The criminal court blocked today reporters from observing proceedings in a graft trial against former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and his associates citing a lack of space in the courtroom.
Ahmed Hisham Wajeeh, the spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, said the criminal court may have barred entry to reporters because seats were taken up by the lawyers representing the three men, who are being tried over the embezzlement of US$5 million from public funds.
However, Adeeb’s family told Sun Online that at least six seats were vacant in the courtroom.
The criminal court was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.
Reporters frequently face difficulties in observing criminal trials due to an alleged shortage of seats.
The criminal court meanwhile recently banned three media outlets from its trials after reporters took photographs of acting Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdul Bari Yoosuf.
The case was first assigned to Judge Muhthaz Fahmy and transferred to Judge Ibrahim Ali after a first hearing.
Today’s trial related to the theft of US$ 5million paid to the state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation as the acquisition fee for the island of Maabinhuraa in Lhaviyani Atoll.
Adeeb and his relative Hamid Ismail, an influential businessman, are accused of aiding and abetting theft, while Abdulla Ziyath, the former head of MMPRC, is charged with embezzling state funds.
The three have denied charges.
Lawyers representing Adeeb and his associates told the presiding judge that they were not able to respond in detail because the court had failed to hand over case documents, Hisham said.
The hearing was adjourned with Judge Ali promising to hand over documents on Tuesday. Hisham said that the PG office had handed over papers to the court on March 1.
Adeeb and Ziyath are also on trial on a charge of misappropriating US$1 million paid as acquisition fees by a foreign company for the 50-year lease of a lagoon in Malé atoll.
Public prosecutors have previously said the pair are facing corruption charges over the lease of 50 more properties, but charges have not been filed yet.
The MMPRC scandal is the Maldives’ biggest ever corruption scandal.
Adeeb is also being prosecuted for terrorism over a blast on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat last September. The explosion led to Adeeb’s arrest and impeachment, and a probe into the MMPRC’s lease of islands and lagoons for tourism.