Maldives govt warns Supreme Court against impeachment move

Abdulla Yameen takes his oath as the President of Maldives during a swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Male November 17, 2013. (Reuters)
Updated 04 February 2018
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Maldives govt warns Supreme Court against impeachment move

MALE: The beleaguered Maldives government Sunday ordered police and troops to resist any move by the Supreme Court to arrest or impeach President Abdulla Yameen over his refusal to release political prisoners.
The tiny tourist archipelago has been plunged into a political crisis pitting the country’s top court against Yameen, whose crackdown on dissent has tarnished the nation’s image as an upmarket holiday paradise.
The judges on Thursday night ordered authorities to release nine political dissidents and restore the seats of 12 legislators who had been sacked for defecting from Yameen’s party, ruling the cases were politically motivated.
But the Yameen government has so far refused to comply with the shock ruling. It has shuttered parliament and resisted international calls to respect the judicial order and restore democracy.
In a national television address on Sunday Attorney General Mohamed Anil remained defiant.
“Any Supreme Court order to arrest the president would be unconstitutional and illegal. So I have asked the police and the army not to implement any unconstitutional order,” Anil said.
Former president and current opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed described the government’s refusal to obey the supreme court as a “coup.”
Nasheed, who was controversially convicted of a terrorism charge and jailed for 13 years in 2015, urged police and troops to uphold the constitution.
“Statements made today by AG Anil...to disobey SC orders is tantamount to a coup. They, and President Yameen must resign immediately,” Nasheed said on Twitter. “Security services must uphold the constitution and serve the Maldivian people.”
Nasheed lives abroad after traveling out of the country in 2016 on prison leave for medical treatment. He is currently in Colombo meeting Maldivian dissidents based in Sri Lanka.
The Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the dozen legislators gave the opposition a majority in the 85-member assembly, and it can now potentially impeach Yameen.
However the authorities shut parliament indefinitely on Saturday to avert such a move. Yameen also sacked two police chiefs after the court’s decision.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party led by Nasheed has expressed fears that any move by the government to resist the Supreme Court’s order may trigger unrest in the nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims.
The government said Friday it had concerns about releasing those convicted for “terrorism, corruption, embezzlement, and treason.”
The United Nations, Australia, Britain, Canada, India and the United States have welcomed the court’s decision as a move toward restoring democracy in the politically troubled Indian Ocean nation.
Nasheed, the country’s first democratically leader, was toppled in 2012. He was barred from contesting elections after his 2015 terrorism conviction, which was internationally criticized as politically motivated.


Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

Updated 6 min 30 sec ago
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Former Philippine president Aquino charged in $1.35 billion budget case

MANILA: Former Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has been indicted in a $1.35 billion criminal case over his failure to get congressional approval to use state funds to jump-start major government projects, authorities said Wednesday.
The money became a source of controversy during Aquino’s term from 2010-2016, with critics claiming he used it to barter for favors from legislators. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
The charge, filed last week by a special anti-corruption prosecutor but only made public Wednesday, alleges that Aquino violated the constitution’s separation of powers.
In the indictment, prosecutor Conchita Morales alleged Aquino wrote a series of instructions to his budget minister to funnel 72 billion pesos ($1.35 billion) into a special initiative in June 2012.
“Without the approval of the said memoranda by respondent Aquino, (the budget ministry’s fund release order) would not have been issued,” Morales said in a statement.
Aquino branded the initiative, the “Disbursement Allocation Program,” an attempt to speed up public spending in the notoriously bureaucratic nation in order to boost economic growth.
The scheme redirected money left unspent in agencies’ budgets to other parts of the government that needed funding for projects.
The program began in 2012 but Aquino was forced to halt it two years later, after the Supreme Court ruled it violated a constitutional provision which gives the legislature sole power to authorize government spending.
Aquino had yet to receive a copy of the indictment alleging “usurpation of legislative powers,” his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.
“We’re quite curious to study how the (prosecutor) arrived at a reversal of its previous decision finding no liability on the part of former president Aquino,” Valte added.
The prosecutor dropped the case in 2015, but reversed herself following an appeal by a group of legislators and anti-corruption campaigners.
If convicted, Aquino could face up to two years and four months behind bars.
Both of Aquino’s predecessors were hit with charges after their terms ended.
Joseph Estrada, a populist movie star who swept to a landslide electoral win in 1998, was arrested in 2001 shortly after a bloodless popular revolt cut short his six-year mandate.
A court sentenced him to life in prison for plunder in 2007, but he won a pardon from his successor Gloria Arroyo less than six weeks later.
Arroyo, who ruled for nine years, was arrested in 2010 and charged with rigging the 2007 senatorial election, a case which carries a life sentence but which remains under trial.
She was released from nearly five years in detention in 2016, shortly after Rodrigo Duterte was elected president, when the Supreme Court acquitted her on charges of misusing 366 million pesos in state lottery funds.