GMR officials yesterday began to physically remove the Alpha MVKB Duty Free Shop at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) after “several notices” to vacate the area were “ignored”, according to GMR’s Head of Corporate Communications, Mahika Chandrasena.
MVKB shop assistant Mohamed Nishwan told local newspaper Haveeru that GMR officials entered the shop around 2:00pm and began packing goods into boxes. They also began disassembling temporary wooden walls which were erected in late November to signify that the shop, which sells alcohol, cigarettes, and watches, was closed.
Customs officers arrived at 4:00pm to stop the disassembly, Haveeru reports.
Chandrasena said the shop’s owner had ignored numerous notices to vacate the premises, to the point that that they were blocking development at INIA.
“The gentleman was supposed to vacate by a certain date and he didn’t. We had to close the shop because we have deadlines to re-vamp the duty free area. GMR gave him a lot of time and postponed the deadline several times, but he refused to leave and we had to physically remove the shop.”
Chandrasena said she understood that Customs intervened because of the presence of alcohol among the shop’s stock. “They needed to make sure it didn’t leak into Male’. That’s Customs’ purview,” she said.
One area of the shop has been vacated but GMR is now waiting for the shop owner to remove the rest.
“This is nothing to do with him personally, but we have deadlines we need to meet on our renovation,” said Chandrasena.
GMR’s action was supported by a ruling from the Civil Court, however Alpha MVKB had appealed the ruling in the High Court.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police supported customs officials in the operation.
“We advised GMR to follow Customs’ procedures. There was some dispute but no confrontation,” he said.
Customs Director Ismail Nashid could only confirm that the contents of a duty-free shop were under Customs’ purview and that any disagreement over the shop was between Alpha MVKB and the landlord, GMR.
“Duty-free goods are Customs’ responsibility, and we will be involved in the process of opening or closing duty-free shops,” he said. “As for the goods involved, there are several options for the shop owner to choose from including importing the stock to the Maldives or selling it internationally.”
Nashid confirmed that the shop is not currently in operation, but said the decision to remove the shop from the airport would be made by GMR.
Alpha MVKB Managing Director Ibrahim ‘MVK’ Shafeeq today told Haveeru that GMR’s management style was “dictatorial” and “backed by someone.”
“We’re now seeing a foreign party trying to overtake us. How can they enter duty free shops like that and take out the goods? It shows that they have the power and that they’re operating with backing from someone,” he said.
The airport renovation is the single largest foreign investment in the Maldives at US$400 million. GMR is upgrading the old terminal ahead of completing construction of the new terminal in 2014, and will operate the airport for 25 years under a concession agreement signed last year with the government.