President Dr Mohamed Waheed has told local media he was not aware of any danger posed by the presence in the Maldives of two Armenian nationals identified as the Artur brothers, as police continue to investigate the duo’s operations locally.
Controversy has surrounded the presence of Margaryan and Sargayan Artur in the Maldives, primarily based around concerns over their alleged links to criminal activities in Kenya.
On Tuesday (April 2), parliament passed an extraordinary motion concerning the presence of the two foreign nationals in the Maldives, expressing concern that an alleged connection between certain cabinet ministers and the two men posed a “direct threat to national security”.
The President’s Office has maintained there is little information about the nature of the two foreign nationals’ business interests in the Maldives, claiming that the uncertainty about them extended to the exact pronunciation of the Artur name.
Asked about the controversy today, President Waheed told reporters he received no intelligence so far linking the Artur brothers to any criminal activity in the country, adding that much of his knowledge on them was based on local media reports.
“I know that they are in Maldives. I’m also looking into it,” he was quoted he told local media after returning to Male’ from an official visit to Kuwait.
“I didn’t know that they were engaged in any illegal activities,” President Waheed stated, after admitting the government were told by authorities of the brother’s presence in the country earlier this year.
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad said that while police were currently in the process of investigating the activities of the Artur brothers in the Maldives, there was no information linking the two foreign nationals to any criminal operations in the country.
Police spokesperson Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that police investigations were continuing to determine if the two foreign nationals had been conducting any illegal activities in the country. He added that no details into a “critical” ongoing case could be given at present.
However, a BMW car belonging to a company called ‘Artur Brother World Connection’ and registered for use in the Gaafu Dhaalu area was reportedly seized by authorities in Male’ today.
Haneef previously confirmed that police were aware of the Artur brothers presence in the Maldives back in January. He said authorities had contacted “relevant government authorities” at the time to inform them of the Artur brothers’ alleged links to drug trafficking, money laundering, raids on media outlets, dealings with senior government officials and other serious crimes in Kenya.
Minivan News understands that relevant authorities, including the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), Ministry of Home Affairs, and the President’s Office were officially informed in January of the presence of the Artur brothers, even as Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb signed a letter seeking residency permits for the pair.
Local media reported that a company registered locally as the “Artur Brothers World Connection” has secured an import license and brought goods into the country after the tourism ministry had granted both men a foreign investment permit.
“We have learned that they had imported some goods under that license. We haven’t been able to determine what those items are. It is not something the Ministry keeps track of. We have to find that out from the customs,” Finance Minister Ahmed Mohamed told Haveeru.
Immigration Controller Mohamed Ali has previously told local media that Artur Sargasyan left the Maldives on Sunday (March 31). Sargasyan first entered the Maldives on a tourist visa in August 2012 and returned again in October, Dr Ali said.
Meanwhile, photos of the Arturs in the company of Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb and Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim emerged on social media last weekend, apparently taken during the Piston Motor Racing Challenge held on Hulhumale’ between January 25 and 26.
One photo showed Artur Sargsyan next to Adheeb and Nazim, while another has him apparently starting one of the motorcycle races at the event, which was organised by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF).
Another image showed Sargsyan at the red carpet opening for the Olympus Cinema.
Defense Minister Nazim and Tourism Minister Adheeb have denied any involvement with the pair.
Speaking to Minivan News this week, Adheeb reiterated that he had no personal links with the Artur brothers, whom he said had now left the country on his recommendation.
According to Adheeb, the Artur brothers had previously invested in the country through a registered joint venture company with members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
Adheeb said he “advised them to leave peacefully and they agreed to sort out their visa and leave. They have now left.”
Submitting a motion to parliament on Tuesday about the Artur’s presence in the Maldives, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy raised concerns about their alleged connections with ministers Nazim and Adheeb.
“The Artur brothers are a direct threat to national security since they are – true to their old style and from the experiences of other countries – directly linked to the top government officials including Mr Mohamed Nazim who is both the Defense Minister and the acting Transport Minister, as well as Mr Ahmed Adheeb who is the Tourism Minister,” Fahmy told Minivan News.
Fahmy said the Artur brothers were believed to have carried out “all sorts of serious illegal activities internationally” and that the Maldives “is incapable of handling these notorious conmen from Armenia. They are capable of taking local criminal gangs to different heights.”
Fahmy explained that immigration laws do not permit entry into the Maldives if the visitor is “even suspected” of being involved in human smuggling or trafficking; may be [considered] a national threat, or otherwise may commit crimes against the state.”
“Given all these facts – and that the Artur brothers are world-infamous for carrying out criminal activities of this sort – they were allowed into the country and seen publicly with top government officials,” Fahmy added, alleging that the pair have three meetings with Adheeb and Nazim on Hulhumale’ and on Club Faru.
The extraordinary motion passed with 27 votes in favour to 10 against.
Meanwhile, Kenyan media has this week media reported that the brothers’ practice of publicly ingratiating themselves with senior government officials appeared not to have changed.
“The Arturs’ mode of operation where they show up in the company of top and well-connected government leaders appears to have been replicated in the Maldives. Their presence in the Maldives comes days after ousted leader Mohammed Nasheed expressed fear over his life,” reported Kenya’s Daily Nation publication.