Man caught with 13 bullets of drugs in anal cavity

A 19-year-old man was arrested at the airport with 13 bullets of drugs concealed in his anal cavity.

The police stopped him at the Ibrahim Nasir International Aiprort (INIA) on an intelligence tip-off. The bullets were noticed after doing an x-ray. The man has been remanded for 15 days.

Meanwhile, the criminal court has today sentenced a 27-year-old man to ten years in prison for drug trafficking. Hussein Nahulaan Abdul Gayoom was caught with 0.5grams of illegal drugs in June 2014.

He was also handed a MVR50,000 (US$3,225) fine.


Judge may bar defence evidence in ‘airport protest’ cases

A criminal court judge overseeing charges against 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the airport has allegedly said he may bar the defence from calling witnesses if evidence by the state is sufficient to prove charges.

Some 14 women and one man were arrested on March 5 while carrying posters calling for former president Mohamed Nasheed’s release at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

The freedom of assembly act prohibits protests at airports. The penalty is a MVR150 fine or a six-month jail term, house arrest or banishment.

Lawyers claimed the women were not protesting, and requested the opportunity to present defence witnesses. But criminal court judge Sujau Usman said if the testimony by ten police officers proves charges, he may not allow the defence to present evidence.

Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges, without allowing him to call defence witnesses.

The UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described the move as “contrary to international fair trial standards.”

Former defence minister Mohamed Nazim was also not allowed to call the majority of his defence witnesses in a weapons smuggling charge. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail by the same bech that oversaw Nasheed’s trial.

The opposition has held nightly street protests and mass demonstrations on February 27 and May 1 over Nasheed’s sentencing, but it is rare for demonstrations to take place at the airport in view of international tourists.

Among those arrested were Malé City deputy-mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice-president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed.

One woman, Yumna, says her passport has been withheld over the charges.

Meanwhile, MDP MP Ali Azim has been charged with obstructing police duty during a mass protest on February 27. The first hearing is scheduled for May 25.


Police dogs to be used at airport and seaports

Police are planning to conduct operations to combat drug smuggling using its new dog squad at the country’s airports and seaports.

The Maldives Police Service signed Memorandums of Understanding with the ports authority, airports company, immigration department, and the customs authority yesterday to use the sniffer dogs to locate drugs.

The MoUs outline mechanisms for relaying information, conducting joint operations, and sharing resources, according to police.

In an exclusive interview with Minivan News last year, home minister Umar Naseer said tackling the country’s entrenched drug problem was his main priority and vowed to “seal” the gateways to the Maldives.


Singapore firm to advise on airport expansion

A Singapore-based consultancy is to advise the Maldives Airports Company on the long-awaited expansion of the country’s main international airport.

Surbana International Consultants will provide management consultancy services and a design and engineering review for the proposed redesign of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on Hulhule’ island near Male’.

Plans for the renovations include a new international terminal building, runway, cargo terminal and taxiway expansions and new fuel firm.

Airport capacity will increase to 7 million international passengers and 1.5 million domestic passenger movements from the current 2.3 million after the renovations, said a joint statement from the two companies.

The government had previously signed a separate consultancy agreement with Singapore’s Changi International Airport to advise on the renewal and expansion of the airport terminal.

President Abdulla Yameen last month held talks with Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Fund about low-interest loans for the project, appearing to have scrapped previous plans to seek aUS$600million loan from China and Japan.

The expansion project is estimated to cost US$ 845 million, including improvements to shore protection of the airport island, new seaplane facilities and existing runway re-surfacing.

Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed previously said the runway expansion project had been awarded to Chinese Beijing Urban Construction Group, while the development of the airport terminal was awarded to Japanese Taisei Corporation.

The airport redevelopment project has been beset by problems and delays. In 2012, the government abruptly cancelled a concession agreement with the GMR-Malaysia Airports (GMR-MAHB) consortium to manage and upgrade the airport.



14 MDP women arrested from “last warning” protest at airport

The Maldives Police Services arrested 14 opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) female activists at 3:00pm from a protest at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The women were carrying posters calling for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed, currently in police custody until the end of a controversial terrorism trial.

The MDP this week scaled up its protests, with letter campaigns, daily protests and motor cycle rallies under the banner “a last warning.”

A police spokesperson said the Freedom of Assembly Act bars protests at airports. Among those arrested are Deputy Mayor and MDP Women’s Wing President Shifa Mohamed and Women’s Wing Vice President Shaneez ‘Thanie’ Saeed.

Nasheed is charged with terrorism over the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The charges come amidst increasing tension in the Maldives following the MDP’s alliance with former ruling coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP).

Shortly after the alliance was formed, police arrested President Abdulla Yameen’s Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim over a controversial weapons discovery at his house during a midnight raid.

Last warning

Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said President Yameen had failed to listen to the people despite over 10,000 people taking to the streets in protest of what they call a lurch towards authoritarianism on February 27.

“On February 27 the people of Maldives showed that they are against the unjust prosecution of President Nasheed. But the government did not listen. So we will escalate our activities and see how far we have to go in order for the government to listen to us,” he said.

The MDP has planned a boat protest on the seas near Malé at 4pm on Friday and a rally in Malé on Friday night.

“This is a warning call. The government has to listen to its people,” Shifaz said.

The MDP claims the terrorism charges against Nasheed are unjust and have pointed to several irregularities in the trial, including two of the three judges in Nasheed’s trial having provided witness statements during a 2012 investigation into Judge Abdulla’s arrest.

The judges refused to step down from the bench and have ordered state prosecutors and defense lawyers not to name them as witnesses.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government welcomed peaceful political activity conducted within the limits of the Constitution.

“Violating the rights of people who are not joining your cause, or damaging their businesses and goods are not activities within the boundaries of the law,” he said.

Meanwhile, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed today said the opposition’s protests were aimed at discrediting and defaming the police, and said the police force had always followed best practices and continued to respect human rights in its interactions with protesters.

Police ranks would remain united despite the opposition’s attempts to disrupt public order through its daily protests, Waheed told 31 officers participating in a public order training today.

“Unfair verdict”

Speaking to opposition aligned Raajje TV, MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed today said the party would not respect an unfair verdict against Nasheed.

“We are in this struggle assuming there is a verdict against President Nasheed already. But we will not consider Nasheed’s candidacy to be void even due to this verdict, because this trial is unjust,” Waheed said.

Waheed’s comments came after a joint MDP and JP meeting with Home Minister Umar Naseer this morning.

He dismissed rumors that MDP would hold a General Assembly and elect a new President if Nasheed is convicted.

“MDP will not go on with our usual political agenda after sacrificing Nasheed’s freedom. That will not happen as long as I am the Chairperson of the party. We will not stop our work until we find solutions to the present problems and we will explore all channels in doing so.”

Waheed warned the government of increased unrest if Nasheed is to be jailed and called on the government to initiate reconciliatory talks.

“The government is mistaken if they think Maldives will stay calm after unjustly imprisoning Nasheed. Maldives will slide back 30 years. We will not stop our work to free President Nasheed. I want to say to the government that our nation will only be calm if our problems are sorted out through reconciliation,” he warned.

Despite the government’s claim it has no power over Nasheed’s prosecution, Waheed argued the responsibility rests on President Yameen’s shoulder.

“I believe the judiciary and other independent institution need to be reformed. But considering the situation of the nation we can’t blame them alone. President Yameen has to take full responsibility.”

Nasheed will come back stronger, he assured party members.

“In the few minutes that I was able to meet with Nasheed in Dhoonidhoo I saw confidence in him. He has sacrificed all his life for this ideology, for MDP. God willing Nasheed will come back even stronger.”


Fuvahmulah Airport handed to government after costing STO MVR170 million

The State Trading Organisation (STO) has been losing MVR12 million (US$ 780,000) per year since Fuvahmulah Airport opened in 2011, Managing Director Ahmed Azim told Haveeru.

“I requested the government to take over the airport because it has been causing that much damage to the company,” said Azim, noting that the state-owned company had lost in excess of MVR170 million (US$11 million) since the airport opened.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary of the STO last week, President Abdulla Yameen said that he does not believe the STO will ever earn profit from the airport.

“Even though STO had to suffer numerous losses and had to bleed because of it, it has constructed an airport at Fuvahmulah,” said President Yameen – who had previously served as Chairman of STO. “We have decided to take over the airport and re-compensate the company for its losses.”

Upon assuming the presidency in November 2013, Yameen declared the STO bankrupt before Azim announced a campaign to cut operational costs by MVR50 million (US$3,242,542) in 2014.

Last week Yameen warned that “managing directors of state owned companies will change if the companies cannot perform” to the required standard, shortly after the dismissal of Maldives Airports Company Ltd chairman Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem.

Despite being constructed as part of the STO’s social responsibility, the airport was not economically viable, said Yameen, warning that the boardrooms of state owned companies should consider such investments more carefully in the future.

Yameen did, however, call upon the STO to widen its scope into international global markets. He spoke of diversifying the company into numerous fields such as shipping and oil tanker operation, while promising government support for such ventures.

Fuvahmulah Airport – which has a runway of 1200 km runway – was constructed and opened in 2011 by the STO during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration. It operates flights to Malé and Gan International Airport, to the south.

Nasheed tweeted today that the airport would yield profits if the originally envisioned tourism activity were to be developed. The single island atoll has no resorts, and only a single guest house registered with the tourism ministry.

During his presidential election campaign in 2013, Nasheed had pledged to transform the island via 70 separate development projects, as well as awarding it city status.

With 8,579 people, according to the 2014 census, Fuvahmulah has the fourth largest population of any island in the Maldives.

Related to this story

President Yameen urges STO to enter international markets

Nazim dismissed as defence minister, replaced by Moosa Ali Jaleel

State Trading Organisation bankrupt: President Yameen


President Yameen announces development of five resorts in Haa Dhaalu Atoll

President Abdulla Yameen has announced plans to develop five resorts in the northern Haa Dhaalu Atoll next year.

Yameen said that the first islands to be developed as resorts by the current government will be located in Dhipparufushi, Vaikarumuraadhoo, Kanamana, Kudafaru, and Keylakunu islands in the country’s second-northernmost atoll.

During his visit to the northen atolls, President Yameen also talked about the government’s plans to develop an airport on Kulhudhuhfushi to further encourage the arrival of tourists.

Officials from the government promised the even distribution of resorts earlier this year following an online petition calling for the area to participate in the benefits of the country’s billion dollar tourism industry. Haa Dhaalu is currently the only atoll in the country without any operating resorts.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz told Minivan News of the strategic importance of Kulhudhuhfushi Island, which has a population of around ten thousand people.

“Projects like the proposed airport, resort development, and the I-Havan mega project will bring with it prosperous employment opportunities for the people residing the northern atolls, eliminating need of migrating to the capital Malé for employment,” said Muaz.

Muaz also noted that such projects, while providing numerous employment opportunities, would also develop the infrastructure in the region and improve the general living conditions in the North.

The UNDP’s most recent Human Development Report noted that disparities between the central and outer atolls were causing losses to human development, with the northern atolls reporting to suffer the most from limited job opportunities and social services.

Regional development

This year’s Avaaz petition – signed by just over 500 people – noted that the economic and societal problems of the 20,000 inhabitants of the atoll could be alleviated by the development of resorts.

The petition argued that the development of the region’s “pristine uninhabited islands” would halt the “mass migration” to Malé which was “tearing up the social fabric of our society”.

President Yameen’s election campaign pledged to develop 50 operational resorts during the five year presidential term. Yesterday’s proposed 2015 budget also planned for tourism growth, with 10 new resorts proposed in a MVR24.3 billion budget plan.

Despite the total number of resorts in the country exceeding one hundred, the majority are clustered around Malé and the country’s main international airport.

After initial plans for the 40-year-old industry’s development envisioned regional hubs, the introduction of sea planes has encouraged the concentration of resorts in the now-crowded central atolls.

The government’s plans for regional development have centered around the controversial SEZ bill, which it argues will decentralise development in order to promote regional growth – though the bill’s detractors fear that the policy will come at the expense of political decentralisation.

Relaxed regulations in the SEZs are intended to attract investors for a number of ‘mega projects’, including the iHavan – or ‘Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project’ – in Haa Alif Atoll.

The project aims to take advantage of the strategic location of the Maldives’ northernmost atoll on a major shipping route – through which more than 700,000 ships carry goods worth US$18 trillion a year – and develop 5,700 hectares of land along with deep natural harbours.

Meanwhile, environmental NGO Ecocare has protested against the proposed Kulhudhuhfushi airport, pointing out that the airport’s development would destroy a mangrove area which would be reclaimed in order to build the airport.

Ecocare suggested a speedy ferry transportation system to Hanimaadhoo Airport which is just 16.6 km away after labelling the Kulhudhuhfushi airport as “economically less viable”.


Araam Travels asks government to reconsider cancellation of Farukolhu airport deal

Araam Travels has asked the government to reconsider its decision to cancel an agreement made with the company to develop an airport on the uninhabited island of Farukolhu in Shaviyani atoll.

Former Health Minister Mariyam Shakeela’s husband Mohamed Ibrahim Didi’s Simdi Company reportedly has a major stake in Araam Travels.

An official from Araam told newspaper Haveeru that the government breached the terms of the contract by terminating the agreement on the grounds that the island was an environmentally sensitive area.

He added that the tourism ministry has not responded to a letter from the company seeking renewal of the agreement. If the agreement is not renewed within 60 days, the official said Araam would sue the government.

He noted that the company won a bid to develop an airport on the island and that the cancellation came after an investor was secured.

The agreement was signed in June 2013 by the administration of former President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

In June this year, Environment Protection Agency Director General Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News that the island’s ecosystem would be damaged by the airport development.

Farukolhu has extensive mangroves and is a nesting ground for several species of birds. Sharks and rays frequent the island’s bay for breeding.

Araam was awarded Gaaf Alif Atoll Innahera Island for resort development under a public-private partnership agreement to subsidise the airport venture.

The US$4 million project involved reclaiming 1.8 hectares from the island’s mangrove sites to construct an airport runway. Generators, desalination plants, sewerage, drainage facilities, and a jetty were also planned.


Maamigili airport downgraded to a domestic airport

The airport on the island of Maamigili in Alif Dhaal atoll operated by Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim’s Ibrahim’s Villa Air has been downgraded to a domestic airport, reports local media.

An official from the Civil Aviation Authority told online news outlet CNM that Villa Air had not made the necessary improvements for designation of international airport status.

Earlier this month, the government terminated an agreement with Villa Air to manage and develop the Kaadehdhoo regional airport while the fisheries ministry decided not to renew the lease of an uninhabited island given for agricultural purposes to Gasim’s Villa company.

President Abdulla Yameen had denied that the decisions were intended to “impede” the JP leader’s businesses following severe criticism of the government’s flagship special economic zone legislation.

The agreement with Villa Air to operate the airport for a period of 50 years was signed during the final days of former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration.

Former Transport Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed – filling a JP slot in cabinet at the time – was sacked in November 2012 after extending the lease of the privately-owned airport in Maamigili for 99 years.

In March 2013, Dr Shamheed told Minivan News that President Waheed wanted “credit” for extending the Maamigili airport lease.

Despite the dismissal, the decision was not reversed and Shamheed was replaced by JP Deputy Leader Ameen Ibrahim, who signed the Kaadehdhoo agreement on behalf of the government on November 6.

Following his third-place finish with 23.37 percent of the vote in the November 2013 presidential election, Gasim initially announced that the JP would remain neutral.

However, the JP’s council decided to endorse Abdulla Yameen against Maldivian Democratic Party candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed, three days before the second round of the polls on November 16.

After the contesting the parliamentary polls in March jointly through the Progressive Coalition, the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives severed its coalition agreement with the JP after Gasim stood for post of Majlis speaker despite the PPM fielding its senior MP Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.