Thursday’s hearing of the money laundering and bribery charges on former President Abdullah Yameen saw the return of a face familiar to Maldivians.
Who is Oittey?
Mohamed Hussain, commonly known as Oittey, was an active face on local football. He had successful stints as a midfielder from 1998 onwards, ending his career in 2014.
He then became famous as a close associate of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb. He was suspected as an intermediary when the multi-million-dollar Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) came into light. He had fled the Maldives, amid several court cases.
During this time some of the conversations he and other individuals had was recorded and became the basis of Al Jazeera’s ‘Stealing Paradise’.
After surfacing in the UK, he was awarded refugee status in November 2018, claiming political persecution. In fleeing to London, they made the calculation that it was the easiest way to be safe from the then-administration.
At the time when he claimed refugee status, the then-administration had issued an Interpol notice for their arrest. It was suspected that figures from the current administration, the then-opposition, had abetted them in their escape. National passports belonging to Oittey and other similar associates were revoked in September 2016.
Fugitive to state witness
Tides turned for Oittey and his associates when the current administration came to power. In April 2019, the new Government had cancelled the Interpol red notices issued. Maldives Police Service (MPS) said the red notices were recalled on the government's orders, as the notices were issued due to failure to summon the suspects for investigation.
Soon after, Assistant Commissioner of Police Mohamed Riyaz and Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem went to the UK to personally broker a deal with these individuals, in exchange for immunity. Lawyers for the Prosecutor General’s Office made this disclosure in Supreme Court.
Thursday’s Aarah hearing with Oittey as state’s newest witness
On Thursday, the Criminal Court held the latest hearing of the money laundering and bribery charges leveled on President Yameen in connection to the sale of Aarah Island in Vaavu Atoll.
At the present stage, the Court is hearing all statements given by the witnesses. Oittey is the latest person to offer his statement.
Oittey gave his testimony to Court via video feed, direct from the Maldivian High Commission in the UK. Deputy High Commissioner Naushad Waheed was seen next to witness.
His statement was given as a witness for the state and in the presence of a representative of the state. With the immunity deal in place, Oittey was articulate in detailing his relationship with Adeeb and his role in facilitating any and all requests Adeeb made of him.
Oittey and UK refugee law
International law is clear under which circumstances an individual is granted refugee status - they are outside their country of origin or former habitual residence owing to a well-founded fear of persecution. Such individuals have refugee status in the UK when they have made an application and it is granted by the UK Home Office.
Once the application is granted, then the individual has a wide range of rights, including permission to work in the UK.
Clause 339A of Immigration Rules published by the UK Home Office is clear under which circumstance refugee convention ceases to apply. As such, 339A(i) states that refugee status no longer applies if the applicant has voluntarily re-availed themselves of the protection of the country of nationality. 339A(v) states that refugee status was no longer applicable because the circumstances in connection with which they have been recognised as a refugee have ceased to exist, continue to refuse to avail themselves of the protection of the country of nationality.
Oittey claimed refugee status citing political persecution. The red notices issued by Interpol was sufficient proof of his claims, at the time.
However, the revocation of Interpol red notices and the subsequent deal made with the state, in exchange for immunity from prosecution, disqualifies him from claiming his refugee status in the UK.
Under diplomatic law and conventions, all Embassies and High Commissions are considered as extraterritorial areas. That means that the physical building is considered as part of the foreign nation, exempt from the laws of the host nation. Figures attached with the Embassy or High Commission are covered under diplomatic immunity. Oittey delivering a witness statement from the Maldives High Commission and in the presence of the second highest representative of the Maldives in the UK, is further proof that he is presently under no duress from the state.
If the government of the UK finds his sustained refugee status was based on falsified grounds his status could be revoked after a review.