Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Maldives: Supreme Court seeks to punish media outlet over bribery allegations

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The Supreme Court has asked the police, prosecutor general and media regulatory body to take action against an online news outlet over allegations of bribery.

CNM reported Sunday that Supreme Court justices accepted bribes to order a payout of US$22.5 million as compensation to Dheebaja Investment for the cancellation of a contract to provide ferry services.

The story included widespread rumours of corruption that emerged after an agreement between Dheebaja and former MP Alhan Fahmy’s law firm was leaked on social media, according to which lawyers are owed half of the payout as a “success fee.”

The Supreme Court denied the bribery allegations in a strongly-worded statement issued Wednesday through the Department of Judicial Administration, condemning the CNM article as an attempt to defame judges, hold the top court in contempt, and obstruct justice.

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Complaints have been filed with the Maldives Police Service, the Maldives Media Council and the Prosecutor General’s office, it added. The authorities were asked to conduct investigations and “take the necessary legal and administrative steps.”

CNM’s reporting included a response from the Supreme Court’s secretary general.

“There is no deal done by the Supreme Court. It won’t happen. I can say this with certainty. I have complete confidence that the highest power of the Maldivian judicial system will not commit such an act,” Dr Hussain Faiz was quoted as saying.

In the wake of the ruling last month, the Attorney General’s office decided to ask the Supreme Court to review its judgment. It was unclear how the court arrived at the US$22.5 million figure, Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath told the press.

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Earlier this week, the AG office asked the civil court to dismiss a lawsuit seeking enforcement of the payout.

The court could only accept an enforcement case if monthly instalments were not being paid in accordance with a judgment, the AG office contended. An enforcement action must also be initiated after the payment period set by the court has expired, it noted.

But Dheebaja hit back on Wednesday, accusing the AG office of misleading the public.

The payment period expired in April 2015 after the termination of the ferry services agreement by former president Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government was deemed unlawful by the civil court, the company argued.

The lower court judgment in favour of Dheebaja Investment was overturned by the High Court last year. But the Supreme Court quashed the decision on the grounds that the state’s appeal was filed two months after the deadline expired.

Dheebaja was enlisted during the administration of former president Mohamed Nasheed in 2010 to provide ferry services in Noonu, Raa, Baa and Lhaviyani Atolls in exchange for 47 plots of land to build hotels and ferry terminals.

Nasheed, the presumptive majority leader of the incoming parliament, came to AG Riffath’s defence on Wednesday after corruption allegations were raised over the payout.

“I don’t believe at all that he would commit an act of corruption of any kind,” Nasheed tweeted.

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