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Surprise terror trial for ex-chief prosecutor

The criminal court summoned detained former Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin to an unannounced hearing today and granted him seven days to hire a lawyer to answer a terror charge.



The criminal court summoned detained former Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin to an unannounced hearing today and granted him seven days to hire a lawyer to answer a terror charge.

Muhsin and Judge Ahmed Nihan from the Alif Dhaal Maamigili magistrate court were arrested on February 7 on charges of forging a warrant to arrest President Abdulla Yameen in connection with the Maldives’ biggest corruption scandal. 

The terror charges were filed just two days ago.

Muhsin’s lawyer Husnu Suood told The Maldives Independent that he was not informed ahead of today’s hearing, noting that Muhsin did not have legal representation.

“I think they do this when they want the accused to be in police custody till the end of the trial,” he said.

Despite Muhsin’s plea for release, citing a back condition, the court ruled that the former chief prosecutor should be kept under state custody until the terror trial concluded.

The prosecutor general’s office first raised charges of forgery and conspiring to carry out an unlawful arrest against Muhsin and Nihan. The judge, who was also accused of official misconduct, pleaded not guilty at a hearing on Monday.

A day later, lawyers representing the pair revealed that they are facing fresh charges of terrorism with the police accusing them of conspiring to kidnap Yameen.

Suood tweeted a photo of his client’s suspect information form, which stated that Muhsin has been denied the right to remain silent.

The police form referred to section 4(a) of the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act, which states that committing any of the offences specified in the law for the purposes of “exerting an undesirable influence on the government or the state” and terrorising the public will be considered acts of terrorism.

The controversial anti-terror law also restricts the rights of suspects to remain silent and communicate privately with lawyers for 96 hours.

Muhsin and Nihan, though allowed to hire lawyers, are not allowed to have private communications with them.

Yameen has said that the fraudulent warrant was part of a coup plot to overthrow his government.

The pair was arrested in the wake of a damning audit report exposing the embezzlement of nearly US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion company.

The judge’s arrest drew condemnation from the International Commission of Jurists, which called it “another blow to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.”

Muhsin was meanwhile released from remand and taken back into custody for a second time on Sunday after the appellate court overruled his release by the criminal court.

Chief Superintendent Mohamed Riyaz told the press last month that the warrant was “left on a street in Malé” in the early hours of February 7 and that activists from a political party had tried to create the impression that the police were about to arrest the president.

The former PG was removed from his post on November 10 by the pro-government majority in parliament following reports that he was stalling bribery charges against former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.

Muhsin – a former criminal court judge – had overseen the controversial prosecutions of Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim last year. The pair’s imprisonment after rushed trials that drew widespread international condemnation triggered a prolonged political crisis in the Maldives.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on a terror charge relating to the military’s detention of a top judge during his tenure. The opposition leader was initially charged with unlawful arrest, but Muhsin withdrew the lesser charge and re-prosecuted Nasheed on terrorism.

Nasheed suffered similar treatment as Muhsin a year ago. The opposition leader only learnt of the charges against him when he was arrested and hauled to a surprise hearing. He was not allowed a lawyer at the first hearing and and kept in custody until his jailing some three weeks later.