial on charges of attempting to bribe lawmakers restarted Tuesday, a day after he was released from a nine-day stay at the hospital.
The 65-year-old opposition lawmaker was hospitalised with low blood pressure on July 16 hours before the first hearing of the bribery trial.
The Prosecutor General’s office filed the bribery charges for the second time after the criminal court threw out the case earlier this month when state prosecutors failed to show up at court.
On Tuesday afternoon, Judge Adam Arif, the acting chief judge, decided that the previous trial will resume, despite defence lawyers insisting that the new criminal procedures law requires a new trial with preliminary hearings.
Judge Arif – a former prosecutor who was appointed to the criminal court in April 2016 – denied Gasim’s request for 10 days to hire legal counsel and scheduled a hearing for Tuesday night.
But the second hearing, which was due to be conducted in secret without access to the press or members of the public, was cancelled upon request by Gasim, who cited poor health.
The business tycoon was limping and walking with the help of a bodyguard when he appeared at court.
It is unclear when the trial will resume.
Hours after the criminal court dismissed Gasim’s case on July 10, two of the three judges presiding over the trial – former Chief Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf and Judge Ahmed Shakeel – were demoted to the juvenile court and family court, respectively, for undisclosed reasons.
Gasim was previously put on trial for declaring that the allied opposition parties would grant tickets for the 2019 parliamentary elections to MPs who vote to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed and for offering 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.
The MP for the Maamigili constituency will lose his seat if he is found guilty.
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 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.
Photo from Raajje.mv