Majlis amends constitution, sets new age-limits for presidency

The parliament today passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming tripartisan support to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and the vice presidency.

A total of 78 MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives-Maldives Development Alliance (PPM-MDA) coalition and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) voted in favour of the proposed change.

The ruling coalition is seeking to replace vice-president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is 33 and ineligible for the post.

The constitution states that presidential and vice presidential candidates must be 35 years of age.

Pro-government MPs have publicly accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence, but opposition politicians and some media outlets have claimed that President Abdulla Yameen is seeking a loyal deputy ahead of a life-threatening surgery.

Several PPM MPs have said that Adeeb will become the next vice president, but Jameel can only be replaced if he either resigns or is impeached with a two-third majority of parliament.

The revision to article 109(c) marks the first time the constitution has been changed since its adoption in August 2008. The change will take effect upon ratification by the president.

The amendment was passed with 78 votes in favour and two against. Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof and JP MP Ali Hussain cast dissenting votes.

Mahloof said in a tweet last night that he would vote against the amendment. “I respect JP and MDP’s decision,” he added.

The support of MDP and JP MPs was necessary to pass the amendment as the PPM-MDA coalition has 48 seats in the 85-member house and a three-quarters majority or 64 votes was needed to amend the constitution.

The MDP and JP parliamentary groups issued three-line whips last night for its MPs to back the amendment, prompting speculation of a deal with the government after former President Mohamed Nasheed’s house arrest was extended to eight weeks last night.

MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has said that the main opposition party stood to gain more from backing the amendments than opposing it.

Nasheed, who was serving a 13-year prison sentence at the high-security Maafushi jail, was transferred to house arrest on Sunday. President Yameen authorised the transfer.

Nasheed’s arrest in February and subsequent conviction on terrorism charges triggered a political crisis with daily protests, mass anti-government demonstrations, and hundreds of arrests.

The 19-day terrorism trial was widely criticised over its apparent lack of due process and international pressure has been mounting on the government to release the opposition leader and other jailed “political prisoners.”

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim, who has been out of the country since late April, had urged JP MPs to vote for the amendments and announced his retirement from politics. The amendments bar the business tycoon from contesting the 2018 presidential election as he would be 66 years at the time.

The government has frozen the bank accounts of Gasim’s Villa Group and several subsidiary companies over US$90.4 million allegedly owed as unpaid rent and fines.

Two senior JP members, Ameen Ibrahim and Sobah Rasheed, are meanwhile overseas in self-imposed exile after the prosecutor general pressed terrorism charges against the pair in the wake of a mass protest on May 1.

The JP leaders along with Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla are accused of inciting violence at the 20,000-strong anti-government rally.

During today’s sitting of parliament, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said ruling coalition MPs will not speak during the final debate on the amendments.

MDP MP Ibrahim Naseer said he backed the amendment as the party has issued a three-line whip for the vote.

The MDP has always advocated increasing opportunities for youth, he said, and lowering the age limit for presidential candidates would enable young people to reach the highest office of the state.

No other MP asked to speak during the debate.

The amendment was submitted earlier this month by MDA MP Mohamed Ismail, who said during the preliminary debate that he proposed the 65-year cap as the president should be “young, intelligent, daring, active, and energetic.”

The deal

The apparent deal between the government and opposition parties has divided opinion among opposition supporters and sparked debate on social media.

While some have condemned amending the constitution to benefit an individual and accused opposition MPs of abandoning principles, others argued the possible release of opposition politicians would justify the move.

MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail and MDP chairperson Ali Waheed defended the party’s stand, but former attorney general Husnu Suood questioned its wisdom.

 

JP MP Ali Hussain suggested that the opposition has capitulated while JP deputy leader Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan said the MDP and JP has made a “mockery” of supporters who came out to protest under the ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ banner.

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Tourism minister pledges to open third resort in Thaa Atoll

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has pledged to lease a third island in Thaa Atoll for resort development.

Only one resort is operating in the south-central atoll at present.

Speaking at a ceremony to inaugurate a futsal field in Thimarafushi last night, Adeeb said the government plans to lease Kanimeedhoo for tourism. The island is located next to Thimarafushi, where the atoll airport is located.

The government in May leased Thaa Atoll Kalhufahalafushi for tourism development to a Chinese company.

Some 8,945 people live in Thaa Atoll.

President Abdulla Yameen had pledged to bring ten resorts into operation every year.

According to the central bank, three resorts were opened in 2014, which increased the total registered number of resorts to 112 in the Maldives.

The Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) said the Maldives earned US$2.6billion in tourism revenue in 2014.

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Parliament to consider age limits for the presidency

The parliament today accepted for consideration a constitutional amendment proposing an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the president and vice president.

Government-aligned MP Mohamed Ismail’s bill has fuelled speculation of President Abdulla Yameen planning to replace Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is now 33 and ineligible for the position.

Presidential candidates must be 35 years of age, according to the constitution.

Dismissing the “rumours” last month, Adeeb told Minivan News that he has “no interest at this stage.”

Presenting the bill to parliament today, MP Ismail said its purpose is “facilitating opportunities for youth.” The Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) MP said he proposed the 65-year cap as the president should be “young, intelligent, daring, active, and energetic.”

He noted that 65 years is the retirement age in the Maldives. A 70-year-old or 80-year-old would find it difficult to fulfil the responsibilities of the office, Ismail contended.

The amendment bill was accepted with 44 votes in favour, five against, and sent to a parliamentary committee for review.

A three-quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner MDA controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.

The ruling coalition will need the backing of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) or Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs to pass the amendment.

Several JP MPs voted in favour of the bill.

If passed, the amendment will bar JP leader Gasim Ibrahim from contesting the next presidential election. The business tycoon will be 66 in 2018.

During the preliminary debate today, opposition MPs argued that it should be up to the public to decide whether a presidential candidate is too young or old for the presidency.

MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, parliamentary group of the MDP, said he favoured lowering the age limit to 18 years, but objected to the 65-year age limit.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the constitution should not be amended to serve the interests of an individual. But PPM MPs denied that the amendment was “tailor-made” for Adeeb.

JP MP Ali Hussain said constitutional amendments should only be proposed after reaching a consensus among political parties. No democratic country has an upper age limit for the president, he said.

MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, said the majority party will decide its stance following discussions, but said he personally supported it. Other pro-government MPs also backed the amendments in their “individual capacity.”

PPM MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla said amending the constitution might be necessary “under some circumstances” to allow the president to replace a “disloyal” vice president.

“I’m not saying at all that we are trying to bring a particular person to the vice presidency. But if it has to be done, the PPM parliamentary is ready,” he said.

Last month, newspaper Haveeru suggested that the ruling coalition might also amend the constitution to authorise the president to appoint or dismiss his deputy.

The relationship between President Abdulla Yameen and Dr Jameel is reportedly under strain. His cousin, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, was dismissed from the cabinet last month. The government did not provide a reason for the dismissal.

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‘Visit Maldives Year 2016′ campaign seeks record tourist arrivals

President Abdulla Yameen has launched the Visit Maldives Year 2016 campaign in a bid to increase tourist arrivals to the Maldives to 1.5million in 2016.

The campaign, organized by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), will run until the end of June 2016.

The government plans to hold an underwater festival, an international surfing event, a tree-planting programme and photography exhibitions in the Maldives and global locations as part of the campaign.

The Maldives will also host the renowned tourism fair, ITB Berlin, in March 2016, as part of the Vist Maldives Year campaign.

“I am confident that through this global campaign we can look forward to welcoming record numbers of holidaymakers to our beautiful shores in the Maldives,” President Yameen said.

The president launched the campaign’s logo and website at an ongoing UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) conference at the Bandos Island Resort yesterday.

He highlighted the importance of tourism in job creation, raising standards of living and growth of the construction, agriculture and handicrafts industries.

“There is no doubt the tourism sector’s contribution to the creation of jobs is unparalleled with any other sector. In fact, the benefits of tourism as a catalyst for job creation go a long way from a mere creation of employment in hotels, resorts and restaurants. Many ancillary businesses throughout the economy gain from tourism, including the retail sector, entertainment arena and transportation industry.”

The government has earmarked three locations for community based tourism development, the president said.

The guesthouse island project aims to involve small and medium businesses in the lucrative tourism industry without encroaching on inhabited islands.

The project, launched in June 2014, envisioned the development of a 21,00 bed resort in Laamu Atoll Thumburi. The MMPRC changed the project to Baresdhoo in the same atoll last month.

He also pledged to provide sovereign guarantees for resort development loans with an interest rate less than four percent.

The policy is aimed at kick starting stalled development on some 60 islands leased for tourism, the government has previously said. The government has also cut import duty on construction materials for the resort development.

Speaking to the press yesterday, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb said tourism growth is expected to slow this year due to a decline in Russian arrivals. However, he said the Maldives is on track to achieve the goal of 1.4million arrivals this year.

The Maldives marked the arrival of one million tourists in 2013.

In March, travel and tourism publication TTG Asia reported that Maldivian resorts were offering up to a 30 percent discount in prices to attract more arrivals.

Tour operators have also complained over ad-hoc increases in tourism sector taxes, including a hike in TGST from eight to 12 percent in November 2014 and a new green tax of US$6 per tourist in November 2014.

Airport service tax was also raised from US$18 to US$25 in July 2014 for visitors leaving the country.

Adeeb said there was room for more growth in the tourism sector, and said the parliament’s decision to increase resort lease periods to 99 years as an important step.

The UNWTO secretary general, Taleb Rifai, noted the growth in Chinese arrivals to the Maldives and spoke of the need to cater to Eastern tourists and older tourists.

The tourism ministry last month leased Thaa Atoll Kalhufahalafushi to China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) to develop a Chinese-friendly resort in the Maldives.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives tripled from about 100,000 in 2010 to more than 300,000 last year.

With a total of 363,626 arrivals in 2014, Chinese tourists accounted for nearly one-third of arrivals with a 30 percent market share, representing the single biggest source market for tourists to the Maldives.

The Indian minister for tourism Dr Mahesh Sharma, meanwhile, pledged to increase arrivals from India to the Maldives.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) manifesto pledges to establish 50 resorts in the Maldives in its five-year term and award resort shares to Maldivians working in the tourism sector.

Adeeb has previously said the government will introduce a model for resort workers to obtain shares in resorts by the end of the year.

The government has also pledged to develop uninhabited island, Ismehelaareha in southern Addu atoll, as a resort to improve the southern economy.

Adeeb has also said he plans to transfer the authority to permit guesthouses from the tourism ministry to local councils

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Government accuses opposition of plotting May Day coup

The ruling coalition has accused the opposition alliance of plotting a violent overthrow of the government at an anti-government rally tomorrow.

The ‘Maldivians against brutality’ coalition last night turned down last minute overtures for negotiations when President Abdulla Yameen appointed the tourism minister as his envoy for talks.

“We will only sit down to negotiate with the the president of this country,” the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla told the press last night.

The opposition has held daily protests over the imprisonment of ex president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim. The alliance has vowed to bring out 25,000 people on the streets of the capital Malé to “end the government’s tyranny.”

Imran said tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb had sent him a letter seeking a time and place for negotiations, but declared that Adeeb is “unfit” to negotiate with the opposition, calling him “corrupt”, “a venial sinner” and “a criminal”.

Adeeb has called Imran’s refusal to meet him “cowardly” and “effeminate” in a tweet this morning, dismissing the allegations of corruption and illicit connections with gangs as lies.

Government ministers and ruling party MPs held a joint press conference this afternoon, and claimed the May Day protest will not be peaceful.

The opposition is calling for an overthrow of an elected government and attempting to destabilise the country, Adeeb said today.

“Our security forces are ready,” he said.

He accused the Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim of “funding” the May Day protest and hiring Imran under “a contract”.

Imran is “playing the religious card” and inciting the public to rise up against the government, Adeeb said.

Stand-off

President Yameen had maintained on Monday that he saw no reason to negotiate or resign in the face of the’May Day’ mass rally. However, at a government ceremony the following night, Yameen said he has appointed Adeeb as his representative.

As the opposition build up to the mass rally continued and supporters from the atolls converged on Male’, Yameen has made daily public appearances this week.

Speaking at a ceremony held yesterday to accept membership forms of opposition councillors from Shaviyani atoll, Yameen accused the opposition of sowing discord, destabilising the nation, and disrupting peace and security.

Unlike the opposition parties, Yameen said the PPM will not seek power at any cost and was “impatient” to develop the Maldives.

The PPM will not torch buildings, assault civilians, and “commit atrocities,” he said.

He reiterated the government’s stance of upholding the rule of law and enforcing court verdicts.

At a live programme on opposition-aligned Raajje TV and Villa TV last night, opposition alliance leaders warned that the government will abolish political parties and establish a full-fledged “dictatorship” if tomorrow’s attempts to force president Yameen to come to the negotiating table fails.

The chairperson of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party Ali Waheed dismissed claims by police that the opposition is planning a violent confrontation with police.

The Maldivian people will be on the street “as one congregation” tomorrow.

“I want to tell the public, don’t be afraid, the whole world is watching,” he said.

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Government offers ‘corporate resident visas’ for foreign investors

The government has introduced corporate residence visas for foreign entrepreneurs who have invested more than US$50 million in the Maldives.

The new corporate resident Maldives scheme “aims to provide foreign investors in the Maldives with privileged and fast-track services,” according to the economic development ministry.

“My government will accord hospitality to all foreign investors who come here. We will accord safety and satisfaction to all of the foreign investors who are here. We would like foreign investors to feel like friends among friends, Maldivians among Maldivians,” said president Abdulla Yameen at a ceremony last night.

The government is seeking “to attract net worth high value investments” to the Maldives, he added.

The corporate resident visa holders will belong to “a privileged, elitist club,” Yameen said. Card holders will have permanent residency and will not have to wait in queues at immigration.

President Yameen handed out entitlement certificates under the scheme to the Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco), Housing Development Finance Corporation, Seaplane Holdings, Mauritius Commercial Bank, and Hitachi.

Yameen said foreign investments are essential for the government to realise its ambition of “transforming the economy” through diversification and ‘mega projects.’

“This is the only way we believe third world countries, small countries like Maldives, can prosper and transform our economy,” Yameen said in his remarks in English.

The opposition has previously criticised the lack of significant foreign investments despite assurances from the government following the passage of its flagship special economic zones legislation in August last year.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party recently alleged corruption in a deal with Dubai Ports World to develop a commercial port and free trade zone near Malé.

The opposition also contends that the previous administration’s abrupt termination of a contract with Indian company GMR to develop the international airport has irreparably damaged investor confidence. The Indian infrastructure giant is seeking US$803 million as compensation.

“New horizons”

Maldivians at first looked at foreign investments with “suspicion,” Yameen said, but “those days are long past gone.”

“We are looking at foreign investments as part and parcel of our economic development. We welcome foreign investments as partners in our developmental work,” he said.

Yameen said “the most important, most successful, thriving businesses flourishing across the Maldivian economy belong to foreign investors, either joint venture investors or 100 percent foreign investors.”

“There are no strings attached to foreign investments in the Maldives. Foreign investments can come in 100 percent foreign or it could be a collaborative effort with joint venture Maldivian partners,” he said.

“Foreign investors have naturally permeated into the Maldivian economy, that is why today we open our doors with gracious welcome to all the foreign investors.”

The government has invited foreign investors to consider “challenging and attractive investment opportunities” such as the iHavan transhipment port project.

Referring to the Hulhumalé bridge project, Yameen said the reclaimed island “is going to be an ample, resource-bound area for investors, be it housing or be it infrastructure provision.”

The government is also “looking at a brand new international airport that is capable of handling around seven million passengers” and exploring “new horizons of economic development.”

“Maldivian youth aspirations are tremendous. They are enormous. It is from housing to jobs and also to improving their wellbeing. The only way to do this is to attract our doors to all foreign investments who want to invest in major, major investments here,” he said.

The US$300 or US$400 million bridge project is “enormous” for the Maldives with its per capita income of about US$7,000, Yameen said.

“What it entails is not only growth, what it entails is assurance of jobs for Maldivian youth,” he said.

The government is committed to improving the livelihoods of the people, “no matter what you hear on the roads of Malé.”

Yameen also appealed to government staff to be “hospitable, speedy and efficient in delivery of service.”

Service provision should be “seamless,” he continued, “so no hiccups, no nonsense, that is the only way the so-called one-stop shop is going to work.”

Economic returns in the Maldives is “as good as any you can have,” he said, noting that investments in tourism can be recovered in four or five years.

The Maldives is also “a low tax country” with a comparatively low business profit tax, he said.

“This is a safe place for investments, this is safer than the safest place elsewhere on the earth,” Yameen said.

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Government proposes $5m resort lease extensions

The government is seeking legal changes to allow the extension of resort leases to 99 years for a lump sum of US $5m, and to expand the powers of the tourism ministry.

The lease extension scheme, which would represent the first time they have been lengthened beyond 50 years, aims to raise money for the government.

The bill submitted by government-aligned MP Mohamed Ismail would also transfer to the tourism ministry the power to authorise developments at resorts and conduct environmental assessments.

The changes aim to incentivise investors, make it easier to obtain financing from international institutions, and increase revenue for the government, the proposed law states.

To be eligible for a lease extension, a resort property must be operational with an existing lease period of 50 years and must not owe money to the government.

If the amendments pass, resorts will have to seek authorisation from the tourism ministry for any development on a resort that could “permanently alter” the island, plot of land, or lagoon’s environment. The ministry must compile an environmental impact assessment before issuing permission.

“Making the services available under one roof would ease the burden on investors, speed up services, and improve investor confidence,” the introduction to the legislation says.

Under existing laws, the Environment Protection Agency conducts assessments and authorises projects such as land reclamation. The agency functions under the environment ministry.

However, the new amendments state that “only the tourism ministry will have the authority” to conduct assessments and authorise developments.

The tourism ministry will also have the power to impose fines not exceeding US$5 million for violations.

The introduction says that the involvement of other ministries and institutions in resorts hinders the tourism ministry and “lowers investor confidence”.

“Flip-flopping”

Under the current Tourism Act, the maximum lease period for resorts or hotels is 50 years. However, the constitution allows leases up to 99 years.

Former Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee told Minivan News today that from “a commercial investment point of view it’s a good move,” but questioned the government’s “sincerity”.

“Because when they were in opposition they made a big hoohaa about it,” he said, with reference to current ruling party MPs protesting against the then-Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government’s plans to extend resort leases from 25 to 50 years.

The move shows the government is trying to make up revenue shortfalls, said Razee, who was part of the MDP government. He said the current administration was “not curtailing expenses” but increasing the number of political appointees.

This year’s record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget includes MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) anticipated from new revenue raising measures.

The measures include revisions of import duty rates, the introduction of a “green tax”, acquisition fees from investments in special economic zones, and leasing 10 islands for resort development.

Razee also suggested that the administration might allow resorts to pay the extension fee in instalments if the tourism industry lobbies the government.

When the MDP government offered extension of leases for 50 years in exchange for an upfront fee, Razee said resort owners were “not so eager” and “relatively few” paid the fees.

In January 2014, Maldives Association of Tourism Industry secretary general Ahmed Nazeer questioned the practicality of collecting resort lease extensions in a lump sum.

Nazeer told a parliamentary committee reviewing revenue raising measures that only 17 out of the more than 100 resorts had paid lease extension fees upfront.

Razee meanwhile criticised the government’s “flip-flopping” on economic policy, referring to its reversal of a decision to impose higher import duties on garments and motorcycles.

He noted that customs authorities are promising to reimburse importers who are paying the higher tariffs that came into force on April 1, even before amendments reversing the hikes have been passed.

In December, the government also reversed a decision to impose a 10 percent import duty on staple foodstuff such as rice, flour, wheat and sugar.

“There’s no clear-cut, defined, long-term policy,” Razee said.

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Ex-defence minister’s final hearing on illegal weapons pushed back to Thursday evening

The Criminal Court has pushed back the last hearing in former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s illegal weapons charge to Thursday evening.

Defence lawyers today requested additional time to listen to recordings of witness testimony from previous hearings before they issued concluding statements.

The three-judge panel gave lawyers until 4:00pm on Thursday to prepare. Judges could deliver a verdict at their discretion afterwards.

Defence lawyers once again requested the three-judge panel to allow Nazim to leave the country, claiming doctors had said the retired colonel faced a potentially life-threatening condition, and had recommended he be flown abroad as soon as possible for medical tests that are not available in the Maldives.

But presiding Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf contended the phrase ‘as soon as possible’ could be interpreted in various ways, and said the Criminal Court was working to expedite a verdict in the case.

Nazim was charged with illegal weapons possession after police discovered a pistol and three bullets at his home during a controversial midnight raid on January 18. He was subsequently dismissed from the cabinet, and arrested on February 10 on additional charges of terrorism and treason.

Nazim, in his defense, claims rogue police officers planted the weapons at his home on Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb’s orders after the pair fell out over Adeeb’s alleged use of SWAT officers for criminal activities, including the chopping down of all of Malé City’s areca palms in October last year.

Both Adeeb and the Maldives Police Services have dismissed the allegations.

In the last hearing on Monday, judges summoned only two of Nazim’s 37 defence witnesses.

Fabricated evidence?

State prosecutors also claim documents in a pen drive confiscated along with the weapons suggested Nazim was plotting a coup d’état and planning to harm President Abdulla Yameen, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed and the Tourism Minister.

Defence lawyer Maumoon Hameed once again claimed police officers had tampered with and fabricated evidence against Nazim, suggesting coup plans were in fact not even contained in the allegedly planted pen drive.

Hameed, who is also President Yameen’s nephew, said a forensic digital expert, Ameen Abdul Gayoom, in a closed hearing on March 19 said the pen drive had last been accessed in February 2014.

But the alleged plans to harm President Yameen – which were only revealed to judges and lawyers in the closed hearing – were supposedly to be carried out in November or December 2014, he said.

He went on to claim that the then-Assistant Commissioner of Police Hassan Habeeb had printed out the documents in the pen drive and questioned Nazim soon after the raid. He questioned how Habeeb had accessed the pen drive without resulting in the change of date of last access and noted Habeeb’s name was not listed on the pen drive’s chain of custody.

Habeeb was recently promoted to Deputy Commissioner of Police, and according to witness testimony in previous hearings, had commanded the raid on Nazim’s apartment.

State prosecutor Adam Arif denied that the forensic digital expert had made any comments on the date of last access, and said the chain of custody recorded the officers who had handled the physical pen drive, and not the electronic documents contained in it.

Hameed also noted several empty slots on the chain of custody record, saying the broken record suggested possible tampering.

Chain of custody is the record of all individuals who maintained unbroken control over the items of evidence, to establish proof that the items of evidence collected at the crime scene is the same evidence presented in a court of law.

Hameed also said there were gaps of between six and nine hours between when investigating officers had received the evidence and when they had handed evidence over to the forensic departments, arguing the delay amounted to officers flouting police regulations.

Further, while a Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) officer had testified in a previous hearing to having fired the pistol to test if it was functioning, Hameed said the chain of custody record indicated the MNDF only had the weapons for just 15 minutes.

In response, Arif said the empty slots on chain of custody do not mean an unauthorised individual had handled the evidence, and said it did not affect the credibility of evidence presented at court.

Arif claimed the MNDF had possessed the evidence for over an hour, ample time to test the authenticity of the pistol and three bullets.

He also said the long delay in investigating officers handing over evidence to the forensics department did not necessarily mean officers had tampered with the evidence.

If convicted, Nazim faces a jail term between ten and 15 years.

The three judge panel overseeing Nazim’s case are the same judges who convicted former President Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism and sentenced him to 13 years in jail in a trial many observers have called a “travesty of justice.”

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Government to sign MoU with Dubai Ports World to develop port at Thilafushi

The government is planning to relocate the central commercial port from Malé to Thilafushi and sign a joint venture agreement with Dubai Ports (DP) World to develop the port as a free zone, the cabinet’s economic council has revealed.

Speaking at a press conference at the President’s Office yesterday, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb said “advance discussions” have taken place with DP World about a joint venture with the government.

“In my view, such progress shows the confidence in the Maldives,” the co-chair of the economic council said.

Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed and Youth Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal would depart for Dubai on Wednesday night to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Adeeb said.

DP World is one of the largest marine terminal operators in the world and currently manages more than 60 terminals across six continents.

The envisioned free zone at Thilafushi port would include facilities for bulk breaking and transhipment cargo handling, Adeeb said.

DP World has expressed interest in investing in the port project, he continued, and negotiations were ongoing concerning details of the joint venture between the Emirati company and the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL).

DP World would be required to keep existing local staff at MPL, bring Maldivians to the top management and provide training, Adeeb said.

The project would be divided into three phases with an estimated investment of between US$250 and US$300 million, he said.

Adeeb explained that DP World would be offered incentives under the government’s flagship Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act with “a free trade zone area” and relaxed regulations.

A larger port was essential logistically if 50 new resorts were to be developed, he continued, noting difficulties at present in importing and clearing resort supplies through the central port.

The government would also hire a port expert for the negotiations to ensure the “best deal” for the Maldives, he added.

Economic Development Minister Saeed said the Maldives was ripe for “an ocean economy” and the current administration has undertaken unprecedented efforts to diversify the economy with a focus of maritime businesses.

Congestion was a serious problem at the Malé commercial port, which has space for about 60,000 containers, Saeed explained.

The SEZ investment board was in the process of finalising plans for establishing “a free zone or dedicated free trade zone” at the port, Saeed revealed.

During last year’s budget debate, opposition MPs expressed skepticism of the government’s forecast of US$100 million expected as acquisition fees for SEZs by August 2015.

The opposition has also criticised the lack of significant foreign investments despite assurances by President Abdulla Yameen’s administration with the passage of the SEZ law last year.

Saeed meanwhile noted that the seaport project was announced in April last year at an investor forum in Singapore.

“So in a very short period of time, we have steadied the economy, stabilised the currency, increased the gross reserve, increased investor confidence, and while solving issues in the domestic environment or arena, we are seeing today that what this government is doing is real governance,” he said.

“So citizens should rejoice. And I believe that the progress we are making is unprecedented in recent history.”

Adeeb also said projects to construct a new terminal and second runway at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) as well as a bridge connecting the capital to Hulhumalé would begin before the end of the year.


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