High Court upholds acquittal of president’s brother on corruption charges
Abdulla Algeen was accused of embezzling US$177,460 of Japanese funding from the Department of Meteorology while he was its director, but the High Court ruled that the prosecution was unable to prove that the money in question was owed to the state.
The High Court on Thursday upheld the criminal court’s acquittal of President Abdulla Yameen’s brother Abdulla Algeen on corruption charges in August 2012.
Algeen was accused of embezzling US$177,460 of Japanese funding from the Department of Meteorology, where he was the director under his half-brother former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration.
Algeen sent three separate invoices to the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) between May 2006 and April 2007 on behalf of the department and demanded payment to his personal bank account.
But the criminal court ruled that the state could not prove that JAMSTEC owed the money in question to the government. The verdict was delivered more than three years after the trial began.
The prosecutor general’s office appealed the not guilty verdict in December 2012.
Backing the lower court judgment, a three-judge panel at the High Court noted that according to witness testimony JAMSTEC deposited the funds in Algeen’s account for convenience to cover the expenses of a research project in the Maldives.
Presiding judge Shujau Usman said Algeen was charged with embezzling state funds, but the money clearly belonged to the Japanese company.
In December 2014, President Yameen appointed Algeen deputy controller at the department of immigration and emigration.
The case against Algeen
In August 2007, The Maldives Independent reported leaked documents showing JAMSTEC was funding a two-year met department research project into the oceanography and meteorology of the Indian Ocean.
In a Memorandum of Understanding signed in early May 2006, JAMSTEC agreed to meet “all expenses incurred in connection” with the project.
Later that month, an agreement was signed requiring JAMSTEC to transfer US$92,000 to the department. In April 2007, the agreement was renewed for a year, with an additional payment of US$70,000 required.
Both the 2006 and 2007 agreements required JAMSTEC to transfer money to a bank account designated by the department.
Algeen was the sole signatory on behalf of the department for both agreements.
He issued the $92,000 dollar invoice on May 22, three days after signing the 2006 agreement, and the US$70,000 invoice on April 8, 2007, the same day he signed the second agreement. A third invoice for a balance amount of US$13,248.34 was issued on December 22, 2006.
All three invoices were issued on meteorology department letterheads and the two most recent had Maldivian government stamps. The bank account quoted was Algeen’s personal one at the Bank of Maldives.
While the High Court took nearly three years to deliver a judgment, Algeen’s trial at the criminal court trial had also lasted more than years.
The first hearing at the criminal court took place on June 9, 2009 with chief judge Abdulla Mohamed presiding. The second hearing was held more than a year later on July 1, 2010.
The case was further delayed after it changed hands from the chief judge to Judge Zubair Mohamed. It was then transferred for a third time to Judge Abdulla Didi, who held a first hearing on March 4, 2012.
Although closing statements were heard in October 2011, Didi restarted the case saying he wished to clear up certain points.
Didi concluded hearings in April 2012 and delivered a verdict in August that year.
Judges Didi and Shujau Usman were part of a three-judge panel at the criminal court that sentenced former President Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim to 13 years and 11 years in jail, respectively, following rushed trials in March that drew widespread international condemnation over apparent lack of due process.
In June, Didi and Usman were appointed to the High Court bench. The third judge in Nasheed and Nazim’s trials, Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf, was meanwhile awarded a discounted flat in a newly-built luxury apartment complex in Malé.