The Deputy Principal of Lale Youth International School Suleiman Atayev has fled the country, along with the computer studies teacher Yunus Yildiz.
Both staff members left seperately on flights on Sunday and Monday evening, and did not inform the school they were leaving.
Managing Director of Biz Atoll Abdulla Jameel, the Maldivian company responsible for the school which operates it under agreement with a group of Turkish businessmen after acquiring it from the former government, confirmed the unannounced departure of the two staff members.
“It is true. We have no idea why they left. We recently brought some changes to management and demoted the deputy principal [Atayev] to a teacher. I have no idea why the computer teacher left,” he said.
Minivan News understands that the pair were also implicated as suspects in the assault case facing Akar, after school staff testified against him.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said while Akar’s case was before court, there was “no specific evidence” to hold the two other staff members in the Maldives.
Akar’s passport was confiscated by police at immigration when he attempted to flee the country in May, shortly after Minivan News published an investigative report containing allegations by parents and staff members against him. He attempted to flee a second time and was detained in police custody.
An assistant principal also fled the country in January after Minivan first published allegations of child abuse raised by parents.
Atayev, who announced himself acting principal following Serkan’s detention by police, previously told Minivan News he was confident charges against the former principal would be proven false.
He was also very critical of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) investigation into the school: “They are refusing to tell us the nature of the complaints they are investigating. They are supposed be about human rights but they are not respecting ours,” he told Minivan News in May.
Shiyam said today that police were aware that the HRCM report “contains a lot of information against the school.”
“It has been a difficult investigation for us because of [a lack] of people coming forward to give evidence. We are still investigating,” he said.
Among nearly 50 recommendations, HRCM’s report recommended “that police should investigate the physical and psychological abuse going on at the school as an urgent concern,” and “separate those suspected of physical abuse from the school’s students until the police investigation is concluded.”
HRCM also recommended that the Education Ministry terminate its contract with Biz Atoll, “and hand over management as soon as possible to a qualified party.”
Deputy Education Minister Shifa Mohamed said the Education Ministry was under the impression that Suleiman Atayev was still the school’s acting principal, however Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer said the Ministry was not required to be aware of the “hiring or firing of staff by school management.”
“I understand two deputy principals have been terminated – one local, the other expat,” he said.
Jameel confirmed that Turkish national Mohamed Akis Erdogan has taken over as principal of Lale, while Maldivian Moosa Rasheed has been appointed as deputy principal.
“The school is much better now,” he promised.
Dr Nazeer said he had met Erdogan on several occasions and had found him to be “educated and academic”.
“He has an undergraduate degree, a masters and a teaching diploma,” Dr Nazeer said, “the type of qualifications we require for the position of a principal.”
He said he was unable to comment on the validity of Erdogan’s qualifications, and had requested Biz Atoll validate them with the Maldives Accreditation Board (MAB).
He would not comment on whether the departure of so many senior staff members this year raised questions about Biz Atoll’s hiring practices, but noted that “when the school was given to Biz Atoll, I am not sure the previous government made the financial and other checks that needed to be done before handing over a school. Now, based on our criteria for public-private partnerships, I wouldn’t say these requirements had been checked.”
The Ministry was constrained by the “relatively simple contract, which had no minimum standards or a termination clause,” he said. “The Ministry has now amended the contract [to include these].”
The contract, together with the HRCM report, have been forward to the Attorney General’s office by the Education Ministry, which expects to receive an answer by next week as to whether the government can withdraw the school from Biz Atoll.
Minivan News investigated the school in May, after parents and staff members aired concerns that the school was a ‘cardboard’ front for an international tax and visa racket operating out of Turkey, whereby Turkish businesses would allegedly make tax-free charitable donations through the company funding the schools in tax-friendly countries, and reclaim the funds through disproportionately high wages paid to local staff ‘in’ on the scheme.
One staff member reported sighting “bundles” of Rf 500 notes being given to Turkish staff, while a parent claimed to have spoken to one of the Turkish businessmen involved with the school, who had boasted that his business donated money to the school because under Turkish taxation law he did not have to pay taxes on it.
Another teacher told Minivan News that “Turkish teachers escort Turkish businessmen around the school on a weekly basis, and regularly make trips to Turkey. We certainly couldn’t afford to go to Turkey on our salaries, and this is a school that can’t even afford clocks or light bulbs.”
“A lot of money is going somewhere,” another suggested.
The school, which was provided to Biz Atoll free by the government, reportedly receives 50 percent of its funding from a group of Turkish businessmen who pour charity funds into schools in several developing countries, including Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia and Cambodia. Minivan News understands the new principal has arrived from a school belonging to the group in India.
Overshadowing repeated controversies over the school’s management is the issue of capacity. The school, which Minivan News understands was built to accommodate almost 1000 grade school students, currently has an enrolment of 98, not including the preschool.
“That is a major concern for us and we have raised it three or four times,” Dr Nazeer said. The government intends to build many homes and flats in Hulhumale and if every flat has 2-3 kids, we anticipate that the population of children [on the island] will double or even triple. So we need to better utilise the schools [on Hulhumale].”