Tribunal rules against Axis Bank in airport dispute

A Singaporean arbitration tribunal has ruled that the Maldivian government does not have to pay US$160 million loaned by the India’s Axis Bank for airport development in 2011, Minivan News has learned.

The Axis Bank sought repayment of the loan after the government abruptly took over the airport from Indian developer GMR in December 2012.

The bank said the government had guaranteed the loan issued to GMR and was liable in the event of an early termination or an expropriation of the airport.

After concluding hearings in March, the tribunal ruled on Friday that neither the government nor the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) was responsible for the loan.

The tribunal also ordered the Axis Bank to pay the government and MACL’s legal fees for the arbitration process.

The bank had claimed US$170 million from the government, including US$10 million in interest and fees.

The GMR Group is meanwhile claiming US$803 million from the Maldives in a separate arbitration after the tribunal ruled in June last year that the government had “wrongfully” terminated the concession agreement.

In the first phase of the arbitration process, the tribunal found the concession agreement to have been “valid and binding.” The government and MACL were “”jointly and severally liable in damages to [GMR Malé International Airport Limited] for loss caused by wrongful repudiation of the agreement”.

The tribunal is yet to determine the amount owed to the Indian infrastructure giant as compensation. A verdict is expected in mid-2015.

President Abdulla Yameen has previously said that the Maldives will not have to pay more than US$300 million to GMR, which would be “manageable” for the MACL.


According to submissions made to the tribunal by the Axis bank and the government, obtained by Minivan News, the government argued that declaring the concession invalid from the outset does not amount to an early termination.

While the tribunal in the separate GMR arbitration determined that the termination of the GMR deal was “wrongful repudiation” (refusal to honor the contract), the government contended that “repudiation” alone does not lead to termination.

The government blamed GMR for terminating the concession agreement by “accepting” the repudiation, and said no force was used in the takeover.

Axis bank is “perfectly entitled to recover the loaned sums from the party to which it loaned them,” lawyers representing the Maldives argued.

The bank had dismissed the arguments as “highly semantic” and noted that the Maldives civil aviation authority had cancelled GMR’s aerodrome certificate from December 7, 2012, making it “legally impossible for GMR to continue to operate the airport.”

The government also accused the Axis Bank and GMR of colluding to extract large sums of money, claiming the infrastructure giant had paid for the bank’s litigation fees for the separate arbitration process.

As an Indian Bank for whom GMR was a major customer, the Axis Bank wanted to cement its relationship with GMR “by assisting it in making a very substantial claim for damages,” the government alleged.

The government claimed the bank had been involved in an “attempt to secure political pressure from the Indian government” to prevent cancellation of the deal.

The Axis Bank in 2012 told the government it would “approach the regulatory-diplomatic authorities in India” after GMR was ordered to handover the airport, the government said.

GMR also wrote to the prime minister in August 2012 “requesting intervention by the Indian government, when it was clear that future of the concession agreement was in jeopardy,” the government said.


Three High Court judges transferred to southern branch

The Supreme Court has transferred three High Court judges to the southern branch of the appellate court.

Amendments brought to the Judicature Act in December 2014 divided the nine-member High Court bench into three branches with three judges each.

Two regional branches were to be set up in the north and south with the main branch in Malé. The regional branches will only hear appeals of magistrate court verdicts while only the main branch in the capital can decide on challenges to laws and regulations.

Critics have previously questioned the need to divide the high court bench, noting magistrate courts typically only hold trials on petty crimes. The bulk of complicated civil and criminal matters are heard at the Malé’s superior courts.

The opposition has described judges’ transfer to the regional branches as a demotion, and said it will allow the Supreme Court to transfer judges it is not happy with to the regional branches.

The apex court issued a resolution today stating that Judges Abbas Shareef, Shuaib Hussain Zakariyya and Azmiralda Zahir have been appointed to the southern branch.

The appointments were made with the unanimous consent of all five Supreme Court justices at a meeting last night.

The southern branch is located in the Maradhoo ward of Addu City while the northern branch is to be set up in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi.

All three judges transferred to the southern branch were appointed to the High Court bench in 2011.

Judges Abbas and Shuaib are also amongst the five-judge panel currently hearing the appeal of former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

It is not yet clear whether the pair will be removed from Nazim’s trial.

The controversial amendments to the Judicature Act voted through in December by the pro-government majority in parliament saw the dismissal of former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adnan.

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) on June 8 appointed two criminal court judges, Abdulla Didi and Sujau Usman, to the high court.

The two had been part of the panel that had sentenced Nazim to 11 years in jail on weapons smuggling charges.

They had also sentenced former president Mohamed Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. Both trials were widely criticized for apparent lack of due process.


CSC to challenge ruling on sick leave allowance

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has decided to challenge an Employment Tribunal ruling that established that the commission cannot deduct a civil servant’s service allowance for sick leave.

A CSC official told local media today that the commission will appeal the ruling at the High Court this week.

The tribunal last Wednesday ruled in favour of a senior project officer at the fisheries minister in a dispute with the commission. Naseef Mohamed had contended that the deduction of MVR66.76 from his service allowance in January when he called in sick for a day was arbitrary.

The tribunal ordered the commission to reimburse the deducted amount within 14 days.

The three members on the tribunal ruled unanimously that deducting the service allowance does not fit any of the circumstances specified in the Employment Act that allow deduction of salary or wage payments.

The commission reportedly began imposing pay cuts for sick days under new civil service regulations enacted in December.

All employees of the fisheries ministry have meanwhile signed a petition to permanent secretary Dr Abdulla Naseer seeking reimbursement of deductions from their service allowance.


Government submits bills on national disasters, foreign service, and writing off traffic fines

The government has submitted legislation to the parliament today on national disasters, the foreign service, and writing off traffic fines.

Earlier this month, President Abdulla Yameen pledged to write off fines accumulated for traffic violations and illegal parking.

According to the president’s office, the amendments to the 2009 land transport law also proposes introducing “modern” measures against traffic violations and offering legal authority for the police to impound, sell, and demolish vehicles.

Speaking at a function with youth supporters on June 6, President Yameen observed that the fines for some motorcycles impounded at the tow yard has reached up to MVR80,000 (US$5,188), which most youth were unable to afford.

“We have submitted a bill to the People’s Majlis to write off debt or arrears built up like this. So from the day this bill passes, those youth will no longer be in debt,” he declared.

Yameen said the pro-government majority will pass amendments to the land transportation law before Ramadan or during the current session of parliament.

The legislation on national disasters meanwhile proposes a framework for protecting the country from natural and other large-scale disasters.

The foreign service bill proposes the establishment of a ‘foreign service’ entity comprised of the foreign ministry, overseas diplomatic missions, and consulates. The legislation specifies the mandate and responsibilities of the foreign service.


Warehouse fire in Malé second in a week

A fire broke out in a warehouse in Malé last night in the second fire incident in the capital in less than a week.

The fire at the United Food Supplies warehouse in the Maafanu ward was reported to the Maldives National Defence Force’s (MDNF) fire and rescue services around 8:20pm and was swiftly contained around 8:40pm.

MDNF spokesperson Major Adnan Ahmed told Minivan News that the fire was caused by an ignition in the panel board of a storage container.

The warehouse on Hadhuvaree Hingun mainly stores vegetables, frozen goods and other food items, he said.

Local media reported that staff brought out several boxes from the warehouse to protect the food items after heavy smoke engulfed the area when the fire was extinguished.

The items in storage were not damaged in the fire.

Last night’s incident occurred three days after a fire broke out at the Kaaminee Shopping Centre in the city’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu on Thursday, June 18.

The police and MNDF evacuated nearby shops and apartments, but the fire was also contained in a short period.

A police officer involved in the evacuating the staff was injured and taken to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital for treatment.

A police media official said both cases were under investigation, but suggested that last night’s fire was most likely caused by faulty equipment.

“Two apartments nearby the fire at Kaaminee center were damaged by the fire, other than that there are not much damages apart from the shopping centre,” he said.

The authorities are yet to conclude an investigation into a massive fire at a Lily Store warehouse in Malé in March.

Photo from social media.


State defends lapses in raid on ex-defence minister’s home

State prosecutors have defended the police’s failure to videotape a raid in which a pistol and three bullets were discovered in the ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s apartment.

The retired colonel was sentenced to 11 years in jail on weapons smuggling charges. He maintains he was framed by rogue police officers, and has taken up the police’s failure to follow standard operating procedures as a key argument in an ongoing appeal at the High Court.

But public prosecutor Adam Arif today said that the police can “change the standard operating procedure whenever they want to.”

“The criminal court’s judgment that said police are not required to follow the standard operation procedure is lawful. These procedures set up by the police are subject to change at any time. These procedures are always changing,” he said.

Police officers, who had provided anonymous testimony at the criminal court, admitted they did not videotape the raid as required, and provided conflicting testimony on how and when mandatory photographs were taken.

Nazim also claims officers did not provide him with a copy of the search warrant when SWAT officers first entered his house.

His lawyers have alleged several lapses in due process, including the criminal court’s refusal to call defence witnesses and failure to allow Nazim to mount a proper defense.

The ex-defence minister maintains that the weapons were planted on the orders of tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb after the pair fell-out over Adeeb’s alleged use of SWAT officers to commit criminal activities. Adeeb has denied the claims.

Nazim’s lawyers told the High Court yesterday that the criminal court had blocked him from mounting a proper defense by refusing to call defence witnesses and blocking defence lawyers from cross-examining state witnesses.

They have also alleged state prosecutors coached witnesses, and said discrepancies in police testimony indicate that police officers had lied under oath.

Responding to Nazim’s arguments today, Arif denied irregularities including that of witness coaching, and insisted that Nazim was allowed to defend himself.

“Interviewing witnesses” before court appearances are done in many democratic countries, Arif said.

He admitted to discrepancies in witness statements, but said the contradictions were not serious enough to undermine the whole case.

“The state provided enough evidence which proved the case at the lower court. We proved that weapons were found at his house. If Nazim cannot prove how the weapons came to be there then it can either be that he smuggled the weapons or made the weapons,” Arif said.

At the criminal court, Nazim had attempted to argue that the 9mm Browning pistol had belonged to a Special Protection Group Corporal, who  had lost it at Shangri-La resort in 2014. When the military promptly dismissed the claim, the criminal court refused to call defence witnesses.

The court also refused to call witnesses to testify to the fall-out between Nazim and Adeeb, and to prove the police’s SWAT team had committed criminal offences before.

Arif today said the criminal court is authorized to bar some witnesses if they appear to be irrelevant, and said the judges had blocked Nazim’s lawyers from cross-examining state witnesses because their questions had “strayed from the subject.”

Along with the weapons, police said they had discovered a pen drive containing documents detailing a plot to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen. Nazim’s lawyers have also questioned the validity of the documents.

Judges Abdul Ganee, Abdulla Hameed, Shuaib Hussain Zakariyya, Abbas Shareef and Abdul Rauf Ibrahim are overseeing Nazim’s appeal.

Two judges who oversaw Nazim’s trial, Abdulla Didi and Sujau Usman, were promoted to the High Court on June 8.

Nazim’s trial also coincided with a terrorism trial against ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The opposition leader was sentenced to 13 years in jail on March 13.

He was tried by the same three judges who oversaw Nazim’s trial.

The pair’s imprisonment has triggered a political crisis with daily protests from February through May, two mass demonstrations and hundreds of arrests.

Foreign governments, international organizations including the UN, and civil society groups have criticised the trials for apparent lack of due process. President Yameen, however, insists he has no constitutional authority to release the pair and says they must exhaust all appeal processes.

Nasheed’s lawyers were blocked from filing an appeal when the criminal court failed to issue the required case documents within a shortened 10-day appeal period.

The former president was temporarily transferred to house arrest yesterday.


Addu City accident victim in serious condition

A road accident that occurred in Addu City around 10:00am this morning has left a 23-year-old man in critical condition.

According to local media, the victim is undergoing treatment for head injuries at the intensive care unit of the Hithadhoo regional hospital.

The hospital is making arrangements to transfer the patient to Malé while the other victim of the accident only sustained minor injuries.

The accident occurred on the Hithadhoo main road when a speeding motorcycle lost control and crashed into police barricades.

In late May, a 30-year-old man died of injuries sustained in an accident in the Maradhoo ward of Addu City.

Several fatal accidents occur each year in the interlinked islands of the southernmost atoll.

Three young men died after road accidents on March 30 and April 10.