World famous eco-resort embroiled in local politics

The Soneva Group has composed a statement in response to allegations published in the UK media, that the head of the upmarket resort company, Sonu Shivdasani, had engaged a PR firm to “spruce up” the image of Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government.

The company’s flagship resort, Soneva Fushi in Baa Atoll, is known for its ecological innovation. It hosts the annual ‘Slow Life Symposium’, drawing environmental luminaries from around the world – including, last October, former President Mohamed Nasheed.

However, “No fan of [former President] Nasheed’s tax proposals, Sonu was keen to help the new administration spruce up its image,” alleged a recent column in the the UK’s Private Eye magazine.

The article contended that post February 7, an “unlikely alliance” had emerged between certain resorts – desperate to stabilise the sudden political instability for the sake of their bottom lines – and the new government, a loose alliance of ambitious political elements who came to power on a platform of Islamic conservatism.

“The reality is that the Maldives – already favoured by footballers, Russian gangsters and off-duty Israeli arms dealers – are an even harder sell since the coup has given us an unlikely alliance between hoteliers promoting bikini-clad, cocktail-fuelled luxury and a government that includes two imams, wants to bring back the death penalty and has done nothing about the destruction by supporters of the coup of the national museum’s entire pre-Islamic collection,” the article stated.

The article alleged that “in April [Shivdasani] e-mailed Britain’s well known PR guru Matthew Freud, saying: ‘I just spoke to President Waheed. He is happy to engage your services (for tourism PR) on a barter basis whereby Reethi Rah and Soneva Fushi would offer accommodation at our resorts in lieu of the barter. Did you manage to speak to Alan Leibman from One and Only?’” the column stated.

“Freud initially appeared thrilled at the prospect of free holidays: ’We greatly look forward to working with you and the president,’” it stated, apparently having obtained the relevant correspondence between the pair.

“But by the time President Waheed had got in on the act later in the month, writing to Freud: ‘We had discussed along with Sonu that a contract will be signed first among SixSenses, One and Only and Matthew to assist us with tourism promotion in the UK. Matthew will send us an outline a proposed activities as discussed’ – the legendary PR guru had developed cold feet: ‘I am sorry that the adverse political climate prevents us from being more directly involved but going to a doctor who will make you sicker is rarely a good idea.’”

In a counter statement from the group, obtained by Minivan News, the company sought to clarify the “facts” of the case.

“Sonu Shivdasani does not have a political relationship with President Mohamed Waheed, their interaction revolves specifically around environmental and ecological issues,” the Soneva statement read.

“In addition to former President Mohammed Nasheed, President Mohamed Waheed demonstrated an active level of support and interest in Soneva Fushi’s sustainable practices during his vice presidency.  He attended both the 2010 and 2011 SLOWLIFE Symposia at Soneva Fushi.

“President Mohamed Waheed’s interest in environmental issues has remained consistent; it is on these grounds and issues that he and Sonu Shivdasani have interacted since his assumption to the Presidency.”

The company claimed that the discussion between Freud PR and President Waheed had concerned the PR firm’s Director, Arlo Brady, “who is associated with the Blue Marine Foundation.”

“The discussions focused on creating the World’s largest Marine Reserve in the country and other environment initiatives. I offered Freud PR complimentary accommodation at Soneva Fushi in return for their support of the government with this campaign and other environment initiatives in the country that were discussed,” the Soneva statement read.

A source within the Soneva Group described the situation as “a bloody mess”.

Shivdasani “completely fell for Waheed’s line that Nasheed didn’t resign under duress” and had – unsuccessfully – asked a number of PR agencies to set up interviews for the new President, Minivan News was informed.

The source surmised that Shivdasani had “innocently, stupidly, somehow believed Waheed”, and “gone out of his way to help [the new President].”

Soneva’s statement meanwhile disputed the resort’s motivation to support the new government based on supposed plans to amend a corporate tax bill implemented by Nasheed, as, “to the best of my knowledge, there are no plans by the current President Mohamed Waheed to reduce or eliminate this tax.”

Following the controversial transfer of power the Maldives now faces spiralling budget deficit of 27 percent, an ongoing foreign currency shortage, plummeting investor confidence, spiraling expenditure, and a drop off in foreign aid.

A proposal by the Finance Ministry last week to curb impending economic crisis included raising the tourism goods and services tax (TGST) to 15 percent, among other measures. Several resort managers told Minivan News earlier this year that a sudden TGST increase would have to be taken out their margins due to contractual commitments with tour operators, following the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s demand that this be raised to 12 percent.

“To the best of my knowledge, President Mohamed Nasheed did not have plans to raise further taxes from resorts in the Maldives,” the Soneva statement read.

“There were discussions about taxes being introduced on other industries in the Maldives as well as the introduction of an income tax on Maldivian nationals. Neither of these would impact Soneva or I as we are not involved in other businesses in the Maldives,” it added.

Soured relationships

Sonenva Fushi’s Slow Life Symposium in October attracted an array of high profile business, media and environmental figures including Virgin head Richard Branson, actress Daryl Hannah, star of films including ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Splash’; Ed Norton, star of films including ‘Fight Club’ and ‘American History X’; Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project; Mike Mason, founder of Climate Care, one of the world’s first carbon trading companies; and British author, journalist and environmental activist Mark Lynas.

Branson waded into Maldivian politics on his blog on February 24, calling on President Waheed to “do the right thing” and hold free and fair elections before the end of the year.

It was, Branson wrote to Dr Waheed, “completely astounding that you have been part of an overthrow of a democratically elected government that has effectively let the old regime back into power.”

“Knowing you, I would assume that you were given no choice and that it was through threats that you have ended up in this position,” Branson said. “I do very much hope that was the case rather than you doing it of your own free will.”

Days later, Branson wrote another entry, saying that he had spoken on the phone to Dr Waheed, who told him he had appointed “a respected person” to examine the truth of what caused President Nasheed to “resign”.

“He says that he didn’t know who issued an arrest warrant for President Nasheed after he left office but that it had been rescinded within 48 hours. He is determined to be an honest broker, to be seen to be one, and to get everyone’s confidence. He said that he offered to bring in people from President Nasheed’s party but they refused to join.

“He also pointed out that President Nasheed’s party had been a minority party and had only been in power due to the support of others. It would be for those others, and the electorate to decide who rules in the future. He ended by pledging elections in July of next year – in line with the constitution – once confidence has been restored,” Branson wrote.

“Based on his personal reputation I believe he’s sincere in wanting to do what’s right for the country and return it to a true and lasting democracy.”

A few days later, Branson wrote a third post, resuming his first call “for early elections “as soon as feasibly possible”.

“Having listened to both sides, it does seem wise for an election to take place as soon as is feasibly possible so that the people of the Maldives can begin to put this ugly chapter behind them,” Branson wrote.

Lynas – another Slow Life participant who also worked as Nasheed’s Climate Advisor – was quick to condemn Dr Waheed’s new government, claiming that his “lack of democratic legitimacy” had lost the Maldives’ its voice at international climate negotiations.

“Waheed and his representatives have no moral authority because they were not elected, have strong connections with corrupt and violent elements of the former dictatorship, and took power in the dubious circumstances of a police coup,” Lynas argued.

“The Maldives has lost many years of work already – it has little credibility left with donors or international investors. Investors and donors alike are looking for stability and strong governance – and they will not get either of those whilst the political system is essentially deadlocked between competing parties, with regular protests and ensuing police violence.

“In climate terms the Maldives is well on its way to becoming a failed state – I see no prospect of it achieving Nasheed’s 2020 carbon neutral goal, even if that goal is still official policy,” Lynas said.

“I think time has basically run out now – unless there are early elections quickly and a legitimate government re-established there is no real prospect of resurrecting the Maldives’ leadership on climate change.”

Yet another Slow Life participant, Mike Mason, who worked pro bono as Nasheed’s Energy Advisor, resigned following Nasheed’s ousting despite being asked by Waheed to remain.

“I don’t think Dr Waheed is a bad man – actually I like him a lot personally,” he wrote, in an email to an official in the Trade Ministry obtained by Minivan News.

“However, he has done nothing to assure me that this is really a democratic process. Rather, my intelligence tells me this is a Gayoom inspired coup with Dr Waheed as an unfortunate puppet.

“Even if I did work with Waheed, I couldn’t deliver the plan now [because of falling] investor confidence,” he subsequently told Minivan News. “[The perpetrators] have destroyed US$2-3 billion worth of investment and condemned the country to an unstable economic future based upon diesel.”

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30 thoughts on “World famous eco-resort embroiled in local politics”

  1. Not intrested to know what the foreign agents hired by Nasheed and paid with a hefty some of our tax payer money has to say about the regime change.
    And btw is it me or is it a bit strange that all the 'juicy' stories are covered by Mr.JJ. Oh well, i guess thats the upside of being an editor. 🙂

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  2. These foreign scavengers comes with a handful of dirty money spend it in under developed countries, become rich in the sucking development benefits of these countries. when they become rich enough they want the governments to make sure that they benefit from the policies, and wants to keep them tax free at the expense of the tax payers. These are the type of investors that should be chased, and they will hardly find any society fit for them.

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  3. The New Government, it's like Osama bin Laden going into a lingerie or, porno business with Madonna whilst still ordering killings of Americans and condemning their hedonism.

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  4. Who cares what Sonu or Four Seasons or One & Only owner's says. President Dr. Waheed formed Inquire commission to investigate the cue if Nasheed resigned under duress or his own decision.
    Sonu couldn't pay tex while he was working to open Sixsenses Laamu, Meera called several times warned him to withdraw or terminate agreement with him. Out of blue, Nasheed agreed and it's ok if he couldn't complete the payment. Ofcourse he will do anything to protect Nasheed's presidency.

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  5. A lot of people seems have fallen for this 'resignation of his own accord' story initially. It would have been good to find out when these alleged communication between Mr. Shivadasani et al took place because the article doesn't give a time. The fact that no one but Ruder Finn took the brief (and I believe it was Jeffrey Salim Waheed who spoke to Ruder Finn in New York) means that very soon people have come to their senses and realized that things are not exactly as they were initially claimed by the government. I think Mr. Shivdasani should acknowledge this and get on with what he does best - running a tourist resort.

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  6. Nasheed resgined on his own and he was under the influence of alcohol at the time when he resigned.

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  7. I am not a fan of the Feb 7 change of government, however, one literally feels the taste of 'sour grapes' as you go on reading this article.

    The nature of big businesses is that, when the Government change, businessmen go along with the flow: that's probably what Sonu has done. After all, quite justifiably, he has a business and staff to be responsible for. And being a defender of ethics and morals is not what determines his bottom line. Blaming a businesses for siding with a regime (regardless of legitimacy) shows poor understanding of how big business works.

    Big business rules. By the way, who owns and funds Minivan!!!!

    Hope you got the point.

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  8. Sonu, you must openly condemn the coup regime.. that's what you should do.. Nobody can stop you from doing that... you must condemn the police brutality and the unfairness of Dr Waheed and not associate with him anymore..

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  9. First of all... Nasheed resign should not be a issued for world political leaders.
    Your business here is protect and yes Dr. Waheed will not go your Resorts like some people has done in the past. I will write here a few reasons why you would want hear why Nasheed will be jailed.
    1 - Nasheed and his best buddy called to Boycott Tourisum here in Maldives. which included your resorts.
    2- Misleading administration within 3 years without a proper big agreement Nasheed has given Our International Air port to GMR group. you have heard many stories how the bid process goes with GMR. within 100 days huge developments will be seen would have change to 50years. CORRUPTION
    3- Nasheed's administration changed the dollar rate . without studying the impact would be faced.

    Please i can write and write 50 pages of his unprofessional act.

    you can't tell he ousted under duress. Didn't you hear the little speech while at resigned he said.

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  10. Analysis has given the best analysis of the situation.

    Mr. Shivdasani is not an activist. However he rightly pointed out concerns to Nasheed during the 2011 Slow Life Symposium regarding his waning popularity however Nasheed responded with a haughty "I will be re-elected handsomely".

    JJ and Minivan have however done their job as journalists by obtaining leaks and comments and spinning them through the loom to favor their financiers. We cannot gripe about that.

    Yet the government must look into these lapses of security that brought e-mails into the hands of Minivan. However people like Waheed and Shivdasani will be more than aware that e-mail correspondence is always open to infiltration attempts. Therefore it is my sincere belief that these conversations did not involve that much secrecy in the first place.

    As Analysis has rightly pointed out, the main interest of resort industrialists and operators in the country is to restore stability for the sake of their "bottom lines". So no surprise if they are putting all their efforts into this.

    Waheed is after all a credible man with an international reputation. No surprise if stakeholders have no compunctions about working with him.

    Regardless of claims to the contrary, Waheed was elected Vice President in 2008 and therefore his assuming the Presidency is not an issue. Circumstances surrounding Nasheed's resignation were strange no doubt about that yet, it must be noted at the same breath that a lot of strange things happened during the heydays of Nasheed's presidency as well. Listing them are pointless because its out in the public sphere now - Nasheed's government was less than saintly.

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  11. Sonu and other foreigns investors and businessman are now at the mercy of the traitors and coup regime... this is what happens when a government is overthrown illegitimately.. the regime can literally black mail them and I believe this is what is happening.. unlike an elected government, a coup regime such as the one we have now in Maldives can literally turn around tomorrow and demand extra taxes and other 'cash' to support their projects....

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  12. Nizam Sir wants to make Bandeyri Fushi Resort & Spa. Sonu can take partnership - SoneBaghee Fushi Resort.

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  13. If anybody at all is responsible for Nasheed administrations down fall, it is Mariya Didi. Don't try to cover up the real reason with other lies. Its so obvious the seduction of her was so blinding, it made Nasheed to do the same mistakes the dictator Gayoom did and Nasheed ultimately ended up becoming a dictator himself.

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  14. Shame on you Mr. Sonu. You can afford to give your Maldivian staffs the best salary in the industry. Thanks to the good business you get from Maldives.

    But how could you take up side with Baghee Waheed and help to steal our Democracy? That’s something unforgivable.

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  15. @Hafee

    Well said succinctly. Your comment should be part of the CoNI report.

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  16. The observations on the way that Islam had been used by certain people in the PPM to justify the violence used to intimidate President Nasheed into resigning cause me to reflect.

    Maumoon explains that the main purpose of the PPM is to 'Protect and Uphold Islam in the Maldives...' THAT is what Maumoon is all about, that is WHY he Governed, and wishes to Govern again, to defend Islam.

    Any violence, or repression, or arrest, or persecution, or rejection or attack against anyone is constructed as being for the defense of Islam. The victims are made to appear to be the enemies of Islam, in a few cases they are made to believe that they are.

    Imagine working in the television station, for example, and experiencing being intimidated by rogue cops taking it over, and all of that trauma is for the defence of Islam. Could you blame anybody, after having been persecuted like that by 'Islam' when they know within themselves they have not deserved it, for developing an image of Islam as a most brutal form of tyranny?

    Imagine if your Mother or Father had been arrested and removed from you when you were a child, who knew nothing, and you were traumatised by it, and it was made clear to you over the years that it was Islam which demanded you go through all of that trauma.

    I don't believe that the email where Anni is allegedly involved in a conspiracy to blow up the Islamic Centre is genuine, but if it was, did you ever think why? I mean, I don't really like Anni, he is a defiant, arrogant brat at times. But... though I don't like him, I love him because, I can see the fury of a confused child in his temper tantrums and arrogance.

    Imagine being smashed up in the street, having your children and family threatened, for simply standing up for your right to vote, and it is all Islam which demands it!

    Imagine being threatened with HOLY WAR in the name of Islam, (JIHAD) for standing up for what you believe, by a rich and powerful resort owner who simply wants to eradicate you to have full power to control MORE.

    I guarantee you that there are Maldivians who hate Islam with a fiercer passion than any of us redneck, racist, crusading evil white Faranji's ever could!

    This is what happens when the State exists to protect Islam, when politics and religion are ONE in the same.

    It damages the perception of Islam, and that makes ppl HATE Allah, HATE religion ferociously, and HATE

    I am sorry, but it is hard for me to understand how true Muslims could not be involved in a daily struggle to save Islam from being used for political gain for the sake of protecting Islam!

    If Maumoon were serious about protecting Islam, he would stop using Islam as a weapon to justify the violence and gangsterism, the greed of his own party and followers!

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  17. @hafee
    yes Mariya didi was the reason nasheed fell. Mariya controlled Nasheed more than his wife.

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  18. Oh so MDP supporters have found a scapegoat for slaughter.

    No single individual is to blame for Nasheed's downfall. Nasheed shares the blame and so does a lot of people in his party.

    Also we, every single one of us, Maldivians have to share the blame for the weaknesses in our democratic system that led to the current situation. It is only through renewed interest in restoring democracy and upholding democratic virtues and a sincere love for our nation and economy that we can weather this storm.

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  19. Nice article, Branson wont be seen dead involved in this Gov, Sonie is now back peddling, on of Al Gores puppets on global warming for personal gain.

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  20. @ mody

    Can you back your statement that" Nasheed resgined on his own and he was under the influence of alcohol at the time when he resigned" with evidence? If you can't do that, why don't you just stop your blabbering.

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  21. Yes I do work in vtv and Most of the comments which condemn. Nasheed are posted by me in the name of different accounts. Say what you will poor cronies. Maumoon is the true ruler no matter what.

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  22. Here is some more inside information on this. The whole of Nasheed's government was run by the 'Brtish Mafia' - unashmed re-colonisation - by the likes of Mark Lynas and Mike Mason. Mike Mason was promoting 'Eco' solutions to the Maldives that were linked to his private company in an unbelievable conflict of interest. Do not let any of these foreigners back. Let us run our own country. We are not a colony anymore.

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