Civil Court overturns EPA’s Rf100 million fine against Champa over Thunbafushi

The Civil Court has overturned the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA)’s Rf100 million (US$6.5 million) fine against local business tycoon Mohamed ‘Champa’ Moosa.

The EPA fined Champa the maximum possible penalty in June and labelled him an “environmental criminal” for irreversibly damaging the island of Thun’bafushi and the marine ecosystem of Thun’bafalhu, notably conducting dredging and reclamation works in the area without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The Civil Court however ruled that the fine was not valid as the EPA had not given him the opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Judge Maryam Nihayath noted that under Article 43, “everyone has the right to administrative action that is lawful, procedurally fair, and expeditious.”

The judge said that the EPA had conducted many surveys in Thun’bufaru but had not shared the surveys with Champa, and that Champa was not informed of what actions had violated the law or what damage had been caused.

Judge Nihayath then ruled that the EPA had not completed “administratively fair procedure” that was required before any action against the accused could be taken, and invalidated the Rf100 million fine.

Director of the EPA Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News today that the EPA had given all necessary documents to Champa and that he had been given “more than enough time to prepare his appeal.”

Naeem said the EPA had not been officially notified of the verdict and had yet to decide whether to appeal the decision in the High Court, or address any procedural issue and reissue the fine.

Naeem previously told Minivan News in June that the area had been irreversibly damaged and a large reef habitat destroyed.

“This was originally a reef ecosystem with a small sand bank in the middle, but he has been dredging the island without any clearance and the changes are now irreversible,” Naeem said at the time.

After three surveys of the area, the EPA had assessed the damage as amounting to Rf2,230,293,566 (US$144.6 million), not including the impact of sedimentation from the dredging which can smother coral kilometres from the site.

A foreign consultant who was involved in surveying the island had meanwhile told Minivan News that the area “seems to have been used as a dumping ground.”

“There were what looked like hundreds of used car batteries, waste metals and oil drums leeching into the marine environment,” the consultant said.
“We were looking at the effect of the dredging on sedimentation, and there were no water quality tests done. But you can just imagine what it would have been like with all the batteries and waste metals.”

Images of the island obtained by Minivan News showed discarded piles of rubbish and batteries, old earthmoving machinery rusting in the sun, and half a dozen reef sharks in a tank containing a foot of tepid water.

Several days after Champa was issued the fine in June, the then-Director General of the EPA Mohamed Zuhair suddenly resigned from the post, publicly stating on DhiTV – a private network owned by Champa – that his departure was due to “political interference” in the EPA’s fining of the tycoon.

Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam claimed that Zuhair had previously signalled his intention to participate in the government’s voluntary redundancy program three weeks before his sudden departure, which rendered him ineligible for the lump sum pay out.

Zuhair’s decision to apply for the program had caught the government by surprise, Aslam said at the time, explaining that he had met with the EPA’s Director General to try and retain him.

“His reason was that government pay was not meeting his financial needs, and he was looking to move to the private sector. We offered to move him to another department that would allow him to also work in the private sector – which is not allowed under the EPA’s regulations.”

Aslam said he became concerned when he pressed Zuhair for an explanation, “but he said on this matter he couldn’t tell us anything further.”

“We asked asked him then if this was a matter of national security, but he said no. So we respected his decision, and he submitted [the voluntary redundancy forms] with the Ministry of Finance, and we were just about to sign them – my signature was to be the last.”

Around this time Zuhair was allegedly sent a letter containing a mobile phone SIM card and a slip of paper note requesting he use it to call Nawal Firaq, the CEO of DhiTV.

Minivan News understands the letter containing the note and SIM card, registered in the name of a Bangladeshi labourer, was delivered to Zuhair’s flat on Friday morning but instead found its way to police.

Firaq denied knowledge of the letter when contacted by Minivan News in June. In the police inquiry subsequent to his resignation Zuhair cooperated with police but denied any knowledge of receiving the letter.

“This is Champa building his court case by attempting to question the independence of the EPA,” Aslam alleged at the time, noting that as the EPA’s Director General, Zuhair’s signature was on all the correspondence with Champa, including the notice informing him of the fine.

“Thun’bafushi has been an issue long before we took office,” Aslam told Minivan News, explaining that the previous administration had initially rented the island to Champa for Rf 100 a year (US$6.40) under an agreement that stipulated that he “not do anything detrimental to the environment – he was allowed to grow trees and monitor the shifting of the islands. He was not allowed to reclaim or extend the island.”

However Champa had conducted these works without ever submitting an EIA, Aslam alleged at the time.

“The area has been surveyed 2-3 times now, and last year the Director General attended himself a survey to assess the cost of the damage.”

The government had on several occasions asked Champa to explain himself, and he had corresponded with the EPA, Aslam said.

“Champa disputes he has done anything illegal, and states that has done everything according to the initial agreement.”

Champa had not responded to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

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17 thoughts on “Civil Court overturns EPA’s Rf100 million fine against Champa over Thunbafushi”

  1. Very funny how minivian news call it independent news! You have brought just one side of the story! Naeem who is a pro MDP activist and the minister of environment Aslam! And do you call this independent! come on

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  2. akram kamaludeen will be angry about this..he's the guy who forced EPA to fine chamapa..part of the raaje tv - dhitv fight..

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  3. Yes Champa Uchchu is rich.

    However, is Akram Kamaluddin a pauper?

    Yes Champa may have exploited an island for economic benefit.

    Was that the only reason why he was fined the exorbitant amount mentioned?

    Yes Champa does not support the current government.

    Is that justification enough to bankrupt him?

    If you cannot stomach due process then cast off all that pretense about democracy.

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  4. WHAT?? An annual rent just for a mere six (6) US$ a whole island with the reef??? "...the previous administration had initially rented the island to Champa for Rf 100 a year (US$6.40) under an agreement ..."

    And still the ousted (so called current opposition) [email protected][email protected]$ keep yelling that the current govt is selling the airport and other state assets????

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  5. Niether Champa nor Akuram can stand above the law. Champa has bluntly broken the Environment Act. He has to be fined under the article 9 of the Env. Act. No more politics here.

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  6. According to judge the convict was not given enough time. But the court has no such procedure or any regulation on how much time or what reservations has to be made to give a convict. In that sense any convicted person should be given time to appeal, but is not the case for many crimes.
    Even if he is given a hundred years to defend himself, no one can deny the fact that he has violated EPP ACT!

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  7. Yet another solid piece of evidence gayyoom and his loyalists can bend,warp and squeeze whatever judgement they want from the judiciary.

    For some reason we all have conveniently forgotten the massive corruption, inhuman autrocities and indignity caused by gayoom last 30 years.

    And finally when we get the opportunity to open our mouths in free press for the first time in Maldivian history (among many other civil liberties and rights we have because of president Nasheed) we all now decide to blame him and protect gayoom?

    How twisted can we as a culture and race get. I'm sure the level of control and corruption both combined now is not even 5% of what it was then.

    Have forgotten how Ilyas fled with our own money and the story we were fed to cover him. And Yameen being allowed to conduct business with the junta while head of state trading organization, countless number of resorts being awarded not on merit but on personal preference and how all this made people like champa rich beyond their imagination.

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  8. This is not a suprise !!! Any common Ahmed or Mohamed will know that mob kings and womanizers like this guy is untouchable ..he has the means to defy anything in this country and he will keep on repeating this and will get away !!! Money talks !!!!!!!!

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  9. Balga Mohodhaa!!!!!!!!!

    Faisaa aaijehuneemaa kon JUSTICE eh onnaanee????

    Amudhun mihaaaru miulhey faisaa hithi Qaazeen thibbaa

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  10. LOL!

    We are talking about the validity or invalidity of an administrative action NOT a criminal conviction.

    This is why court decisions are better left outside the reach of public comment. The law requires study and experience to understand. One must approach someone with some knowledge in the law to explain how it works rather than jump up and down stating one's uninformed opinion.

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  11. the issue here why Champa was fined 100milllion. There's no denying that he has done wrong as per the EPA regulations, Env Act etc..but why 100 million fine? was that politically motivated? who pressured EPA to fine Champa 100mil?

    the judge (a former env ministry employee)should be more aware of the EPA and Env Act but the judgement seems way off. this will become a precedent for similar cases in the future and brings to question how effective is EPA in implementing its laws and regulations within the legal and political system today.
    people like naeem and ibrahim mohamed (from EPA) who commented here should look into strengthening their organisation rather than pointing fingers

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  12. For MDP ganja supporters this may be a bitter news. But, for law abiding citizen of this country this verdict is a big victory.

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  13. Hey everyone:
    "Maldives always natural" ???

    Criminals against Environment Acts have to be penalized - fast and severe!

    Everything else ist politics and sleaze ...

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  14. Let's take the politics out. Could some one answe r if thilafushi dumprgoung complies with EPA regulations and similar regulatory standard is applied by EPA

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  15. Conducting an impact assessment will not reverse damage caused to environment or waive the responsibility to the protection of the environment by subsequently carrying out activities that eventually had done damage to it. So, the point to be established is whether or not damage has been done to the environment by the acts of Champa in contravention of the Environment Act. We are all familiar with the rule that ignorance of law is no excuse for an offence. Hence, whether or not Champa was informed of the findings of environmental surveys carried out by the EPA on the impact of dredging and reclamation undertaken by Champa on the island of Thumbfushi, he must be liable to the consequence, in this case, of the Rf100 million fine that EPA imposed on him. Unfortunately, the Civil Court acquitted him without a mention of his wrongful acts against the public interest of environmental protection when such projects as his are carried out. The trial judge would have made a mention of the damaging acts of Champa in his remarks as a help to others to refrain from engaging in such acts.

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