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Opposition MPs protest bill on presidential commissions

The bill was proposed to legally empower inquiry commissions on unsolved murders and stolen asset recovery.



Opposition lawmakers protested in the parliament floor Monday against a bill proposed by the government to grant legal powers to newly-formed presidential commissions on unsolved murders and stolen asset recovery.

About 10 Progressive Party of Maldives MPs sought to block a vote on accepting the bill for consideration, claiming it was “unconstitutional.”

Speaker Gasim Ibrahim insisted there was no legal obstacle as the legislation was cleared by the counsel-general. But he adjourned the sitting without a calling a vote as the PPM lawmakers continued to loudly protest in front of his desk.

Two inquiry commissions were formed by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on his first day in office to fulfil campaign pledges to recover missing funds and find the truth behind high-profile murders and the abduction of a journalist.

According to the proposed law, the commissions would become investigative agencies with powers to obtain search warrants, collect evidence, summon suspects, freeze bank accounts, and to seek assistance from police as well as foreign investigators.

A special department must be formed under the assistant prosecutor general to expedite cases forwarded by the commissions. Trials must be concluded within two months after charges are filed.

During the debate after the bill was presented by Maldivian Democratic Party MP Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim, PPM MPs questioned why the mandate of the commissions was limited to cases between January 2012 and November 2018.

The intent was to jail senior officials of former president Abdulla Yameen’s administration who plan to contest in the upcoming parliamentary elections, they contended.

The ‘Presidential Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery’ was formed due to the “failure of investigative bodies” to recover stolen funds and hold former government officials accountable for graft and abuse of power.

Along with chairman Ahmed Assad, a former state minister of finance, the commission’s members are Gaas Abdulla, Nadheem Ibrahim, and Fathmath Sarira Ali Shareef.

Former president Yameen was dogged by allegations of corruption after the unprecedented theft of nearly US$80 million from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.

The embezzlement of resort lease payments was exposed in a damning February 2016 audit report.

The Anti-Corruption Commission is yet to disclose long overdue findings of a probe launched in 2016.

Last November, the anti-corruption watchdog confirmed longstanding allegations that a local company implicated in the corruption scandal deposited US$1 million into Yameen’s private account at the Maldives Islamic Bank.

But Yameen denied any involvement in the scandal and pinned the blame on his jailed former deputy.

The commission on murders and enforced disappearances was mandated with conducting “a free, independent and trustworthy investigation” into cases between January 1, 2012 and November 17, 2018 that were “not properly investigated for various reasons.”

The commission is comprised of former attorney general Husnu Suood as chair along with Abdulla Munaz, Adam Ibrahim, lawyer Fareesha Abdulla and journalist Misbah Abbas.

It is expected to probe the murders of lawmaker Dr Afrasheem Ali and liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed as well as the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

Dr Afrasheem, a moderate religious scholar, was stabbed to death at the stairwell of his home on the night of October 1, 2012. Police claimed the killing was politically motivated but no charges have been raised over the alleged funding. Hussain Humam, a young man charged over the murder, is the only person convicted so far.

Yameen Rasheed, an IT professional and satirist, was killed by a radicalised group of young men who believed he was guilty of insulting Islam, according to police. Six suspects were charged with murder and preliminary hearings were wrapped up last month.

Yameen’s family questioned the ability of the police to conduct an impartial and credible investigation due to the failure to convict or arrest suspects in the abduction of journalist Rilwan and the near-fatal attack on blogger Hilath Rasheed.

Days before the fourth anniversary of Rilwan’s disappearance in August, two suspects were acquitted with the judge blaming glaring investigative and prosecutorial failures.

The missing journalist’s family said the not guilty verdict showed “at minimum state complicity and, at worst, active involvement in Rilwan’s abduction and disappearance.”

Photo from MP Abdulla Sinan