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#Maldives: Courts versus Guilty Rulers - Stamping out the Dregs of Corruption in a Raped Democracy

#Maldives: Corruption in governments lives on long after the corrupt leader is removed from office. Such is the state of Maldives, after its liberation on February 7th, 2012 from the corrupt administration led by former President Mohamed Nasheed. Even after the national liberation movement that removed the corrupt leader from office, powerful networks of loyalists are left in place that attempt to strangle the resurgence of the independent sovereign state. Eight months after Nasheed's resignation from office, Maldives is still struggling to rehabilitate the fledgling democracy that he raped together with his money hungry partners.

The corrupt leader rules through outright bribery, graft and corruption on a far larger scale than comprehensible to the ordinary citizen. The beneficiaries of the corrupt leader's largesse range from multinationals, rich playboys, international networks promoting private agendas, local businesses, party activists, drug dealers and local gangs. Such was the case with former President Nasheed, the man who raped the Maldives and proclaims that rape as consensual.

History shows that nothing about Nasheed's dictatorship was consensual, not even his ascension to power. Nasheed was soundly thrashed by the incumbent Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the first round of the Presidential Elections in 2008. Gayoom's narrow defeat in the second round of the elections was not by Nasheed, but by a coalition of over nine parties, that included all the opposing candidates from the first round. The people's consent was given to this coalition of parties. not to Nasheed. They had rejected him in the first round.

History also shows that as soon as Nasheed took the reins of power, he immediately consolidated that power in his own hands. He did not honor his commitments to the coalition partners who put him in the President's seat. Instead, Nasheed immediately began the sale of national assets to multinationals sourced by his close aides and confidantes. Ministers representing other coalition parties were required to join Nasheed's party or face sacking from their cabinet posts. One by one, his coalition partners chose to come out in opposition, rather than be part of the rampant corruption led by Nasheed.

Corrupt leaders attempt to protect their rule by co-opting the pillars that protect citizens. So did Nasheed. Having taken over the Executive, Nasheed then bought out the Legislature. Riches from sale of national assets were used to buy Members of Parliament, swiftly purchasing a majority in Parliament. Privatization of state media was blocked and state media handed over to a family member to be used as a propaganda machine. Media Council and journalists associations were muzzled, and private media stations threatened with cancellation of licenses. Private newspapers were threatened with eviction from their offices which were on state land.The largest daily newspaper was bought out with hard cash, its new role to transmit Nasheed's propaganda to the remote areas unreachable by television networks.

Corrupt leaders uphold thir dictatorship through the use of force. Nasheed sacked senior officers of the security forces without reasonable cause and installed stooges sudeenly elevated from the middle ranks. The Maldives National Defence Force and the Maldives Police Service became his private army. These were supported by gangs of youngsters, funded through his Party and kept happy through unlimited supply of alcohol and drugs. Statistics show that the gang activity and gang rule in the capital and urban areas increased a thousand fold during Nasheed's short rule. Police statistics show that the numbers of gang members released from custody increased in huge numbers, under an exit path introduced by Nasheed called "Second Chance". Re-offending became the norm as gangs ran riot armed with an immunity guaranteed by the President himself.

Once nationals assets such as the country's international airport and telecommunications company had been sold to multinationals in return for payouts to himself and to finance his party, Nasheed moved onto co-opt local businesses and gangs. A saturated and struggling tourism industry saw new tourist resort leases handed out freely to Nasheed's family and friends. Over 400 uninhabited islands were given to family and party members with not even a pretense of public tender. Government contracts worth millions of dollars were handed out to party leaders and gangs. Over 900 government posts were created and filled by party activists, who in return had to pay a % of their salary to the party coffers. Nasheed hijacked investments by local communities into utility services such as power and water without paying a single cent in compensation. Over 60 new state companies were set up under various names, and over 1,000 jobs in these companies handed out to party activists as company executives and board members. Assets of existing national were sold off to family and friends of the President and his closest allies such as MP Mariya Didi. Eight months after Nasheed's resignation, the Anti-Corruption Commission is still swamped in investigating the "mega"-scale corruption shamelessly led by Nasheed.

The sole obstacle to consolidating Nasheed's dictatorship remained the Courts. The Supreme Justice, the Judicial Sevices Commission and individual judges refused to bow to intimidation or succumb to the lure of money. Time and again, the courts upheld citizen rights, protected the constitution and ordered redress for Nasheed's illegal and unconstitutional activities. The courts ordered the release of community assets illegally taken by Nasheed without compensation. The courts ordered the reinstatement of police and military officers sacked without due casue. The courts ordered the halt of sale of national assets without Parliamentary approval. The courts upheld parliementary independence from the executive. Sentences were passed on the corrupt and the guilty in criminal and corruption offenses.

Nasheed bowed to none of these. Instead, he continued the dictator's path of many a corrupt leader. He summoned the Chief Justice to military headquarters and intimidated loss of tenure if the Supreme Court bench passed rulings against his wishes. He locked up up the Supreme Court using military personnel and kept the Supreme Court bench out of office when they passed sentences that displeased him. He undermined the work of Judicial Services Commission when it refused to sack judges whom he alleged as corrupt. Nasheed then ran defamatory campaigns agains lead judges, ordered police and gang intimidation of judges, and finally, arrested and held under military confinement the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court.

It did not stop there. Even with one of their members in forced disappearance, the judges held firm against the corrupt leader. Nasheed threatened to withhold the judges salaries, to dissolve the Judiciary. The courts did not budge, forcing a deadlock in Nasheed's attempt to consolidate all powers in his hands. The vaccuum thus created provided the opportunity for the events of February 6th and 7th that led to Nasheed's voluntary resignation from the presidency.

Unfortunately for Nasheed, the arm of the law is long and it does not rest until justice is done. The courts continued to do their work, to hold trials and pass judgement on the cases before them, a slew of which are against Nasheed's family, friends and activists for corruption, misuse of power, graft, bribery, theft, arson, vandalism and the list goes on. Nasheed himself is on trial, charged by the country's independent Prosecutor General for the arrest of the judge.

Nasheed's response has been the same as many a corrupt and guilty ruler, to blame the courts as "politically motivated". History is strewn with exampls of guilty rulers who sought to escape justice by blaming the courts. They seek to escape justice by hiding behind their politican's screen, charging the judges as being politically biased.

Witness Italy's three time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a man dogged by the law for his use of Mafia connections and corrupt deals. Berlusconi sought to escape justice by attacking the judges. He alleged that the courts tried to subvert his government with unfounded accusations. The Judicairy, he told Reuters (June 25, 2008) was a "cancerous growth". Berlusconi, escaped justice on many counts by using his Parliamentary majority to grant him absolute immunity and to shorten the time limit in which courts could try certain offences. The BBC in 1998 (July 8) reported that Berlusconi was sentenced several times, but escaped by using the immunity law as a shield till October 2009. In October 2009, Italy's Constitutional Court finally lifted the immunity amids vociferous public outcry for justice.

Witness Thailand's former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin denounced the Thai Judiciary as "politically motivated" after the Thai Supreme Court found him guilty of conflict of interest in land purchase in Bangkok and sentenced him in absentia in October 2008 to two years imprisonment. Both the New York Times and Reuters quoted him as saying that the case is politically motivated. The NYT quotes him as saying, “The case is politically motivated and you know what politics in Thailand is like.” (NYT, October 21, 2008).

WitnessPhilippines former President Joseph Estrada. Estrada was sentenced by court in September 2007 for plundering USD 86 million in graft. Estrada claimed that the trial was unfair, and repeatedly maintained that the judgement against him was a product of political manipulation.

Witness former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. On June 20, 2011, Ben Ali and his wife Laila Ali were found guilty of theft and unlawful possessopn of cash and jewellery. Both were sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison, and fined 45.5 million euros. Ben Ali was earlier sentenced in absentia to 20 years imprisonment, the conviction being for inciting violence and murder. Ben Ali told AFP (June 21, 2011) that the Tunis court "delivered a seentence that is judicially insane but politically apportune". He called the conviction a "parody of justice" and "political liquidation".

These same leading papers now quote the same mantra from former President Nasheed. Reuters, AFP, the New York Times, the Guardian have all provided former President Nasheed with the international platform and exposure to re-enact the play acted out by many a guilty ruler, that is, to denounce his country's Judiciary as "politically motivated". Nasheed has gone one step further than most corrupt rulers, he has also denounced the validity of the courts and refused to submit to any court order. Powerful international friends have stepped up their lobby to halt the trial of the man who raped an infant democracy. An MP who served as Vice President of the Judicial Services Commission has been brutally murdered, strong evidence points to four activists of Nasheed's party. In spite of this international pressure and local intimidation, the courts, the country's independent Prosecutor General and the independent Human Rights Commission continue to demonstrate their independence as they move inexorably forward with Nasheed's trial for human rights abuse. The scene is now set for the Courts versus a Corrupt Leader, as they attempt to stamp out corruption and abuse of power in the Maldives.

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