The Criminal Court on November 28, 2019 sentenced former President Abdulla Yameen to five years in prison for laundering USD one million in the Gaafu Alifu atoll Vodamulaa lease case. His lawyers then filed an appeal with the High Court within two days of the verdict.
After being acquitted in the Vodamulaa case, Yameen was sentenced to 11 years in prison and fined USD 5 million by the Criminal Court on December 25 for accepting USD 1 million in bribes and laundering said money in the Vaavu atoll Aarah case. Two weeks have passed since the verdict was declared, and no appeal has been filed so far.
Compared to the Vodamulaa appeal, it is important for Yameen's supporters to appeal the Aarah sentence as soon as possible, as the candidacy application for the 2023 presidential election will open in the next few months.
The reason is that Yameen is the presidential candidate of the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives and People's National Congress (PPM-PNC) coalition for this year's presidential election.
However, the Constitution of the Maldives says that a person who has been given a sentence that is longer than one year can only run for president three years after serving his sentence. Therefore, with the current verdict, the door has closed for Yameen to contest the election. He will only be able to contest if the High Court releases him before the deadline for submitting his candidacy.
With the presidential elections near at hand, the opposition has not yet announced any intention of holding a primary to select another candidate. In response to questions from journalists, the party repeatedly said that Yameen is the opposition candidate, and that the appeal against the verdict will be won at the higher court. They also said that the lawyers were working towards making an appeal.
Election Commission's Vice President Ismail Habeeb said the commission is preparing to hold the elections in early September. This means that the presidential election is now about seven months away.
The case is now being prepared for appeal in the High Court. Whether Yameen will be able to contest the election after the court proceeds will depend on the deadline for submitting candidacy for the presidential election, which is set for August 3. If Yameen is found not guilty before the date, he will have the opportunity to file his candidature.
The Elections Commission has declared important dates for the upcoming presidential elections, which include dates for submitting candidacies: July 23 – August 3.
As it stands, Yameen has about five months to to be acquitted from the case.
But the appeal of the verdict in the Aarah case seems slow compared to the Vodamulaa case. The appeal in the Vodamulaa case was prepared and completed in just one weekend, while the Aarah case has not been appealed for two weeks now.
The 60-day deadline for filing an appeal in the High Court has not expired and Yameen's lawyers said they still had time. They said that the appeal is being delayed because the Criminal Court had previously not handed over the detailed verdict report and statement transcripts.
The detailed report of the trial is important in order to examine the points of the verdict and prepare the appeal. And the statement transcripts are important because they will include everything both sides said in court. However, cases have been appealed to the High Court in the past even after receiving the summary report alone. Yameen's case was a live trial, and all the statements made during the trial are available from the court's YouTube channel.
Contesting in the presidential election is a constitutional right for everyone who meets the requirements. Candidates are those who meet these requirements within the nomination period. Therefore, it is questionable whether the High Court should expedite a criminal case against a person just because the presidential election is near.
A lawyer with experience in advocating in the High Court said the case of a candidate who has announced his intention to contest the election will be in the interest of many people. Therefore, he believes it should be considered an urgent case.
"If he is found not guilty after the elections, it deprives him of contesting in the elections. So I think [the court] should take the case as an urgent matter and make a resolution," the lawyer said.
He said a motion to expedite a case in the High Court should be requested. The judges will decide whether the case can proceed expeditiously based on the arguments of the two parties.
"Democracy is a decision made by the people. They should be given the opportunity to make that decision. In order to give them that opportunity, the case should be considered as an urgent case, especially during this time," he said.
The lawyer said that in some instances, cases heard by the High Court take more than a year. But, he believes, if the High Court now proceeds at the usual pace, the case is likely to end before the candidacy window closes.
The lawyer said all the judges in the High Court are competent and familiar with the judiciary. Therefore, he believes that the High Court will have the ability to decide the case quickly no matter how many legal points are raised.
The High Court decided Yameen’s Vodamulaa case on January 21, 2021, more than a year after it was filed. There were no hearings scheduled for many days due to the difficulties encountered due to the Covid pandemic. The hearings were also delayed at the request of Yameen's lawyers.
However, there is no such obstacle now.