By Jessica Reed
The controversial charges brought against nine prominent Seychellois in late 2021 for purportedly misappropriating USD 50 million in grants from the UAE has taken surprising recent turns, with new allegations of government wrong-doing, human rights abuses, and violations of due process. Initiated by President Ramkalawan against a who’s who of the ancien regime, including the ex-President’s wife, son, closest political, military and business advisors, and even the candidate set to challenge Ramkalawan in the next presidential elections, the case has languished under the weight of weak evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.
In recent days, according to sources close to the investigation, evidence which was supposed to be handed over to the defense by April 29th was not produced, the prosecution discovered it had filed charges under the wrong law, and doubts have been raised in the courts and at the ministerial level that the evidence will not stand under scrutiny. This culminated in the prosecution asking for a continuance in order to set issues related to the case in order. Further, defense counsel for one of the accused, the international law firm of Kobre & Kim have referred to the case as a, “show-trial, founded on a politically motivated prosecution case riddled with errors of fact and procedural defects.”
The government is reported to have determined that it will need to promulgate new laws, effective retroactively, to convict the accused, and is currently in the process of drafting the said legislation, rather than dismissing the case, or adjusting the charges to account for currently applicable law. Using the United States as an example, the US Supreme Court in April this year made a 6-3 ruling making it easier for defendants, where charges are wrongly filed, to sue the police and the government. According to the ruling, in cases of malicious prosecution, “a defendant doesn’t have to be found not guilty by a judge or jury and prosecutors don’t have to state that they wrongly filed charges”, in order to file charges against the prosecution, the court said.
Sources that are intimately acquainted with the details of the trial have stated that the only plausible reason to be granted a continuance by Judge Ronny Govinden would have been if the government plans on railroading through a law which would make it easier for them to prosecute the case at a later date. Under such circumstances, the continuance would functionally put the case on hold, while the defendants continue to languish in appalling conditions, until the government creates circumstances which would allow for what some are calling a politically motivated trial, to continue unimpeded.
Shockingly, and despite the lack of legal procure being followed in this case, British lawyers from reputable international law firms are leading the case. One such lawyer is Stephen Powles QC of Doughty Street Chambers in London. Although Doughty Street and Powles himself pride themselves on focusing on, “cases which have a strong emphasis on human rights and civil liberties”, this does not appear to have deterred Powles from being involved in what has, to date, proven to be a gross violation of the defendants’ human rights and due process. This is in addition to Doughty Street Chambers QC’s usually working on the side of the defendants and not as prosecutors.
From being held in inhumane conditions, which have reportedly included lack of access to things as basic as seeing glasses, sanitary facilities and even medication, to being held incommunicado from their legal counsel for weeks on end, the case is indeed a strange one for a human rights practitioner to be involved in. This, coupled with weapons charges, which are unsubstantiated and which Powles has taken the lead on prosecuting, alongside the political motivation of the case which is becoming more and more apparent, should raise more than a few eyebrows back home in the UK.
Any legal practitioner would be able to poke holes in the kind of legal gymnastics it would take to prosecute someone using a law passed after defendants were arrested and charged. Needless to say, this is legally unconscionable. Known as ex post facto laws, retroactively changing the legal consequences of actions by passing new laws, or altering a relationships that existed and was legal before the enactment of a law, is expressly forbidden by the United States Constitution and the laws of countless countries.
Although technically possible in nations that follow the Westminster system of Parliamentary governance, passing laws that retroactively criminalize activity or change the legal standing of actions or a case, is highly irregular. It is also not allowed under Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 15 (Procedural Fairness and Rights of the Accused) of the multilateral International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It is noteworthy that the Seychelles ratified this on 5 May 1992. Powles, a UK trained lawyer, should similarly be familiar with this convention, which the UK became a signatory of as early as 1968.
For a qualified legal practitioner to act in contravention of these standards is highly irregular. But then again, most things about this case are. It is time the justice system in the Seychelles began living up to its commitment to uphold justice and try cases in a way that can be expected of a country which sees itself as a law abiding democracy. According to ethicist Professor Reinhold Niebuhr, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination towards injustice makes democracy necessary”. That means that what happens in jurisdictions such as the Seychelles, where democracy and justice are not respected to their fullest, should be especially concerning.
*Jessica Reed is a freelance Political editor and part time journalist with a degree in Politics and International Relations. An ardent activist from Dublin who believes in freedom, unwavering feminist, and lives by the belief of “Law in the service of human needs”.