JP office vandalised with crude oil

The Jumhooree Party (JP) office at Maafanu Kunooz in Malé was vandalised with crude oil last night.

JP Spokesperson Ali Solih told local media that two men on a motorcycle hurled crude oil at the door of the party’s headquarters during a press conference by JP Deputy Leader Ameen Ibrahim and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Chairperson Ali Waheed.

Solih said the incident was reported to police along with the license plate number of the motorcycle.

The crude oil was also splashed over JP MP Abdulla Riyaz’s car parked outside the office, he noted.

At last night’s press conference, Ameen meanwhile denied allegations that JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim made a deal with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb during a meeting at business magnate ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa’s residence on Monday night (March 2).

Following the meeting, government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) MP Mohamed Saleem withdrew an amendment to the constitution that would have barred Gasim from contesting the presidency in 2018.

Saleem’s amendment proposed adding a 65-year age limit to the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates.

Gasim did not ask for the bill to be withdrawn, Ameen insisted, claiming that he had learned pro-government MPs had decided to withdraw the legislation before the meeting took place.

While Adeeb had offered to withdraw the bill, Ameen said Gasim told the deputy leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) he was not overly concerned about the proposed amendment.

As a three quarters majority of the total membership of parliament is needed to amend the constitution, the amendment would have required MDP and JP MPs’ votes to be passed.

Ameen said Gasim and Champa Moosa were longstanding business partners who offered mutual assistance and had a “strong relationship.”

Adeeb arrived halfway through the meeting at Champa Moosa’s invitation, Ameen said, adding that Gasim did not object to Adeeb’s participation.

Gasim asked Adeeb to facilitate the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, he continued, and wide-ranging discussions took place on the subject.

Ameen suggested that the timing of the constitutional amendment’s withdrawal was intended to sow discord in the MDP-JP alliance.

The opposition alliance’s joint commission meeting and the press briefing was “clear proof” that Gasim did not make a deal, Ameen said, assuring supporters that the alliance remains strong.

MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed said the government’s main target at present would be breaking up the alliance.

Referring to a group of young men on a pickup chanting slogans against Gasim and calling for Nasheed’s release last night, Waheed alleged it was part of efforts by the PPM to “sow discord” in the alliance.


Former fisheries minister faces corruption charges over lease of Thun’bafushi to Champa Moosa

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has asked the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) to press corruption charges against former Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Abdulla Kamalludheen for alleged abuse of power to unduly benefit a third party.

The ACC said in a press statement on Wednesday (October 2) that Kamalludheen renewed the lease for Kaafu Thun’bafushi in November 2006 despite multiple violations of the agreement by the leaseholder – business magnate ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa.

Based on documents from the fisheries ministry and the former minister’s testimony, the ACC found that Kamalludheen was aware that dredging, construction of a seawall, and reclamation work was done in Thun’bafushi without either conducting an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) or seeking authorisation from the government.

Moreover, the island was used without a lease agreement from August 2004 to November 2006, the ACC noted, after the agreement expired.

The initial agreement signed in August 1999 authorised the government to reclaim the island with 15 day’s notice if any clauses were violated.

The ACC found that Kamalludheen informed the President’s Office in 2004 that the ministry did not invoke the clause to terminate the agreement as the illegal actions could not be undone.

The former fisheries minister told ACC investigators that, as senior officials and staff from the ministry frequently visited the island, “it cannot be said that the work carried out in Thun’bafushi was done without the ministry’s knowledge”.

While Kamalludheen claimed that the decision to renew the lease was made following consultation with the President’s Office, the ACC contended that the minister had to bear responsibility for “losses to the state” due to his culpability or negligence.

Abdulla Kamalludheen served as fisheries minister and home minister in the cabinet of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He is currently a senior member of the Jumhooree Party (JP) and was involved in campaigning for JP presidential candidate, business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim.

“Environmental criminal”

In June 2011, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) labelled Champa Moosa “an environmental criminal” and fined him the maximum penalty of MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) for irreversibly damaging the marine ecosystem around Thun’bafushi.

“This was originally a reef ecosystem with a small sand bank in the middle, but he has been dredging the island without any clearance and the changes are now irreversible,” EPA Director Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News at the time.

After three surveys of the area, the EPA had assessed the damage as amounting to MVR2.2 billion (US$144.6 million), not including the impact of sedimentation from the dredging which can smother coral kilometres from the site.

A foreign consultant who was involved in surveying the island told Minivan News that the area “seems to have been used as a dumping ground.”

“There were what looked like hundreds of used car batteries, waste metals and oil drums leeching into the marine environment,” the consultant said.

Fine overturned

In November 2011, the Civil Court overturned the EPA’s MVR100 million fine on the grounds that the administrative action was not “lawful, procedurally fair, and expeditious” as required by article 43 of the constitution.

The judge ruled that the EPA had not given Champa Moosa adequate opportunities to respond to the allegations, which made the administrative procedure “unfair.”

Naeem however insisted that the EPA had given all necessary documents to Champa and that he had been given “more than enough time to prepare his appeal.”

Several days after Champa was issued the fine in June 2011, the then-Director General of the EPA Mohamed Zuhair suddenly resigned from the post, publicly stating on DhiTV – a private broadcaster owned by Champa – that his departure was due to “political interference” in the EPA’s fining of the tycoon.

Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam however claimed that Zuhair had decided to take a voluntary redundancy package three weeks before his sudden departure, which rendered him ineligible for the lump sum pay out.

“This is Champa building his court case by attempting to question the independence of the EPA,” Aslam alleged at the time, noting that as the EPA’s Director General, Zuhair’s signature was on all the correspondence with Champa, including the notice informing him of the fine.

Champa Mohamed Moosa with former President Gayoom
Champa Mohamed Moosa with former President Gayoom

Naeem meanwhile expressed surprise at Zuhair’s DhiTV appearance, noting that “[Zuhair] was the guy who signed the letter [fining Champa]. Why would he have done so if he was not happy about it?”

Zuhair’s sudden resignation following the fining meant he had forfeited his entitlement to the redundancy package he had applied for, Aslam noted.

“Thun’bafushi has been an issue long before we took office,” Aslam said, explaining that the previous administration had initially rented the island to Champa for MVR100 a year (US$6.40) under an agreement that stipulated that he “not do anything detrimental to the environment – he was allowed to grow trees and monitor the shifting of the islands. He was not allowed to reclaim or extend the island.”


Addu airport stake sold to Champa Afeef’s Kasa Holdings

An agreement was signed last night to sell 30 percent of the Addu International Airport Company Pvt Ltd (AIA) to tourism pioneer ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef’s Kasa Holdings to raise finances to develop the Gan airport in Addu City.

AIA is a joint venture formed by the Gan Airport Company Ltd (GACL), Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) and the State Trading Organisation (STO).

The airport infrastructure and facilities in the uninhabited Gan island of the southernmost Seenu atoll was leased to the government-controlled consortium for 50 years with a mandate to develop and operate the asset as an international airport.

The agreement to sell a 30 percent stake in AIA for MVR 60 million (US$3.9 million) was meanwhile signed on behalf of the company by Managing Director Shahid Ali – also Managing Director of STO – and ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa on behalf of Kasa Holding.

The agreement was signed in spite of a public threat by Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader and MP for Alif Dhaal Maamigili, Gasim Ibrahim, that Shahid Ali would be sacked from his post if the sale went through.

Gasim, who had previously alleged corruption in the deal, told reporters on Sunday night that Shahid could not “stay in his post if he signs it,” according to newspaper Haveeru.

He also warned that the STO MD could “not live on this island” if the sale was finalised.

Shahid meanwhile reportedly said after the signing ceremony last night that the agreement was signed after the Finance Ministry and Public Enterprises  Monitoring and Evaluation Board (PEMEB) gave clearance for the sale.

Shahid noted that Afeef’s stake in the seaplane operator Trans-Maldivian Airways (TMA) would be an advantage in the development of the Gan airport.

Following the signing ceremony, Shahid told private broadcaster Raajje TV that the sale was made after a decision by the AIA board of directors, a public tender, evaluation of shortlisted candidates and “authorisation from the Finance Ministry”.

Proceeds from the sale would finance “a major project to develop Gan airport,” he said, including expanding the runway and repairing damages in the airport as well as establishing a new drainage system and a seaplane base.

“The estimate of the consultants for all this is US$40 million. So even if we obtain loan finance or contractor finance for this US$40 million project, we would need an equity injection,” he explained. “Therefore, we need an investment to get this equity injection – a party that would give this money to the company as an equity injection.”

The AIA board in consultation with the government decided to invite proposals from Maldivian companies, Shahid said, adding that Kasa Holdings was the only local company to submit a bid.

Shahid stressed that Kasa Holdings was sold a stake in the management company AIA and not the Gan airport.

On the allegations of corruption by the government-aligned JP, Shahid insisted that the sale was made “through an open and transparent bidding process,” adding that AIA would “welcome” an investigation.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) revealed to local media today that it commenced an investigation into the sale of the AIA stake last month based on assertions in the press.

ACC Deputy Chair Muaviz Rasheed told newspaper Haveeru that the investigation would be completed this week.

Letter to the President

Speaking in parliament yesterday, JP MP Alhan Fahmy claimed that the “self-interest” of Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) was behind the sale of the AIA stake, alleging that DQP senior officials Imad Solih and the party’s leader and Special Advisor to the President Dr Hassan Saeed were complicit in corrupt dealing.

“The government should not sign this agreement. This case should be investigated at a national level,” he said, claiming that the 30 percent stake “could be sold tomorrow to an Israeli party.”

“Addu Atoll Gan is a military strategic location the whole world is watching,” he claimed, calling on the government to reconsider the decision.

Alhan told Raajje TV last night that JP would submit the case to the ACC and parliamentary committees, repeating the corruption allegations and questioning the valuation of the 30 percent stake.

Alhan claimed that Dr Saeed had asked JP Leader Gasim not to oppose the deal at a meeting at the President’s Office yesterday.

In a letter to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik last week, Gasim contended that MVR60 million for 30 percent of AIA’s share was “a very small amount” as the value of the airport would exceed MVR 3 billion (US$200 million).

Moreover, while US$44 million had been estimated as the cost of developing the airport, the JP MP claimed that the project could be completed with US$24 million.

An “open tender just in China alone” for the project would suffice to prove his assertion, Gasim wrote in his letter to Dr Waheed.

Gasim warned that Kasa Holdings would be positioned to acquire 70 percent of AIA by moving to sell 40 percent to a buyer of its choice.

“If a member representing the government does not attend a board meeting held to sell this 40 percent, Kasa Holdings will have the power to sell 40 percent of shares to whoever it pleases at whatever price it wants,” Gasim wrote. “In light of my experience on how these [deals] are completed, I have to say that the ultimate result would be the remaining unsold 40 percent being sold to a buyer of Kasa’s choice and the opening up of the opportunity for Kasa Holdings to control 70 percent, and within this opportunity, for [Kasa] to sell 51 or more percent of AIA to another foreign party.”

Gasim further contended that the move would pose a risk to national security, as the government would have no legal powers over the company.

Cancelling the agreement would mean paying the foreign party a “huge amount in compensation,” he claimed.

Gasim insisted that the Gan aiport should be developed by MACL and offered in his letter to reclaim land for the project free of charge “using my own dredger, employees and machinery with the government only providing oil.”


EPA report chronology unclear, claims Champa Moosa’s lawyer

An Environment Protection Agency (EPA) report on alleged illegal dredging and reclamation on Kaafu Thun’bafalhu was not clear whether it took place before or after environmental regulations came into force, Azima Shukoor, lawyer for Champa ‘Uchoo’ Mohamed Moosa, claimed in the Civil Court on Monday.

Azima Shukoor, former Attorney General, is contesting that the EPA violated the constitution and the Environment Protection Act by imposing a fine on Champa Moosa.

In June, the EPA labelled Champa an “environmental criminal” for irreversibly damaging the island of Thun’bafushi and the marine ecosystem of Thun’bafalhu and fined Moosa the maximum penalty of Rf100 million (US$6.5 million) for conducting dredging and reclamation works in the area without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

According to newspaper Haveeru, Azima argued in court that the island or sandbank was leased to Champa Moosa in 1992 while regulations under the Environment Protection Act of 1993 requiring EIAs was put in place in 2007.

Azima further claimed that the EPA provided its report to Champa with chapters missing, depriving the local business tycoon of his right to fully answer the charges.

State Attorney Usham Ahmed however said that the island was leased to Champa in 1997 and read out the first letter sent from the EPA noting the illegal activities on the island and ordering a halt to it.

“When she says they do not know what was done illegally, I don’t know how to make this any clearer,” Haveeru quoted Usham as saying.

Usham said that the EPA met Champa on numerous occasions and offered him opportunities to answer the charges, adding that the report was made available to Champa’s legal team four days after it was requested. Usham noted that Champa Moosa did not request the report before the EPA decided to impose the Rf100 million fine.

Judge Mariyam Nihayath adjourned the hearing after announcing an additional trial date to consider the full EPA report before delivering a judgment, which is reportedly due on September 27.


Kuredhu quad-bike unregistered and unauthorised for use, MDP MPs claim

A quad-bike that crashed into a tree in Kuredhu Resort killing two British tourists last week was neither registered nor authorised for use, MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) claimed during debate on a motion without notice today.

The emergency motion proposed by MDP Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik noted that the King Quad 700 model bike was not legally registered at the Maldives Transport Authority while its driver Filip Eugen Petre – a Swedish national and son of a resort shareholder – did not have a license to operate the vehicle.

“Two kinds of vehicles are commonly used in Maldivian resorts,” Moosa said in his opening remarks of the debate. “That is vehicles used for lifting goods and golf carts or buggies for transporting guests.”

Moosa alleged in parliament that attempts were made to “to hide the boy [Petre] and put the blame [for the accident] on a Maldivian employee in the resort.”

The former MDP parliamentary group leader called on the government to investigate the accident “even if it involves bringing officials from the British government to uncover how this really happened.”

Other MDP MPs expressed concern about the impact of such incidents on the tourism industry and repeated calls for a thorough investigation.

“I don’t know for what reason such a vehicle used in big mountains or at high speeds should be used in resorts,” observed MP Ahmed Sameer, deputy parliamentary group leader of the ruling party.

Several opposition MPs however strongly objected to the motion, arguing that it should not have been tabled in the agenda as it represented “a personal attack” by Moosa.

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Azim claimed that Moosa was motivated to submit the motion by DhiTV’s continuing coverage of alcohol bottles found in his car – a network owned by Champa ‘Uchoo’ Mohamed Moosa, who also owns the Kuredhu resort.

The motion was however approved for debate in a 29-7 vote.

“Some people who have resorts in this country are using private media to defame others and hide their crimes,” Moosa said, referring to DhiTV.

“It is noteworthy that some media connected to this resort has not covered any news of [the Kuredu accident].”

Moosa also strongly criticised resort owners for “mortgaging state property” and propping up an autocratic regime to enrich themselves.

MP Riyaz Rasheed of minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) meanwhile accused the MDP chairperson of corruption – in a US$21 million deal to reclaim land in Thilafushi – and suggested that Moosa should be evaluated to “see if he is even fasting today.”

Independent MP Ahmed Amir cautioned against speculation regarding the accident as foreign media could report “MPs implying in parliament that this was done by Maldivians.”

In his turn, Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Ibrahim Muttalib alleged that police destroyed or hid evidence in some criminal cases “probably on orders from the government.”

DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali meanwhile contended that the incident should not be debated at parliament as a police investigation was ongoing.