Politicians and businessmen funding gangs to attack opponents: Asia Foundation

Politicians and businessmen are paying gangs in the Maldives tens of thousands of rufiya to assault rivals, damage property, and in some cases have them killed, according to a report into the country’s gang culture by the Asia Foundation.

“Political and business elites exploit gangs to carry out a range of illegal activities that serve their political or business interests in exchange for financing the gangs,” stated the report, which collected data through 20 focus groups and 24 in-depth interviews with gang members.

“This has worrying implications for support for democracy among the young generation as they witness first hand corruption on the part of their political representatives,” the report states.

The research was conducted primarily in the capital Male’, which it describes as having 20-30 gangs, ranging in size from 50-400 members.

Gangs are described as including mainly males aged under-25 years. Of those involved in the focus groups, 63 percent were unemployed, and 54 percent admitted to being drug users – both prominent issues highlighted in the report.

Poisoned politics

The report cited anecdotal evidence suggesting that the root of gangs in the Maldives was linked to the introduction of heroin to the country in the early 90s.

“Gang members report that in the early 1990s, foreigners (purportedly Indians) gave away free packets of heroin (locally called brown sugar) that contained directions for use,” read the report.

“Subsequently drug users, through involvement in gangs, supported their drug habits by the sale of drugs and other criminal activities,” it continued.

The report also draws strong links between the introduction of political parties during the last decade’s democratic reforms, and the escalation of gang activity.

“Democracy is not working… people do not know what democracy is… even politicians do not know what it really is… there is too much freedom… people do not know how to use this freedom,” the researchers were told by one gang member.

Politicians are described as being involved in symbiotic relationships with gangs, who depend on the gangs to suppress opponents and carry out tasks to help maintain their popularity or to divert media attention from political issues.

“Politicians have asked us to cut the TVM cable for MVR 25,000 (US$1620), to light up a bus for MVR 10,000 (US$650). Also in the recent political riots we were involved in things like burning the garbage collection area,” said one gang member.

“We were given some amount of money, two of us and the 10 people who accompanied us were paid some amount, we had to set fire and run from the spot and be seen in another area. We got paid to do this by a political group. Sometimes in return for the work we do, we also get to party in their safari boats with girls and alcohol,” they added.

In other cases, gang members were paid MVR 20,000 (US$1230) to destroy shop windows.

Interviewees also stated that being offered immunity from prosecution was normally part of this deal.

Leaders, who deal directly with the politicians, were reported as earning up to MVR 1 million (US$65,000) a month via such activities.

One member even described instances where murder contracts were handed out.

“We may be given a file with all the information about the person and be told and told we may be paid in millions to carry out the killing,” explained one member.

Stabbings are commonplace and knives have become increasingly prevalent. Gun crime remains negligible, however one of the researchers was told by a gang member: “It is my fantasy to possess a gun, I had once saw a small pistol, I had it under my bike seat, it was planted but I returned it (I knew who it belonged to), that day when I saw the pistol I was so scared, but now I want a gun and I frequently fantasise of going on a killing spree, I have in my mind all those whom I will kill.”

Based on the interviews conducted, the report said that there was no evidence linking gangs to religious groups. Instead, gang members were contemptuous of the country’s religious leaders.

“We have lost respect for them (religious leaders)… their thinking is obsolete… some are even seen in videos indulging in activities prohibited in religion and the next day they are preaching… they do not act what they preach,” said one gang member.

Vicious cycle

A lack of jobs was cited as one of the major reasons for young people to join gangs.

The report highlighted problems with the legal process, which produces a criminal record – which cannot be cleared for five years –even for minor offences.

“Due to police record, we can’t get a government job,” said one interviewee. “When government does this, the private sector usually does the same.”

“Hence it’s hard to get a job if a person has a police record…so join a gang to earn money,” they said.

Whilst the minimum wage in the Maldives is MVR 2,600 (US$170), the report states that a gang member can receive up seven times this amount for illegal activities such as breaking a shop window.

Young people who opt to leave school at 16 are also described as particularly vulnerable to gang association as they are not seriously considered for employment until they turn 18.

The report did find some evidence that some gangs do attempt to find legitimate work for their members.

“We try and help the younger generation… Show them the right path… we are very proud of this… some members have respectable posts in government and some run their own business,” one gang member said.

This strong group ethic was mentioned in the report of one of the primary reason for gang membership, with the group providing a surrogate for social welfare and dysfunctional families.

Gangs were also described as providing a strong sense of identity for its members. This status is also closely linked to violence, which large gangs can then provide members with protection from.

In conclusion, the report recommended that changes be made to the way minor offences are recorded as criminal complaints.

It also argued that better re-integration programs for convicts, as well as more drug rehabilitation and vocational training programs, might help alleviate the country’s gang problem.

The report also said that greater empowerment for young people would help to generate alternative opportunities for work and that better family counselling might help potential gang members cope with death and divorce.


15 thoughts on “Politicians and businessmen funding gangs to attack opponents: Asia Foundation”

  1. It is an excellent report - a real eye-opener. Well done.

    I always suspected political parties using gang members to do their dirty jobs. I was not surprised to see in the report some findings about political parties like MDP using gang members to carry out violence and criminal activities in Male'.

  2. It's not just MDP that uses gangs, and even those biased against MDP can't be so blind as to overlook the fact that other big political parties are also funding gangs to do their work for them. It is a well known fact that politicians in all political parties and big business owners are creating and / or using gangs to carry out their dirty work for them, in attacking and even killing rivals. It is indeed good to have it documented that many politicians and business owners are actually funding these gangs.

    Sadly even with this report, I bet that the law enforcement institutions of this country will not do anything to stop these gangs cos even these institutions are involved. It's corruption from the very top to the very bottom in this Country cos even the ordinary citizen is tired of waiting for justice to prevail. No President has had the will power to stop this gang violence, drugs or corruption as there are some leaders in every party who are involved in these acts. And honestly, when so many of our own citizens sell their votes to the highest bidder we can't expect anything more.

  3. @corrupted individuals.

    i wasn't surprised either, to know that mdp were hiring gangs for criminal offenses. in the end they are the reason why the community has gone far in so many aspects.

  4. This article fails to mention one of the most shocking revelations in the report.

    That is the fact that the participants in this study had specifically named; MDP, DRP, PPM and JP as political parties employing gangs and gang members for violence.

    Please stay true to your slogan of independent reporting Minivan.

  5. I hope a clear way is found to break the cycle and help these people. Most people in gangs are just victims of consequence. The popular assumption that harsher penalties are the solution to everything are clearly misguided.

  6. Compared to other democracies, Maldives is right on track, just in its early stages. Super pacs, corrupt lobbyists, no bid contracts and deregulation are right around the corner. Keep up the good work!

  7. @tsk tsk

    Can you tell us where we can get this report, looks like you have read it, so must be available to the public.

  8. The report notes the engagement of political parties as "PPM, DRP, Jumhoori, and MDP..." while you have attempted even here by first citing MDP to portray a stronger association of the party while the case is otherwise.

  9. @REEN, im not surprised that you finger pointed to one political party leaving out the rest. the root cause isn't politics. it starts with family which the report clearly fails to mention. how parents choose to raise their children and the poor judgment on their part leads their own children into this dark abyss. these gang members volatile personality and their uncontrollable rage is something worth reporting about. this report somewhat sympathizes their horrendous actions and points the blame on politicians. a poorly done investigation if you ask me

  10. The people who are in power and wanting to stay in power with force aren't bothered about the gangs or the dire conditions that these children are in. They only care about power and protecting their money. Some good points raised in the report but the reasons why children join gangs should have been explored more. Also recommendations made are poor. BUT highlighted the dangerous place the Maldives is going towards. Allah save our children

  11. It is sickening that people cannot get away from politics and which party. For Allah's sake think of the children and what kind of future we are building for them. I know that some of the current Ministers have young children below the age of 9, they will suffer from what is going on. I guess people in power think that money and power will save them from being affected psychologically. They are very wrong. But I wish and pray for all the children including those from those families that are in power. Only Allah can save them from the psychological damage.

  12. People that care for other people - who care for others because they are human beings - not for what they can get out of them - such people are needed EVERYWHERE.

    I am of the opinion that this completely motive free caring is the most basic foundation of a truly democratic culture. Only this sense of care can give an individual what it takes to make the decision - of his or her own free will- to resist a bribe, to resist violence and unjust vengeance, to resist selfishness, to resist amorality and immorality. For this caring to work to create a liberal democratic culture, it has to be strong enough to motivate enough people to be prepared to sacrifice their own reputation, power, wealth, status or even safety, for the restoration of another persons sense of innate sanctity.

    Such caring cannot come from a top down position, as, to remain in power in the present inhumane social condition, you must violate the human dignity of others, or else your dignity will be violated and you will be removed from office.

    Such caring is born from such caring, and, it has to begin at a grassroots level, to transform the society bottom up.

    Right now, I also feel that here in Australia there is too much freedom as well, it is not that I am condemning the Maldives. I am lamenting what I see all over the world, here, in Maldives, and everywhere, violence, corruption.

    What is the remedy?

    A part of me says, bring back dictatorial tyranny! Part of me says that fear is the only language these ruthless so and so's understand - care for them they will only kill you - and enjoy it - and be prompted to kill more!

    If you give too much freedom where there is not enough love, the free will use that freedom for great destruction!

    But on the other hand, if order is restored through the acquisition of overwhelming power and the projection of fear- the Government are simply the biggest - most violent, most corrupt gangsters!

    The only power which can fight the loveless power hunger which is the seed of inhumanity, tyranny and gangster ism
    is the power of motive free self sacrificial love for humanity.

  13. it's easy to say! guess what? all of you out-there truth is bitter that's why you all can't digest it, so stop talking and start helping us. enough is enough. the different between you and me is i committed crime,sin and so as you all innocent people out there. my sins and crime has been exposed,but yours are safe it dose not mean you all have to stamp us. infect you have to help us.no one is pure and we are also human not animals.this is realty. so hows the taste?


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