Jumhoree Party (JP) leader and prominent businessman Gasim Ibrahim has rejected claims made by the tourism minister that he owes the government US$100 million (MVR 1.5 billion).
“Gasim Ibrahim does not owe them any money at all,” said the Maamigili MP while speaking at a street protest held last night. “So the Tourism Minister is clearly lying.”
Earlier this week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb had alleged that Gasim’s Villa Group owes the government the money as rent and fines for islands leased to his businesses.
The Civil Court last week ordered the Ministry of Tourism to halt all proceedings regarding the seizure of uninhabited islands and lagoons granted to Villa Hotels and Resorts Private Limited.
According to the order, though the government has said Villa can be compensated for the seizure of the islands and lagoons, the areas had been handed over due to the government’s previous inability to bear the burden of financial or monetary compensation.
“It saddens me to see that the government has forgotten that it is not child’s play to seize and take away someone’s land and property,” said Gasim at the rally held alongside opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last night (February 16) .
In addition, Gasim called for the minister’s immediate resignation as well as questioning Adeeb’s sudden rise to power.
“When a man who, three years ago, didn’t have enough money to even settle the bill for a cup of coffee with a friend suddenly becomes a millionaire, a billionaire, we know very well what is behind this change,” remarked Gasim.
The government had previously taken Villa Group-owned Kaadedhoo airport and other inhabited islands from Gasim, after he attempted to block its flagship special economic zone (SEZ) bill in the Majlis last year.
After boycotting the committee reviewing the legislation, Gasim warned that SEZs would facilitate massive corruption, threaten independence, and authorise a board formed by the president – and now chaired by Adeeb – “to sell off the entire country in the name of economic zones”.
Gasim’s Villa Group is one of the largest companies in the Maldives with the holding company Villa Shipping and Trading Pvt Ltd conglomerate operating businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport, and education.
Police cordoned off a large section of Malé for the protests last night – the sixth consecutive evening of protests by the MDP – JP coalition, which was formed last month in order to “defend the constitution” against alleged breaches by the government.
Leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has said the opposition alliance is a “waste of time”, and that the JP’s exit from the Progressive Coalition is no loss to the government.
Protesters last night again called for the immediate resignation of President Abdulla Yameen and several prominent ministers in his cabinet, claiming that the government had failed its election pledges, such as providing fishermen with MVR10,000 regardless of catch, and promising incentives for agricultural workers.
Also speaking at the rally, Malé City Councilor Mohamed Rasheed called upon islanders to flock to the capital Malé on February 27 for mass protests which are planned to last over 48 hours.
MDP leaders have suggested that the opposition rally to be held at the end of the month will see prominent defectors from government aligned parties join its coalition.
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