Presidential Choice, Bribery Trial, Prophet Slander

Thursday, June 9

After preliminary hearings, former president Abdulla Yameen’s bribery and money laundering trial began at the criminal court. The opposition leader is accused of accepting and laundering a US$1 million bribe from former lawmaker Yousuf Naeem for the no-bid lease of  Vaavu Aarah for resort development. Yameen denies the charges, insisting that it was a legitimate currency exchange transaction.

According to the prosecution, the island was leased to then-MP Naeem’s 2G company on 9 September 2015, a day after he sold his shares to a resort operator. On the same day that the US$1 million lease acquisition cost for Aarah was paid, the resort company also gave a US$1 million cheque to Naeem, who in turn gave a US$1 million cheque to Yameen. The former president deposited it into his HSBC account with a letter informing the bank that it was for a “political campaign”.

The prosecution’s evidence includes a recording of a phone call between Yameen and his then-vice president Ahmed Adeeb, who is among the state’s witnesses. The judge decided to start hearing witness testimony next week and scheduled closing arguments for August.

Thursday, June 9

Preliminary hearings in the trial of seven suspects charged over the bomb attack on former president Mohamed Nasheed continued at the criminal court. The speaker of parliament narrowly survived the assassination attempt on 6 May 2021.

The judge accepted a pre-trial motion from the prosecution to hear anonymised testimony from secret witnesses in order to protect their identities.

Adhuham Ahmed Rasheed, 26, who confessed to detonating the IED, was sentenced to 23 years in jail last December.

In a “new chapter for the civil justice system of the Maldives,” the new civil procedures law due to come into force on 16 June will ensure the security of civil transactions and help gain investor confidence, Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath said.

The new law introduces statutory limits for civil lawsuits, a requirement for the losing party to pay lawyer’s fees, and new processes for seizing assets in the enforcement of judgments.

Customs foiled a drug smuggling attempt by a man who swallowed 852 grams of heroin in 80 rubber bullets and flew from Sri Lanka to the Maldives. Customs officials stopped the man at the airport due to suspicious behaviour and conducted a body scan.

The estimated street value of the seized heroin was more than MVR1 million (US$64,850).

In January, customs deployed a special operations tactical team to combat drug trafficking.

A man was sentenced to one year and four months in jail for refusing to send his three daughters to school and for illegally officiating the marriage of another daughter.

He stopped sending the girls to school after grades one, three and five. One child was only sent to pre-school. The man objected to co-ed classes and playing music at school.

He was charged with obstructing the administration of law and for “carrying out an activity that requires a license or permission without obtaining the said license and/or permission.”

The higher education ministry announced 453 recipients of student loans, including new students and students in ongoing courses.

There were 252 applications for 10 slots reserved for pilot training and 129 applications for 25 medicine scholarships. The higher education minister expressed regret over the lack of interest in skill shortage areas such as agriculture, fisheries, occupational health safety, and care for the elderly and disabled.

The Progressive Party of Maldives disputed the Elections Commission’s claim that the party submitted the highest number of fraudulent membership forms between 2018 and 2022.

According to statistics shared with the media this week, 391 people complained about being registered as a PPM member without their knowledge, followed by 213 complaints about registration with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, and 144 complaints about the Jumhooree Party.

Following coverage of the new figures, the PPM accused the EC of trying to bring the party into disrepute on orders from the government and to divert focus from the alleged transfer of 5,000 PPM members to other parties.

PPM leadership meeting with the EC

Wednesday, June 8

In his first press conference since August last year, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih for the first time announced his intention to seek re-election in 2023, expressing confidence that he could win as the Maldivian Democratic Party candidate backed by coalition partners. The MDP could not win alone, he added.

“I am here as a choice if MDP wants to be in power,” he said, signalling the possibility that the party’s congress in August could award him the ticket. But a primary – which was ” best democratic way” to select a candidate – should be held if it is required by the party’s rules.

The announcement comes after former president Mohamed Nasheed indicated he would contest in the MDP primary.

The MDP remains divided with rival factions loyal to Nasheed and Solih at loggerheads in parliament. Last month, the president’s faction won fiercely contested internal polls to elect a new chairman.

Nasheed’s proposals to either shift to a parliamentary system or scrap the requirement to secure over 50% of the vote to win the presidency will be decided upon at the MDP’s upcoming congress.

Other takeaways from the press conference:

  • Solih does not support a threshold of 30% to win the presidential election with a plurality, an electoral change Nasheed favours to avoid the necessity of forming coalitions for second round run-offs.
  • Despite announcing austerity measures, the president downplayed fears of a debt crisis or depletion of foreign currency reserves, dismissing criticism from opponents as politically motivated. The Maldives can continue to import staple food, medicine, fuel and other essential commodities, he assured.
  • A valuation audit was done for 37 islands and 12 lagoons leased for resort development without bidding during the previous administration, a corruption scandal in which US$90 million was stolen through the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporations. The reconstituted Anti-Corruption Commission is working on recovering the lost revenue. 
  • Solih conceded that the presidential commissions on asset recovery and unresolved murders failed to deliver results expected by the public. But the leaking of reports shared with parliament posed difficulties for witness protection and caused reluctance to provide information, he contended.
  • Applications will open by the end of June for 3,000 plots of land to be awarded for Malé residents from the capital reclaimed island suburbs. The government plans to award 1,000 plots from Hulhumalé, at least 2,000 plots from Gulhifalhu and 2,000 plots from land to be reclaimed from the Giraavaru lagoon.

Wednesday, June 8

Mohamed Shafau Hassan was elected as the new president of the Maldives Media Council after former president Shahuban Fahmy resigned. Shafau was chosen with the support of nine members from the 15-member regulatory body.

Together with his brother, former lawmaker Alhan Fahmy, Shahuban is a shareholder of the King’s Forex Trading company, which is under investigation over an alleged Ponzi scheme. He resigned on Tuesday after previously refusing appeals by his colleagues to step down in order to protect the institution’s integrity and reputation.

The president of the Maldives Bar Council expressed “grave misgivings” about changes proposed to the legal professions law to automatically revoke the licence of a judge whose dismissal is recommended by the Judicial Service Commission. The government-sponsored legislation would bar impeached judges from practicing law even if they resign before removal by parliament.

Tuesday, June 7

Kumundhoo’s mangrove nature park was set on fire, causing extensive damage to the hut and jetty. No arrests have been made so far.

Tuesday, June 7

Monday, June 6

A Chinese tourist staying at the Le Méridien resort died in a drowning accident. The 32-year-old woman was pronounced dead on arrival at the Lhaviyani Atoll Hospital, according to the police.

Monday, June 6

Cases of dengue and acute respiratory infections spiked in May. The incidence of communicable diseases is higher compared to the same period last year, according to the Health Protection Agency.

Parliament removed Judge Abdulla Hameed from the High Court bench with 58 votes in favour.

Along with Judge Abdul Rauf Ibrahim, the Judicial Service Commission recommended his dismissal over the pair’s acceptance of government-owned apartments at discounted prices during the previous administration. Rauf resigned last week.

judge can be removed if the JSC finds that he is grossly incompetent or guilty of gross misconduct, after which a two-thirds majority of MPs present and voting must approve a resolution to the effect. The ruling party has 65 lawmakers in the 87-member People’s Majlis.

The Maldives joined other Islamic nations in “unreservedly” condemning “derogatory remarks made by some officials of BJP, India, insulting the holy Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and the religion of Islam.”

Both the opposition and ruling parties of the Maldives strongly condemned the comments made by former BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma during a televised debate on 26 May.

The government will maintain a nearly seven-decade-old moratorium on the death penalty, Home Minister Sheikh Imran Abdulla told parliament in response to a question from an opposition lawmaker.

Sunday, June 5

Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid travelled to Riyadh on an official visit for a meeting with his Saudi counterpart. He delivered a letter from the president to King Salman.

Sunday, June 5

The U.S. donated 100,620 Pfizer vaccine doses to the Maldives in partnership with the Covax facility.

A 28-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of spraying the ‘India Out’ slogan on the wall of Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s residence in Malé.

A 16-year-old boy was arrested in connection with the fatal stabbing of a 21-year-old man in Addu City last week.

Two men aged 18 and 29 were also taken into custody on charges of disrupting public order.

The transport ministry revised regulations to grant permanent driving licenses to foreign nationals married to Maldivians. Expatriates were previously issued temporary licenses for one year.