Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom attended Sunday morning his son MP Faris Maumoon’s identity fraud trial as opposition lawmakers gathered outside the criminal court in solidarity with their detained colleague.
The 79-year-old former president observed the preliminary hearing alongside his daughter Yumna Maumoon and MPs Mariya Ahmed Didi, Abdulla Riyaz and Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim. Several other opposition lawmakers waited outside with ‘Free Faris’ banners and called for his immediate release.
At the brief hearing, Judge Ibrahim Ali granted a request by the defence for more time to respond to the charges and adjourned proceedings after announcing that a third preliminary hearing will be held on July 31 to decide whether to proceed with the trial.
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Faris was arrested last Tuesday on an unrelated charge of attempting to bribe lawmakers to back the opposition’s bid to unseat the speaker of parliament.
A day later, the criminal court ordered his detention for the duration of a new trial on bribery charges. Judge Ali Adam said Faris may influence witnesses and tamper with evidence if he is released.
However, the police have yet to conclude its bribery investigation or ask the Prosecutor General’s office to press fresh charges against Faris.
The lawmaker’s legal team has since challenged the legality of his arrest and detention at the high court. According to defence lawyer Maumoon Hameed, Faris refused to cooperate with the police investigation this morning as he considers his arrest to be unlawful and arbitrary.
During the preliminary hearing, Hameed also accused the authorities of obstructing Faris from meeting his lawyers.
The police told Faris on Saturday night that the interrogation over the bribery charge would take place after the hearing of the identity fraud trial.
However, Faris was summoned at 9:30 am and the questioning ended an hour before the preliminary hearing was due to start, Hameed said.
The judge assured the defence that he would order the police to make necessary arrangements to allow Faris to meet his lawyers before the third preliminary hearing.
Hameed also contended that Faris’s detention contravenes the Jails and Parole Act, but the judge said the court could not rule on the issue as it was unrelated to the identity fraud trial.
Faris was charged with identity fraud under section 312 of the penal code, which criminalises causing a person to falsely believe that the defendant was lawfully exercising official or legislative authority.
If convicted, he faces a maximum jail term of nine months and 18 days.
He was questioned by the police on June 1 over the use of the Progressive Party of Maldives’ flag at a joint opposition press conference in March.
Faris was representing the PPM after his father joined forces with the opposition and sought to seize the parliament’s majority with defections from the divided ruling party.
Gayoom withdrew support for the government last year after losing an acrimonious leadership dispute with his half-brother President Abdulla Yameen, who 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.
Earlier this month, the police meanwhile claimed to have evidence of Faris bribing lawmakers to vote in favour of a no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed in late March,
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 vote. He was summoned for questioning in late April over the bribery allegations and barred from travelling overseas.
Family members and opposition figures also gathered outside the court for Wednesday’s remand hearing, prompting the police to set up barricades and clear the area. Police officers pushed back the crowd with force and pepper sprayed MPs Ali Hussain and Mohamed Ameeth when they refused to move behind the barricade.
The police also returned to Faris’s apartment and seized the digital video recorder from the security camera outside his door. Faris was taken into custody after the police raided his home with a search warrant and seized several items.
The MP for Dhiggaru is the third opposition lawmaker to be put on trial after the opposition alliance submitted a second no-confidence motion against Maseeh on July 3.
Last week, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, a retired brigadier general, was granted 10 days to prepare a defence for his trial on fresh terrorism charges whilst Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim is facing a new trial on bribery charges.
The business tycoon remains hospitalised at the intensive care unit of the private ADK hospital in Malé as the authorities refuse to lift a travel ban and allow him to seek medical treatment overseas.