Defence lawyers representing Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim sparred with the state prosecutor on Monday over the validity of the bribery charge raised against the opposition lawmaker.
Gasim was charged 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.
At Monday’s hearing, the state prosecutor 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.
Defence lawyers told the court at the previous hearing 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.
Responding to the defence, the prosecutor said showing the recipient is not necessary to prove the crime.
Chief Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf asked the prosecutor if the alleged transaction had occurred. When the prosecutor replied that she thought so, Bari asked her to present evidence to back up the claim.
The prosecutor also claimed that charges have been raised in the past over similar remarks but said that details would have to be cleared up.
In response to the prosecution’s arguments, defence lawyers said the state has been unable to explain how Gasim’s offer of help constitutes a crime. The state must also clarify whether Gasim is accusing of intending to bribe or actually bribing lawmakers, they said.
Both sides also submitted evidence during Monday’s hearing. The prosecution submitted video footage of Gasim’s speech and the video analysis report.
The defence submitted an academic paper about lobbying in democratic societies, the ruling party’s manifesto and list of pledges, a copy of the agreement signed between opposition parties and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the agenda of a meeting of the opposition coalition, and the agenda of a JP national council meeting during which a three-line whip was issued to vote in favour of Maseeh’s impeachment.
Judge Bari adjourned proceedings after saying that the defence will respond to the prosecution’s case at the next hearing.
Gasim was also charged with influencing the official conduct of a public official and intimidating and improperly influencing a voter.
Presenting Gasim’s defence on the second count, lawyer Noorusalam Abubakuru argued that his client could not be charged with attempting to influence official conduct without any evidence to prove intent.
Citing a supreme court precedent, he also argued that intending and preparing to commit an offence cannot be considered a crime.
But the state prosecutor said the charge will become clear when evidence is submitted. The prosecution was told to respond to the defence at the next hearing.
The MP for the Maamigili constituency will lose his seat if he is found guilty on any of the three counts.
Gasim’s trial started on April 13, a day after the high court ordered his release from a six-day remand detention.
The criminal court rejected the prosecution’s request to detain Gasim for the duration of the trial.
But a week later, Gasim was arrested at midnight from his home in Malé on fresh charges of bribery and attempting to overthrow the government.
According to the second arrest warrant granted by Judge Bari, the business tycoon was accused of influencing lawmakers to sign no-confidence motions to remove the speaker and deputy speaker of parliament.
He was also accused of influencing judges as well as police and military officers and of inciting fear and sowing discord among the public.
The police claimed that Gasim was encouraging the alleged actions in his speeches at nightly opposition rallies. Leaving him free would impede the investigation as he could hide evidence and influence witnesses, the warrant stated.
Gasim also poses a threat to society, the police said.
Judge Bari remanded the lawmaker to 15 days in police custody, dismissing objections from defence lawyers about the same judge who granted the arrest warrant presiding over the remand hearing.
The legality of the arrest was the first question of fact, they said.
The criminal court meanwhile extended the remand by four days last Friday. The judge reportedly told the police to present evidence before Wednesday if the state wants to keep Gasim in custody.
The opposition alliance has condemned the “fabricated charges and illegal arrests of opposition leaders”, calling the moves “panic measures” in response to the opposition’s bid to gain a parliamentary majority.
With former President Mohamed Nasheed in exile and other politicians in jail or under house arrest, Gasim was the only opposition leader able to actively lead the new coalition formed between opposition parties and former President Gayoom.
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.
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