No threat to Maldivians in Srilanka, assures Sri Lankan foreign minister

Sri Lankan minister for External Affairs G.L. Peiris has assured that there is no threat to Maldivians residing in his country from ongoing conflicts between Muslims and Buddhists.

Speaking during the official state visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Peiris said that the “happy and contented” Maldivian community living in Sri Lanka mostly reside in the southern parts of the country, far away from the zone of conflict.

“There is absolutely no problem in that area,” he said, adding that the conflict was going on in a very narrow area of Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa’s two-day state visit is the first official visit of a foreign leader since President Yameen’s election, and has seen agreements signed related to health, investment, and search and rescue services.

Maldivian Foreign Minister Dhunya Maumoon – speaking at today’s press conference in Kurumba resort – said that the Maldivian government appreciated the steps taken by the Sri Lankan government to ensure the safety of the the 9,400 citizens in the Maldives.

“Not that there are no serious issues,” she said. “But the media sometimes sensationalise these issues.”

On June 16, 2014, reports emerged that hard-line Buddhists hurled gasoline bombs and looted homes and businesses during attacks in several Muslim towns in southwestern Sri Lanka, killing three Muslims and seriously wounding more than 50 people.

Dunya said that the Maldivian embassy in Sri Lanka was closely monitoring the situation on a daily basis. She also revealed that land in the Maldivian capital had been granted for Sri Lanka to set up a new diplomatic premises.

Following Rajapaksa’s arrival yesterday, official bilateral talks were held between the two governments as well as a private meeting between the two heads of state. A special banquet in honour of the Sri Lankan president and first lady was held at Kurumba yesterday evening.

Dunya today noted the close personal links between the two nations with Sri Lankan expatriate workers greatly assisting the Maldivian economy while more than 80,000 Maldivians visited Sri Lanka in 2012.

“We recognise and applaud the tremendous post-conflict reconstruction efforts of the Sri Lankan Government. We believe that the Sri Lankan Government and its people can address and overcome the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation,” said the foreign minister.

Details of the health MoU were also revealed yesterday, with three specialists per year travelling to the Maldives as well as places for five Maldivian students to study medicine in Sri Lanka.

“Maldivians have been long standing consumers of the excellent education and health services in Sri Lanka. Under the agreement signed yesterday, the Maldives looks forward to further enhancing cooperation in the health sector, including in investing in human resources, recruitment of medical doctors and health professionals, and procurement of pharmaceuticals,” she added.

External Affairs Minister Peiris told press today that the agreements reached would have positive practical results for both nations, in particular new agreements on investment.

Trade between the two states grew by 40 percent last year, said Peiris, currently amounting to US$76 million – a figure he described as “satisfactory” with room for improvement.

“Major Sri Lankan investors are investing in the Maldives in a big way, particularly in tourism infrastructure,” he continued.

As part of today’s trip, a networking session was held in Malé for Sri Lanka’s business delegation, with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed revealing details of investment opportunities in the Maldives.

Asked about discussions on Sri Lankan fishermen’s access to the travel through the Maldives’ territorial waters, Peiris said that such close allies had no need to hold official discussions “formally” about the right of innocent passage.

President Yameen had promised to explore during his corresponding trip to Sri Lanka in January, during which MoUs were signed regarding combating transnational crime , vocational training, and sports cooperation.


Supreme Court upholds reinstatement of police inspector dismissed after rape allegations

The Supreme Court has today upheld the High Court ruling to reinstate Chief Inspector Hussain Risheef Thoha who had been dismissed after being accused of raping a woman inside a police car.

The ruling stated that, although the victim had alleged that a group of police officers attacked her, she did not state that Risheef participated in the rape.

Commenting on today’s ruling today, Maldivian Democratic Party MP and lawyer Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy expressed concern the court would ask for the reinstatement of an officer after its disciplinary board had decided that there was enough evidence to link him with a rape case.

”These are not just ordinary citizens, these are senior police officers accused of a serious crime,” Inthi said. ”This is very dangerous and serious.”

Risheef had called the officers who were inside the car, said the Supreme Court today, stating that this did not prove he had participated in the attack.

The ruling noted that there was no record of a phone call in which Risheed instructed officers to rape the victim.

The court ruling stated that Risheed had gone to the area where the girl had been left after the incident, and had given her a t-shirt to cover herself up.

Again, this does not prove that Risheef had participated in the act, said the court, noting that helping a person in that situation to cover up is how it should be done in Islamic principles.

The court also criticised the police disciplinary board for taking action against Risheef based on the allegations, saying that this was against Islamic principles and international best practice.

The case

In August 2011, a woman filed a case at police headquarters alleging she was sexually abused by a group of police officers, including Risheef.

Thoha later appealed his dismissal by the police disciplinary board at the Civil Court, which ruled that the decision had been lawful and that there was enough evidence to dismiss Risheef from duty.

The Civil Court noted at the time that Risheef’s call records showed he had contacted the other accused officers several times, and in turn had been contacted by them.

The ruling also said that the girl was thrown out of the car naked near the chief inspector’s house in Maafannu, and that Thoha had admitted to being in the area a few minutes later.

In August 2012, the High Court overruled the decision made by the Civil Court and ordered that police reinstate Risheef at the rank of chief inspector.

In September 2012, the High Court upheld a Civil Court ruling to reinstate Police Lance Corporal Ali Nasheed to active duty, who had been dismissed in relation to the same incident.

Recently, police said that they would only accept dismissed officers in a situation where the Supreme Court ordered the reinstatement of their position in the police.

Lawyer Inthi said that such issues makes the people lose confidence with the police force.

”This shows that issues like this are not taken seriously,” he said. ”The disciplinary board is a board that has the authority to dismiss police officers if they find that there was enough evidence to believe that a police officer is guilty of a crime.”


Criminal Court delays religious scholar Sheikh Fareed’s trial

The Criminal Court has decided to delay the trial of controversial religious scholar Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed after the state lawyers told the court they wanted to withdraw the case.

According to local media, state lawyers told the Prosecutor Genral’s (PG) Office  had decided to withdraw the case because too much time has passed since Fareed had committed the offense.

Sheikh Fareed was charged for conducting religious sermons in some islands of Haa Dhaalu Atoll after the government cancelled his permission to preach in 2007. The last hearing in to the case was held on 30 January 2011.

Lawyers told the Criminal Court that the PG Office had sent letters to the court informing of the decision to withdraw charges, but the court had refused to accept the letters. Instead, the letters were handed to the judge during today’s hearing.

The judge told the state prosecutor there were many charges the PG Office should withdraw if charges against Fareed are to be dismissed, and said the PG Office should treat everyone equally when dealing with such matters.

The judge also said that the PG Office cannot decide to withdraw cases filed at the court with the ongoing leadership vacuum at the PG office.

The Criminal Court will only accept the withdrawal if the new PG wished to withdraw charges, the judge said. A next hearing will be held after a new PG is appointed by the new parliament, he added.

When charges were first filed against Sheikh Fareed, the President of Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Fauzy told Minivan News that Fareed was arrested alongside many MDP delegates while he was aboard a boat traveling from Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll in the year 2007.

”The former Religious Unity Act is contradictory to the new constitution, it is not acceptable to charge Sheikh Fareed over this issue,” said Fauzy. ”It is all related to politics. The former government confiscated his permission to preach, and later he only spoke at political rallies when he was in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).”

Sheikh Fareed was arrested several times during the former regime for his participation in anti-governmental protests. According to the local media, he was also once charged with terrorism but acquitted.

In 2007 he was the vice president of MDP religious council but resigned after alleging that the party was against Islam.


Corruption and conspiracy allegations mar AFC Challenge Cup

With additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

The national unity created by the AFC Challenge Cup appeared to waver today as protests broke out in ticket lines amid claims of corruption while the police commissioner alleged a conspiracy in yesterday’s Addu City bus crash.

Supporters of the national team staged a protest outside the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) after ticket sales for Tuesday’s semi-final against the Phillipines were halted, with the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) promising an investigation.

Sources who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News today that they had bought tickets at inflated prices from relatives of senior FAM officials – the organisation has denied these claims.

ACC President Hassan Luthfee expressed confusion over the sale of tickets, telling local media that the commission will investigate how the number of available tickets in the 8,000 capacity stadium suddenly dropped to 150 today.

Luthfee was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed told police media that suggestions yesterday’s accident was pre-planned were credible. He did not provide details, saying the police would be looking into the matter further.

FAM President and MP Ilham Ahmed said today that Asian Football Confederation (AFC) officials had called him to ask if the environment in the country was safe to continue the tournament. The confederation intends to take action against the FAM regarding yesterday’s accident, reported Ilham.

After AFC reportedly raised concerns about security at the National Stadium, Chief Superintendent of Police Ismail Naveen today said that – despite proceedings having been peaceful up to now – police were now upgrading security services of the national stadium.

Speaking at the press conference held today, FAM’s director of football said that tickets were not sold or given to FAM staff in a way that could lead to misuse.

Ilham – who said that police had advised the FAM stop selling tickets after people broke the queue – said the FAM had sold three tickets to each member of staff , while locals were only allowed two tickets each for the semi-final.

Ilham claimed that 50,000 people wanted to get into the 8,000 person National Stadium for Tuesday’s semi-final saying that the FAM would try to screen the upcoming matches in Olympus theatre, Adi Park, and in the Social Centre in Malé.

Today’s events followed yesterday’s accident in which five members and two officials from the Afghan team suffered minor injuries in a bus accident on Addu City’s link road.

Police and media reports describe the accident as having been caused when the driver attempted to overtake a van travelling in front of the team’s motorcade. The van was forced to break, causing the following vehicles to hit it from behind.

One police officer accompanying the motorcade broke an arm, while a female protocol officer suffered head injuries. Eight others, including two soldiers and two locals also suffered injuries.

The site of the accident – the 14-kilometer Link Road in Addu City – is the longest paved road in the country and is a notorious accident hot spot.

The tournament, which concludes on May 30, has been lauded for uniting the people of the country after a prolonged period of political division.


Afghan football team injured in Addu City accident

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed and Daniel Bosley

Five members and two officials of Afghanistan’s national football team have suffered minor injuries in a bus accident at 6:36pm on Addu City’s link road.

Afghan team captain Haroon Fakhruddin Amiri and coach Yousuf Kargar were among the injured.

The team was traveling to Herathera Island Resort following its group stage win against Laos in the ongoing Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup this evening.

One police officer accompanying the motorcade broke an arm, while a female protocol officer suffered head injuries. Eight others, including two soldiers and two locals also suffered injuries, an AFC media official told Minivan News.

Local media said vehicles in the motorcade accompanying the Afghanistan and Laos national teams collided when a local on a motorbike cut in front of the motorcade. Police at the hospital were refusing to give further details at the time of publication.

The teams are to fly to capital city Malé tonight, the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) has said.

Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said the Addu City Regional Hospital has confirmed there are no serious injuries and said the government will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Assistant Secetary General of the Football Association of the Maldives (FAM), Mohamed Nasir, said he was deeply saddened by the accident.

“Accidents happen. We took all the precautions, security was in place. Police are investigating how a motorcade with sirens met with such an accident,” he said.

The 14-kilometer Link Road in Addu City is the longest paved road in the country and is notorious for fatal accidents due to reckless driving. Most recently, a 17-year-old broke his collarbone in an accident on April 7.

Addu City journalist and road safety campaigner Amy Jabeen highlighted the lack of traffic police on the link road and expressed hope that the unfortunate accident would raise awareness for better road safety in the city.

“We are a city without any traffic police, poor roads and a younger generation with no lane discipline,” said Amy, who has recently held discussions with the city council regarding improvements to local road safety.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed tweeted criticism of the logistics of the AFC Challenge Cup in Addu City saying, “The standards of the facilities and logistics in Addu are an insult to our people.”

The last-minute construction of the Addu City football stadium has been marred by allegations of corruption. None of the knockout stage matches or any match in which the Maldivian team was to play has been scheduled in Addu City.

The Maldives, Phillipines, Afghanistan, and Palestine have qualified for the semi-finals which will be held in Malé later this week.

Speaking to Minivan News prior to the accident, Director of the Maldives national team, Ali Suzain, said the FAM was hopeful that the Maldives team will win the Challenge Cup.

“The chances of going to the final is very high now that the Maldives national team has to play against Philippines in the semi-final. Having to play against Philippines is an advantage to Maldives,” Suzain said.

The AFC had only noted minor issues such as a supporter entering the football field during the first match and an official from the Kyrgystan national team throwing a water bottle onto the field, Suzain said.

“We were asked by the AFC to install doors in the V.I.P area after the Kyrgystan football federation president ran up and down the stair case and went in to the field and threw a water bottle inside,’’ he said. “We have now installed a door in the area.’’

The FAM was very pleased with the Maldives Police Service’s oversight of security at the football matches, he added.


MP Nihan slams police over dismantling of youth huts on Villimalé

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP for Villimalé Ahmed Nihan has criticised the Maldives Police Services decision to dismantle huts built by young people on public land.

Speaking to Minivan News, Nihan said Villimalé’s youth population had used the huts as social spaces for over 20 years. Destroying the huts – which the youth call home – without showing them alternatives will only cause more social problems, claimed the MP.

The police dismantled the structures on the suburban island on May 18, claiming the huts were built illegally and encouraged gang activity though no unlawful substance or tools were discovered during the operation.

Nihan’s criticism of adequate youth facilities has been echoed by the Maldivian Democratic Party.

“Young people often do not have space in their houses to bring friends over as their houses are congested, that’s why they use these huts to meet up with their friends,’’ said Nihan.

“They believe that the places belong to them and gives the place some identity.’’

Encroaching on public land is an offense, acknowledged the MP, although he took issue with the police’s approach to dismantling huts.

“My concern is that the police did not discuss the issue with any of the youth before destroying the huts and have not even tried to advise them or try to make them understand that what they were doing was wrong and illegal,’’ he said.

“Destroying the huts is not the solution – there are many other things that have to be sorted out if the government wants the youth to be more productive and to stop them from getting involved in illegal activities.’’

For one thing, a youth center with modern facilities was needed to stop young people from encroaching on public space or engaging in illegal activities, he said.

“The youth center here is not functional at all because the staff handling the youth centre are not permanent, and does not have much interest in  his work. The centre is not opened regularly and there is no space for modern sports or entertainment.”

“I have MVR181,000 (US$11,715) worth of music instruments with me but I don’t have a place where the youth can access them. I don’t want to bring them into the PPM office here because not all the youth are PPM supporters – they will shout ‘Golhaabo’ [an offensive term used to refer to Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] and run away,’’ he said.

Nihan also said that he had tried to take up this issue with Youth Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal but that the minister was too busy building stadiums for the ongoing Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge cup.

He called on the government to provide more job opportunities for the youth and to direct them to useful work.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Youth Wing Leader Mohamed Azmeel has also condemned the police’s actions saying: “I don’t think it is always drug dealers and gang members that hangs out in these spots. Besides, there are no other places to hangout.”

He noted that the new government had banned opening shops after 11pm to decrease crimes but that the crime rate has not dropped.

“We noticed that when police dismantled the huts, they targeted mostly places where MDP supporters hangout,” he said.

Youths construct structures on public spaces because there was no job opportunities for them and they have nothing to do, he added.

‘’If they don’t have anything to do they will gather to places like that to hangout,’’ he said. “The government pledged that 94,000 job opportunities will be created but they have not started implementing it,’’ he said.

While police claim the operation was carried out “after discussion with the city council”, Malé City Council – under whose jurisdiction the land currently is – has denied authorising the move, or being officially informed of it.

Despite recent assurances that the government’s youth policy was addressing the concerns of young people, youth leaders from all sides of the political divide have suggested a lack of youth participation in the administration’s planning.


“I am a ‘gunda’. I will show that to you”: PPM councillor threatens deputy mayor

A recording understood to be of suspended Malé City Councillor Ahmed Mamnoon, reveals the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) member threatening Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed.

“What are you trying to do, filing my case with the Local Government Authority, what you all are trying to do is not very nice, you will not be able to anything,” a voice believed to be Mamnoon says in the tape.

“You can’t do whatever you want here, you see, I am not a politician, I am a ‘gunda’ [thug/gangster]. I will show that to you.’’

The recording aired on Raajje TV a day after the Local Government Authority (LGA) decided to suspend Mamnoon for five days following his alleged use of offensive language to address Shifa.

Minivan News understands that the recording relates to a second incident, after the initial complaint was filed.

“The incident is regrettable. Not only because this is the council, but this type of incidents should not occur at any working place,” said Mayor Mohamed Shihab today.

“We will keep informing the concerning government institutions about all these incident.”

In the video, the voice alleged to be Mamnoon can be heard saying that Shifa will not be able to take any action against “Hameed” and that, if any action was taken against “Hameed”, action would be taken against Shifa as well.

Controversial Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed has been in the headlines again this week, with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) releasing a statement criticising authorities’ failure to pursue the multiple crimes of which the judge is accused.

The 11-member Malé City Council is currently dominated by the MDP. Shifa was formerly the minister of education, while Mayor Shihab was home minister, during the administration of Mohamed Nasheed.

“Go and take action if you can,” continued the voice in the recording. “We took the Dharubaaruge chairs. In the future, if there is anything that belongs to Dharubaaruge, we’ll take it. We can’t be stopped.’’

The ruling PPM government has continued its predecessors moves to retrieve public areas granted to Malé City Council, with police moving in to assist the takeover of the Dharubaaruge convention center earlier this month.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said today that he was not aware of the incident.


PPM MP sentenced to four years in exile for embezzlement

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ibrahim Ameen has been sentenced to four years and six months in exile for embezzlement.

The Criminal Court found the MP for Ungoofaaru constituency guilty of embezzling MVR36, 818 (US$2,388) from the Ungoofaru Island Council Office.

Ameen had been responsible for all incoming cash at the office from May 2004 – April 2006, but failed to explain how MVR36,818 went missing from cash handed over to the office by the island’s power house.

The embezzlement was discovered by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), but Ameen told the Criminal Court the commission’s audit was flawed. He had, however, confessed to receiving the amount.

The Criminal Court sentenced Ameen to internal exile under the Penal Code Article 131(a) and ordered him to pay the money back to the Island Office within a month.

Article 131(a) of the code states that any persons found guilty of embezzlement should be sentenced to six month or one year banishment if it was the first time the person was found guilty of such crime, and  Article 132 states that if the amount of money obtained through embezzlement was more than MVR10,000 (US$649) the person should be banished to an extra  month for each additional MVR1000 (US$69).

Ameen’s brother Abdul Nasir was also handed an eleven year sentence on 17 April 2014 for embezzling MVR114,325 (US$7,414) from the council. Nasir was also found guilty of embezzling fees paid to the council by the power house.

Nasir had confessed to using the funds for personal use, the Criminal Court said.

Ameen won a by-election after his brother MP Dr Afrasheem Ali’s brutal murder left the seat vacant. The PPM issued Ameen the ticket without a primary as he is the brother of the late MP.

Ameen did not contest for the 18th People’s Majlis.

He told local media that he had no interest in politics and that he had competed in the by-election in 2012 to complete his brother’s term.

“My brother’s family asked me if I will stand for the seat. Senior party members and friends also want me to stand for the seat. But I have no interest,” he said at the time.

The current Majlis is in recess ahead of the end of its term on May 28.

Article 73 of the constitution states that a person shall be disqualified from election as a member of the People’s Majlis – or a member of the People’s Majlis immediately becomes disqualified – if he has been convicted of a criminal offence and is serving a sentence of more than twelve months.

Additionally, the same article states that if a person has been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term more than 12 months he will not be able to stand for parliament,  unless a period of three years has elapsed since his release or he has been pardoned for the offense.

In August 2011, Kaashidhoo MP Ismail Abdul Hameed was sentenced to 18 months in exile for corruption. He subsequently lost his seat.

However, Hameed served ten months of his term under house arrest due to the state’s failure to decide on an island for his exile. He was released in August 2012 under parole.


MACL can sue former chairman over GMR airport charge decision, says Civil Court

The Civil Court has ruled the Maldives Airports Company (MACL) can sue its former chairman for allowing the disputed Airport Development Charge (ADC) to be deducted from Indian infrastructure giant GMR’s concession payments during it’s ill-fated agreement.

MACL alleges ‘Kuda Bandhey’ Ibrahim Saleem’s decision to be an act of ‘Ultra Vires’ – meaning that Saleem had acted beyond his permitted authority.

The ruling came following a procedural issue taken by Saleem said he was being wrongfully charged claiming the lawsuit was filed in violation to Article 18 (c) of the Contract Act and Article 74 Company Act.

The Contract Act states a clause requiring a party to refer to arbitration any dispute arising from the contract shall be valid, while the Company Act says the court has a right to issue orders holding personally liable the directors of the company to commit an offense in the name of the company.

But the Civil Court ruling stated that the Company Act does not prohibit the company chairman from being sued personally.

The airports company sued Saleem after he signed a letter sent to GMR on January 5 2012 stating that the ADC and the insurance surcharge fee had been deducted from GMR’s concession payments.

In late 2011, the then-opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) had filed a successful Civil Court case blocking GMR from charging US$25 charge for outgoing passengers – stipulated in its agreement with the government – on the grounds that it was a tax not authorised by parliament.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration subsequently chose to honour the original contract, instructing GMR to deduct the ADC revenues from the concession fees due to the state-owned MACL while it sought to appeal the Civil Court ruling.

However, with the Nasheed’s controversial resignation coming just one month later, the opposition soon inherited the contractual problem.

Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government then received a succession of bills from the airport developer throughout 2012, despite its insistence that the January 5 letter from MACL outlining the new arrangement was no longer valid.

In December 2012, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed a case with the Prosecutor General’s Office over Saleem’s decision to allow GMR to deduct the ADC from concession fees owed to the state.

As part of the filed case (Dhivehi), the ACC was seeking reimbursement of MVR 353.8 million (US$22.9 million) from Saleem and former Finance Minister Mohamed Shihab over the alleged misuse of authority it claimed had led to significant financial loses for the state.

These losses were used as justification for the contract’s eventual termination in December 2012, for which GMR is currently seeking compensation via a Singapore court of arbitration.

According to the case filed by the ACC, former Finance Minister Shihab stands accused of misusing his ministerial authority to benefit a third party by allowing GMR to deduct the charges between October 2011 and September 2012.

The ACC has also accused Saleem violating the company’s rules. According to the ACC’s case, normal procedure for MACL would be to have the company’s board of directors pass a resolution allowing for consent to be given to deduct the ADC.