The tax authority is set to freeze Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group’s accounts after the company refused to pay a US$90million fine as an extended deadline expired today.
The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) said Villa had been given an additional day today as the original deadline of April 18 fell on a Saturday.
MIRA “will not hesitate to take direct action on any business which fails to pay due fines or payments,” director general Fathuhulla Jameel said.
The Villa Group maintains the US$90million is unlawful, while the opposition says the surprise claim was aimed at harming Gasim and destroying his businesses following the Jumhooree Party’s split from the government in January.
Business secretary Ibrahim Rasheed told Minivan News the company will wait on making the payment until the civil court rules on the legality of MIRA’s 50-day notice in an ongoing court battle.
Villa Group is one of the largest companies in the Maldives with the holding company Villa Shipping and Trading Pvt Ltd conglomerate operating businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport, and education.
It is also the largest private employer in the country with 5000 employees. Villa’s lawyers last week warned that freezing the company’s accounts would send shockwaves through the Maldivian economy.
The civil court has meanwhile denied stay orders on the US$90million fine. Some 27 cases challenging MIRA’s notice as well as appeals of the civil court’s refusal to grant stay orders are ongoing at court.
Haveeru today reported that Villa had failed to pay wages to its 1,700 foreign employees this month due to cash flow problems. However, Villa has said all salaries will be paid within the week.
Meanwhile, the president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali today said that president Abdulla Yameen will not negotiate over ongoing court cases despite Villa’s requests for talks.
“The president has said he cannot negotiate over matters that should be resolved through the courts, even if its Villa, or a businessman or any individual,” Muaz told Haveeru.
MIRA’s notice issued in late February stated that Villa owed the state US$75.5 million as fines, US$600,000 as interest, and US$14.8 million as unpaid rent on several properties leased for resort development.
The notice came after the tourism ministry on February 5 terminated agreements for several properties leased to Villa and subsidiary companies. The JP had formed an alliance with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) at the time over president Yameen’s alleged breaches of the constitution.
Gasim in an appearance on Villa TV on April 11 appealed for discussions with the government to resolve the dispute, insisting that Villa does not owe the “imaginary” amount.
He noted the JP had not condemned the sentencing of former president Mohamed Nasheed to 13-years in jail on terrorism charges last month
“When the judiciary made a judgement I don’t want to comment on it,” he said.
The JP is remaining “silent” and presently does not have a “stand” of supporting any party, Gasim said.
The party is not officially a part of the ‘Maldivians against brutality’ campaign launched by the MDP and religious conservative Adhaalath Party, he added.
However, JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and senior party officials continue to play a key role in the daily anti-government protests.
The coalition has called for a mass rally on May Day in the hopes of forcing president Yameen to initiate negotiations over the imprisonment of opposition politicians and the alleged targeting of their businesses.
Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb had meanwhile accused Gasim of hoarding islands and lagoons and refusing to pay money owed to the state.
Adeeb also said the JP leader was “in hiding” after unsuccessfully seeking the presidency through his opposition alliance.