Opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group has been ordered to pay the state US$100million within 30 days.
The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) today said Villa Group owed the state US$100million in rent and fines for several islands and lagoons leased to the company.
However, upon his return to Malé this afternoon Gasim brushed off the claim stating: “I don’t owe MIRA anything.”
The opposition has claimed the government is targeting Gasim’s businesses following his split with the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and subsequent alliance with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
State prosecutors last week claimed former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim had conspired with the Villa Group to harm senior state officials, according to documents in a pen drive confiscated from the retired Colonel’s home during a midnight raid on January 18.
Nazim is currently in police custody until a trial on illegal weapons possession concludes at the Criminal Court. The police found a pistol and three live bullets along with the pen drive during the controversial raid.
Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed is also in police custody amidst a surprise terrorism trial over the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
Speaking to reporters at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Gasim said the international community was closely monitoring the government’s “unjust prosecution of opposition leaders.”
“The international community takes the prosecution of former President Mohamed Nasheed, retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim and current Defense Minister Moosa Ali Jaleel and other politically motivated prosecutions as a joke. They believe that political prisoners are being framed,” Gasim said.
Gasim had departed to Colombo on Wednesday to meet with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and a European Union (EU) delegation, ahead of a mass opposition protest scheduled for February 27.
“The Sri Lankan President expressed concern over the situation in Maldives and has promised that he would speak with the Prime Minister and send a senior Sri Lankan delegation to Maldives,” Gasim told reporters.
“My main reason for this trip was to prevent any economic sanctions against Maldives, if political prisoners are sentenced. If that happens people of this country will starve, and no good would come out of it.”
Fearing international economic sanctions if the current political crisis deepens, Gasim urged President Abdulla Yameen to withdraw charges against all political prisoners.
The PPM maintains it has no influence over Nasheed and Nazim’s trials, claiming the charges were initiated by the independent Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin and tried through independent courts.
However, pointing to a PPM majority in the People’s Majlis, Gasim implied the state’s independent institutions did as President Yameen instructed for fear of retaliation.
“The President might say that it’s not in his power to withdraw the charges against the political prisoners. It is true, but the fact is government has the majority of the Peoples Majlis therefore members of independent institutions will fear government retaliation if they do anything against them.”
The opposition leader’s absence at the mass February 27 rally left many supporters dissatisfied, but Gasim said he was “watching the protest from Sri Lanka.”
“The huge number of protesters shows that Maldivians despise a dictatorship. This shows that Maldivians want justice,” he said.
Asked if he fears arrest, Gasim said the police could only arrest him if he had committed any crime.
“I haven’t committed any crime. I have heard that government is framing people such as colonel Nazim. I have not committed any crime and won’t commit one even in the future.”
The Tourism Ministry in early February moved to seize several islands and lagoons granted to Villa Group in a settlement agreement, but was stalled following a Civil Court injunction. The High Court last week overturned the stay order, paving the way for state appropriation.
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