Government-owned company ceases Club Faru resort operations

The Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) decided to cease operating the Club Faru resort as of May 15 this year, according to local media.

In January, the Tourism Ministry took control of the resort from the site’s previous owners following the expiry of their lease agreement.  The ministry handed control of the resort to the government-owned MTDC until phase two of the Hulhumale’ reclamation project was completed.

MTDC Managing Director Mohamed Matheen told local media that the Tourism Ministry had been notified to take over resort’s operations.

“There are no tourists on the island right now. We stopped the operation of the island, and have been temporarily taking care of the island until a decision is made,” Matheen said.

The MTDC previously requested an extension from the Tourism Ministry to the time period during which the company could operate the resort.

“We wanted to operate the island until the reclamation of Hulhumale’ begins. Even though we let tourists come to the resort, our plan was to empty and hand over the island by giving one month’s notice,” said Matheen.

“But we still don’t know when the reclamation will begin. But we have to keep some staff there to monitor the island until the government takes over,” he added.

Currently, the number of staff on Club Faru has been reduced to “about twenty”, according to Matheen.

Discussions with two foreign companies regarding phase two of the Hulhumale’ reclamation project – which includes Club Faru resort – are ongoing, according to the Housing Development Corporation (HDC).  The HDC is in charge of the Hulhumale’ development.

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Artur brothers “direct threat to national security”: MP Fahmy

Parliament passed an extraordinary motion today (April 2) expressing concern that cabinet ministers’ connections to the Artur brothers posed a “direct threat to national security”.

Police meanwhile revealed they became aware of the Artur brothers presence in the Maldives in January, and launched an investigation to determine if they had been conducting any illegal activities in the country.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News police had contacted “relevant government authorities” in January to inform them of the Artur brothers’ links to drug trafficking, money laundering, raids on media outlets, dealings with senior government officials and other serious crimes in Kenya.

He was reluctant to share any further details given that “this is still an open case under investigation”.

Minivan News understands that relevant authorities, including the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), Ministry of Home Affairs, and the President’s Office were officially informed in January of the presence of the Artur brothers, even as Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb signed a letter seeking residency permits for the pair.

Immigration Controller Mohamed Ali told local media that Artur Sargasyan left the Maldives on Sunday (March 31). Sargasyan first entered the Maldives on a tourist visa in August 2012 and returned again in October, Ali said. Sargasyan’s associate is still in the Maldives at a resort in Male’ Atoll, Ali told local media.

Photos of the Arturs in the company of Adheeb and Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim emerged on social media over the weekend, apparently taken during the Piston Motor Racing Challenge held on Hulhumale’ between January 25 and 26.

One photo showed Artur Sargsyan next to Adheeb and Nazim, while another has him apparently starting one of the motorcycle races at the event, which was organised by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). Another image showed Sargsyan at the red carpet opening for the Olympus Cinema.

Meanwhile the Artur’s US$6000 bill at the Club Faru resort – recently taken over by the government-owned Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) – was paid by a ”top official of the resort management”, according to Haveeru.

Picking up the story today, Kenyan media reported that the brothers’ practice of publicly ingratiating themselves with senior government officials appeared not to have changed.

“The Arturs’ mode of operation where they show up in the company of top and well-connected government leaders appears to have been replicated in the Maldives. Their presence in the Maldives comes days after ousted leader Mohammed Nasheed expressed fear over his life,” reported Kenya’s Daily Nation publication.

Parliament concerned about connections with cabinet ministers

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy submitted the motion to parliament to raise concerns about the Artur brothers’ presence in the country and their possible connections with Nazim and Adheeb.

“The Artur brothers are a direct threat to national security since they are – true to their old style and from the experiences of other countries – directly linked to the top government officials including Mr Mohamed Nazim who is both the Defense Minister and the acting Transport Minister, as well as Mr Ahmed Adheeb who is the Tourism Minister,” Fahmy told Minivan News.

“These are the most crucial government ministries with which the Artur brothers are looking to have special links to achieve their objectives,” he contended.

Fahmy said the Artur brothers were believed to have carried out “all sorts of serious illegal activities internationally” and that the Maldives “is incapable of handling these notorious conmen from Armenia. They are capable of taking local criminal gangs to different heights.”

Fahmy explained that immigration laws do not permit entry into the Maldives if the visitor is “even suspected” of being involved in human smuggling or trafficking; may be [considered] a national threat, or otherwise may commit crimes against the state.”

“Given all these facts – and that the Artur brothers are  world-infamous for carrying out criminal activities of this sort – they were allowed into the country and seen publicly with top government officials,” Fahmy added, alleging that the pair have three meetings with Adheeb and Nazim on Hulhumale’ and on Club Faru.

National security concerns politicised

While the extraordinary motion passed with 27 votes in favour to 10 against,  most MPs from non-MDP parties “were not in favor of this serious issue”, Fahmy claimed.

The Parliamentary Committee on National Security will “seriously look into the matter”, however because it is not an MDP-majority committee, Fahmy believes said it would not be easy for the opposition to hold Nazim and Adheeb accountable.

“You could see how much the Artur brothers have penetrated into the parliament from the number of no votes for this motion today,” he claimed.

During today’s parliamentary debate the MDP was accused of being connected with the Artur brothers by MPs, who claimed the Maldivian shareholder in a company registered by the brothers was affiliated with the party.

Ismail Waseem of H. Ever Chance was listed as holding a 3 percent share in ‘Artur Brothers World Connections’, registered in the Maldives in October 2012.

Waseem’s share was subsequently transferred to Abdulla Shaffath of H. Ever Peace on November 25.

“No member holding a position in the party has anything to do with the Artur brothers,” Fahmy claimed. “Instead President Dr Waheed Hassan Manik, or his top government officials, are known to have been directly involved with them. It is this coup-government that has brought those conmen into this country,” Fahmy said.

Today’s parliamentary session was prolonged for an additional hour due to the extraordinary motion submitted.

Denials

Defense Minister Nazim and Tourism Minister Adheeb have meanwhile denied any involvement with infamous pair of Armenian brothers.

“I came to know about them after the rumours started spreading on social media networks. But no country had informed of us anything officially,” local media reported Nazim as saying.

“To my knowledge those two men have left the Maldives,” he said.

Adheeb acknowledged meeting the brothers during the Piston Cup event, but bemoaned to Haveeru how “information about this issue is being spread by the media rather negatively. I have no links with them.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Adheeb reiterated that he had no personal links with the Artur brothers, whom he said had now left the country on his recommendation.

According to Adheeb, the Artur brothers had previously invested in the country through a registered joint venture company with members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Adheeb said he “advised them to leave peacefully and they agreed to sort out their visa and leave. They have now left.”

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ACC to investigate Club Faru Resort complaints

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is to investigate whether Club Faru Resort employees were hired without being told of a change in management, local media reports.

Earlier this month, the Tourism Ministry took over the resort from its present owners following the expiry of its lease agreement and handed control to the government-owned Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

President of ACC Hassan Luthfy told local media that while no case had been filed to the commission in writing regarding Club Faru, the ACC was investigating due to the complaints received from “various groups” in relation to the resort.

“The major complaint we have received is that the government operates the resort using its previous employees, and that they were given employment without making the necessary announcements. These kinds of complaints, we are looking into them,” he said.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told Minivan News that the resort would be closed within two months as part of the government’s plan to begin the second phase of “reclaiming” Hulhumale’ this year.

“The resort is to be operated by a government company for two months and it will then be closed down and reclaimed.
“It was a seven year lease that expired on November 15,” he said earlier this month. “Now the government has decided to reclaim that part of Hulhumale’.”

Adheeb told Minivan News that the resort would be closed as part of the government’s plans to begin the second phase of “reclaiming” Hulhumale’ this year.

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MTDC to temporarily operate Club Faru resort: Tourism Minister

The Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) is to temporarily operate Club Faru resort, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has said.

Local media has reported that the MTDC will run the resort until the second phase of reclaiming Hulhumale’ begins this year.

On Saturday (January 5), the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture said it had assumed control of Club Faru after the resort’s operators failed to hand over the property following the expiry of their lease agreement.

Adheeb told Minivan News the next day (January 6) that the property was to be closed down within two months of the government taken over the resort this weekend.

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Club Faru resort to be closed within two months: Tourism Minister

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb has revealed that the Club Faru resort is to be closed down within two months after the government took over the property this weekend.

On Saturday (January 5), the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture said it had assumed control of Club Faru after the resort’s operators were said to have failed to hand over the property following the expiry of their lease agreement.

Adheeb told Minivan News that the resort would be closed as part of the government’s plans to begin the second phase of “reclaiming” Hulhumale’ this year.

“The resort is to be operated by a government company for two months and it will then be closed down and reclaimed,” he said.  “It was a seven year lease that expired on November 15. Now the government has decided to reclaim that part of Hulhumale’,” he said today.

The proposed closure has been described as “interesting” by the former secretary general of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), who expressed hope that the government would treat all resort operators equally going forward.

Adheeb today maintained that his ministry would not favour certain resort operators over others in terms of their treatment.

According to the tourism minister, the government offered other companies the chance to temporarily manage Club Faru after the first phase of reclaiming Hulhumale’ was completed.

However, Adheeb claimed that after the expiry of a seven-year lease on November 15, 2012, the resort’s operators had gone to court on two separate occasions to try and extend their lease.  He added that the operators had been unsuccessful on both attempts to obtain an injunction against the government.

Despite the lease termination deadline expiring last year and the subsequent takeover on Saturday, Club Faru’s website – when accessed at the time of press – displayed a pop-up sign dismissing rumours that the resort will be closed or temporarily shut down for renovation between November 1 to April 31.

“Attention!!! Against different phrased rumours that seem to circulate in the internet and in certain travel agencies: Fihalhohi and/or Club Faru will neither be closed nor will there be any renovation from November 1 to April 31 that could lead to disturbance. This info is valid for Fihalhohi and Club Faru. Both Islands continue as is,” the pop-up statement reads.

Management at Club Faru resort were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Speaking to local media, Adheeb claimed that the handover had gone “smoothly” when he visited the resort yesterday (January 5).

“Everything went quite smoothly. The Finance Ministry’s financial controller, tourism’s permanent secretary, and legal officials of the ministry along with me came to the resort and took over,” he said.

“We will oversee the operations of the island as the [tourism] ministry has reclaimed ownership of this resort,” Adheeb told local newspaper Haveeru.

Local media reports have claimed that the government had assumed ownership of the island property while tourists were still holidaying at the resort.

According to Adheeb, an Italian company called Club Med had originally invested in the resort. However, after Club Faru was designated part of the Hulhumale’ reclamation plan seven years ago, Club Med was given another island as compensation.

Local media reported that the government leased the island for a period of five years on November 16 1995, after a delay in the second phase of reclaiming Hulhumale’. Following the expiry of the five year lease, it was then extended on an annual basis.

All resort operators treated the same: Adheeb

When contacted today, Former Secretary General of MATI ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim described the Club Faru handover as “interesting”, adding that no operators should be favoured when it comes to breaching legal contracts.

“While it is important that legal contracts are kept to and enforced, it is also important that individual resort operators are treated the same and not differently.  It appears that Club Faru has taken precedence over others, especially as Hulhumale’ is earmarked for development,” Sim told Minivan News.

Responding to the comments, Adheeb said that the tourism ministry did not favour any resort operator over another.

While there are no other resorts in the Maldives where an operating licence has been cancelled, Adheeb claimed that when dealing with rent payments, each resort will always have to pay or face a termination notice.

The tourism minister claimed that when he first took up his position following February’s controversial transfer of power, there were 12 resorts found to be not paying rent at the time. However, through flexibility on the interest rates, he maintained there were now “no resorts not paying rent”.

“We are not tolerating resorts who do not pay rent, any operating resort has to pay. Those who are not paying already have the termination notice. This culture has to go, by the end of this year all resorts will be paying and it will become a more stable industry,” Adheeb said.

At a press conference held on December 31, 2012, Adheeb said that resort operator Yacht Tours had been sent termination notices for both Alidhoo and Kudarah resorts, with a seven day period for handover.

He added that while the ministry had come to a payment system agreement with a number of other companies, Yacht Tours had sent no official written communication in regard to the payment of outstanding rents.

Following the termination notice, Yacht Tours, a company owned by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Jabir, said it will take the government to court over the dispute.  The company has alleged that the Tourism Ministry had failed to responded to correspondence it had sent on the matter of rent payments.

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Maldives to host Red Bull air show

A Red Bull Air Show will be held near Male’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) on 16 December, featuring air racing champion Péter Besenyei and famous Russian Base Jumper Valerie Rozov.

The show will be followed by an air race over Hulhumale’ near Club Faru on 17 December, according to the local organiser, Euro Marketing Pvt Ltd, the country’s sole distributor of popular energy drink Red Bull.

The air show aims to bring new entertainment to the Maldives community, said Euro Marketing Head of Operations Lawrence Miranba. “We want to bring an international event into the Maldives,” he said. “Péter is an eight-time world champion, and he will flying here.”

In addition to the main events, base jumper Rozov will be performing a jump into Male’, Miranba said.

“We are looking to create smaller events as well,” said Miranba. “For instance, there’s a remote controlled plane group in Hulhumale’. We haven’t finalised anything yet, but we’d like to do something with them.”

Miranba said Euro Marketing has informed the Maldives government and airport management company GMR, and is currently sorting out permissions. Event partners include Island Aviation and MNBC media.

Besenyei, a renowned Hungarian aerobatics pilot and world champion air racer, was asked to develop the concept of an air racing competition by Red Bull in 2001. He is accredited with formulating the rules and regulations of the sport.

Valerie Rozov is a Red Bull Freestyle Base Jumping world champion, and Europe Free Style champion. He holds a world record and a gold medal from X Games.

The Red Bull Air Race was first held in Zeltweg, Austria in 2003. International pilots compete against the clock on obstacle courses of pylons, or “air gates.”

Races are typically held over water near cities, air fields or near natural wonders. They are broadcast live and taped around the world. The culminating production of the World Championship claims 300 million viewers in over 130 countries.

In 2009 and 2010 the show received back-to-back Sports Emmy Awards, as well as the International Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) award for ‘Most Innovative Use of Technology in Content Creation’.

IBC called the race program one of the most technically challenging in the world.

“The race programme travels the world, and at each venue the engineering team is faced with the challenge of bringing pictures and sound from across a huge area, and from the planes themselves.”

The air race in the Maldives is not connected to the Red Bull World Championship.

State Transport Minister Adil Saleem confirmed that the air show had received clearance for the event, but said he had made a request that all necessary precautions be observed.

“The area of Hulhumale’ where the race will be held has many safari boats. It’s as good as land. I’m sure this will be a very successful event, but we need to take precautions.”

Saleem said there is potential for more vehicle-based events in the Maldives. “I think it would be good to have a car race in Addu, to involve locals and make use of the longer roads, for instance,” he said.

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