Lack of international cooperation could force MDP to militancy: MP Ali Waheed

Following high-level visits by the Commonwealth and United States Embassy this week, a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP claimed the party will resort to militancy if the international community does not do more to help restore democracy in the Maldives.

The United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Michele J Sison arrived in the capital Male’ today (March 26). Earlier this week (March 24), the Canadian Special Envoy for the Commonwealth, Senator Hugh Segal met with the Maldives parliamentary Committee on Government Oversight.

Parliament Oversight Committee Chairperson and MDP MP Ali Waheed implored the international community to take immediate, decisive actions to help restore democracy in the Maldives.

He explained militant and radical forces – which included presidential candidates – within the Maldives were becoming more powerful.

“The current situation within the country is going from bad to worse and heading towards chaos. Everything is politicised,” Waheed said.

“Umar Naseer is militant, but the international community are promoting more diplomatic candidates like [DRP] leader  Thasmeen Ali, who is failing.

“Why can’t they see this reality? The security of the Indian Ocean region and the Maldives is threatened,” he exclaimed.

MP Waheed also claimed that the MDP will resort to behaving like the militants if the international community does not provide help to ensure free and fair elections in September.

“MDP will not give away our presidential candidate [former President Mohamed Nasheed]. We already gave the government away because of the coup.

“MDP urges diplomacy and dialogue, but will but will step toward radicalism. MDP will be like the militants if the international community does not take action. MDP will be on the ground if Nasheed is not on the ballot paper. We will fight to the last drop [of blood].

MPs are very concerned the international community will continue to only focus on diplomatic discussions, which appear to be failing, claimed MP Waheed.

“We cannot wait for more talk. Nothing is moving, it has been ‘stuck’ since the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report.

“We urge them to act now. Inclusive elections are the way forward. We call on other countries to help find a solution,” MP Waheed implored.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor further explained the MDP’s frustration to Minivan News.

“With the relative passivity of the international community on pending issues such as CoNI, action on errant forces and judicial reform, taken together with the ‘bash up’ attitude of mutineers towards MDP members, emotions are naturally bound to be heightened.

“[Therefore] the party top echelon would provide leadership, especially as it looks like the MDP shall have to go it alone towards elections,” said Ghafoor.

During the Parliament Oversight Committee’s meeting on Sunday, MPs briefed the Commonwealth’s Canadian Special Envoy, Senator Segal on the events surrounding February 2012’s controversial transfer of power, the current political situation in the Maldives, and the police services’ impunity from prosecution.

“He was very shocked,” claimed MP Waheed.

According to MP Waheed, the Commonwealth has pledged to give all the support necessary to bring back democracy and push for a solution regarding [the presidential candidacy of] Nasheed.

“We hope the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) will seriously consider these things and discuss them,” he said.

“We thank the Canadian government and asked the Senator to pass along a letter to the Prime Minister. We requested he meet us and really keep an eye on the situation here,” he added.

The US Embassy stated the visit by Ambassador Sison today was routine.

“The Ambassador is in Maldives as part of our normal bilateral relationship. She will meet with government, military, and civil society leaders,” said embassy official Christopher Elms.

International commitments to reform

The Commonwealth has played a key role in terms of the international community’s stance towards the Maldives, particularly following the controversial transfer of power in February in which the present government came to office.

Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Maldives, Sir Don McKinnon, visited the Maldives in January 2013.

“A key objective of Sir Donald’s visit will be to discuss efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and processes in Maldives, and how the Commonwealth can further assist in this regard,” said Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma in a statement.

McKinnon’s visit followed the publication of a report in August 2012 by the Commonwealth-backed CoNI into the controversial transfer of power on February 7 2012. The report concluded that there was no mutiny by police or the military, and that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation was not made under duress.

During McKinnon’s visit the MDP accused the Commonwealth Secretariat of being complicit in a “systematic government cover-up designed to subdue testimonies from key witnesses to the coup d’etat”.

In December 2012, the Commonwealth said it would work with the Maldivian government to push ahead with strengthening and reforming “key public institutions” as it reiterated calls for “inclusive and credible” presidential elections to be held next year.

In a statement issued December 7, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the intergovernmental organisation would continue to work with international partners and Maldivian authorities on a programme of reform and “practical collaboration”.

Meanwhile, the US delegation that visited the Maldives in February this year gave no “definitive answer” to political issues raised by former President Mohamed Nasheed, the MDP has said.

Nasheed informed the delegates that the present government had failed to act upon the recommendations made in the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report, claiming there had been a “lack of effort” to reform the judiciary.

However, MDP Spokesman Ghafoor said the US delegation were unable to answer the issues raised by Nasheed, and that their interest was focused on the implementation of free and fair elections later this year.

In April 2012, the US government pledged US$500,000 (Rf7.7 million) for an elections programme to assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election.

The European Union (EU) declared this March that it would be “difficult” to consider the Maldives’ upcoming presidential elections credible unless former President Mohamed Nasheed is allowed to contest.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has highlighted “free, fair and credible” elections as the “best course” for overcoming political uncertainty in the Maldives.

In a statement issued this March, Singh – referring to last year’s controversial transfer of power – noted that “there have been unfortunate problems in the Maldives after the February 2012 event.”

The Elections Commission of India (ECI) and the Elections Commission of the Maldives (EC) agreed on a roadmap for cooperation this March that includes jointly developing an assistance project to enable free and fair elections later this year.

During the protests that erupted during Nasheed’s stay in the Indian High Commission this February, the UK issued a statement calling for “inclusive” presidential elections as well as calm and restraint.

“During FCO Minister Alistair Burt’s recent visit to Maldives, he said it was vital that the country move decisively towards free, fair and inclusive Presidential elections. He also stressed the importance of all parties being able to participate in elections with the candidate of their choice. It is important for all parties to avoid taking action which could lead to doubt over the integrity of the electoral process and contribute to continuing instability,” the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated.

At the time, the UN Secretary General’s office stated that it was “monitoring the developments with concern”, and urged “all political actors to exercise restraint, renew their commitment to the constitution and work toward creating conducive conditions for fair, peaceful and inclusive elections.”

“All parties contesting the September 7 presidential elections should be able to field the candidates of their choice in accordance with the rule of law and the constitution,” the UN stated.

Many of these prominent international actors initially supported the legitimacy of President Waheed Hassan Manik’s government following the controversial transfer of power February 7, 2012.

The CoNI report that followed six months later was welcomed at the time by the United Nations, Commonwealth, and United States.


Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Don McKinnon arrives in Male’ for post-CNI discussions

Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Maldives, Sir Don McKinnon, has arrived to Male’ yesterday to discuss the report released by the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) following its investigation into the controversial transfer of power on February 7.

Presidents Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told local media outlet Sun Online that McKinnon was to visit Maldives before the release of the CNI report, but had to delay his visit because President Mohamed Waheed Hassan was not in town, and because of the holidays that followed.

Riza further stated that the government believed that this would be the farewell visit of McKinnon in his capacity as the Special Envoy.

He also added that the government would acknowledge the efforts made by the Commonwealth in helping resolve the political crisis that followed after the transfer of power, but added that the government “sees no role for the Commonwealth any more in the domestic issues of the country”.

Riza did not respond to calls at time of press.

Minivan News understands that Sir Don McKinnon is set to meet both President Waheed and his predecessor, former President Mohamed Nasheed.

McKinnon’s visit comes at a time where the current government of Maldives and the Commonwealth are at loggerheads over the issue of Maldives still being in the formal agenda of Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).

President Waheed has already sent letters to member states of CMAG demanding the immediate removal of Maldives from the CMAG’s agenda, claiming that the report by the CNI clears all doubts on legitimacy of the current government.

State Minister of Foreign Affairs and daughter of former President of 30 years Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Dunya Maumoon, has already hinted about an impending withdrawal of Commonwealth membership if the Maldives is not removed from the formal agenda of the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm.

Speaking at a press conference held in the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, Dunya said, “We call on all the member countries of the CMAG to remove us from the agenda at the earliest possible opportunity. We do not altogether deserve to have been put on this agenda.”

Dunya stated that following the release of the report by the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), many foreign countries had complimented the commission’s work. While she expressed concerns that “reactions from two countries are somewhat worrying”, she declined to name either country.

CNI Report

On August 30, CNI released its report into the circumstances surrounding the controversial resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed and the transfer of power on February 7, stating that the transfer of power was legitimate and that it was neither a coup d’état nor a resignation under duress.

The CNI was initially a three member panel (Dr Ibrahim Yasir, Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef and Chairman Ismail Shafeeu), formed by President Waheed Hassan to examine the circumstances surrounding his own succession to presidency.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of ex President Nasheed and the Commonwealth subsequently challenged the impartiality of the CNI, and it was reformed to include retired Singaporean judge G. P. Selvam and a representative of Nasheed’s, Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed.

Retired Court of Appeal judge from New Zealand, Sir Bruce Robertson, and Canadian UN Legal Advisor Professor John Packer, were appointed as international advisers representing the Commonwealth and UN respectively.

Nasheed’s representative Saeed resigned from the CNI on the evening of August 29, denouncing its credibility and alleging that the final report excluded testimony from key witnesses as well as crucial photo, audio and video evidence.

According to the published report, the change of government was “legal and constitutional”, and the events of February 6-7 “were, in large measure, reactions to the actions of President Nasheed.”

“The resignation of President Nasheed was voluntary and of his own free will. It was not caused by any illegal coercion or intimidation,” the report claimed.

In addition, “There were acts of police brutality on 6, 7 and 8 February 2012 that must be investigated and pursued further by the relevant authorities.”

The report dismissed the MDP’s allegations that the government’s ousting was a ‘coup d’état’, stating that the Constitution “was precisely followed as prescribed.”

“There appears nothing contestable in constitutional terms under the generic notion of a ‘coup d’état’ that is alleged to have occurred – quite to the contrary, in fact,” the report claimed.

“In terms of the democratic intent and legitimacy of the authority of the Presidency, as foreseen in the Constitution, President Waheed properly succeeded President Nasheed.”

“As President Nasheed clearly resigned and now challenges the voluntariness and legitimacy of his action, the onus is on him to establish illegal coercion or unlawful intimidation.”

Counter report by Sri Lankan legal experts

A legal analysis of the CNI report by a team of high-profile Sri Lankan legal professionals – including the country’s former Attorney General – prepared upon the request of the MDP stated that it was “selective”, “flawed” and had exceeded its mandate.

The legal analysis’ authors include two Sri Lankan Supreme Court attorneys – Anita Perera and Senany Dayaratne – and the former Sri Lankan Attorney General Shibly Aziz.

The analysis focused on five main areas: the CNI’s compliance with its mandate, the procedure pursued in exercising this mandate, the evidence gathering process, the adherence to the “imperative dictates” of natural justice, and the legal issues which ensue from this.

“The Report offends the fundamental tenets of natural justice, transparency and good governance, including the right to see adverse material, which undermines the salutary tenets of the Rule of Law.” Read the report

The report further suggested that there was “in fact adequate evidence to suggest that duress (or even ‘coercion’ and/ or illegal coercion as used by CNI) is attributable to the resignation of President Nasheed.”

“Even by the yardstick of ‘coercion’ or illegal coercion which the CNI has incorporated for reasons one cannot fathom- given the clear mandate- , ex facie the events accepted by the Commission and without anything more, does strongly and convincingly establish the ‘coercion’ or ‘illegal coercion’, the yardstick chosen by the Commission,” it read.


Bill for Nasheed govt’s investigation of STO-Burma oil trade US$10 million: AG

Attorney General Azima Shakoor yesterday revealed to local media that the government has to pay US$ 10 million (MVR 154.2 million) to forensic accounting firm Grant Thornton following the firm’s investigation of the State Trading Organisation (STO)’s international illegal oil trade allegedly worth up to US$800 million.

In a press conference following reports that President Mohamed Waheed’s government spent £75,000 (MVR 1.81 million) on advice from former UK Attorney General Baroness Patricia Scotland, Shakoor announced that the government had received invoices for US$10 million from Grant Thorton.

However former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed told Minivan News that the US$10 million was a ‘penalty’ fee that was only to be charged if the investigation was stopped.

“Grant Thorton was working on a contingency basis. Besides hard costs such as flights the investigation itself was free, and we only had to pay a percentage of the assets recovered. However if the government stopped the investigation – say if it made a political deal – then Grant Thorton would impose a penalty,” Dr Shaheed explained.

“As of February, Grant Thorton were ready with a criminal complaint, having obtained a number of documents relating to financial dealings from Singapore banks through court orders issued by Singapore courts. The documents revealed at least US$140 million defrauded between 2002-2004. There would of course be no penalty if the government suspended the investigation due to lack of evidence or progress,” Dr Shaheed said.

Following the controversial transfer of power on February 7 2012 that saw the ousting of President Nasheed’s government, the case fell silent – despite the matter having been forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s office a week earlier.

Nasheed’s Presidential Commission on corruption, which had been charged with investigating the STO case and of which Dr Shaheed was appointed a member, was disbanded – one of incoming President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s first acts in power.

Burma oil trade expose

The oil trade first came into the limelight following an explosive article in India’s The Week magazine by Sumon K Chakrabarti, Chief National Correspondent of CNN-IBN, which accused former STO head Abdulla Yameen – Gayoom’s half-brother – of being “the kingpin” of a scheme to buy subsidised oil through the State Trading Organisation’s branch in Singapore and sell it on through an entity called ‘Mocom Trading’ to the Burmese military junta, at a black market premium.

“The Maldives receives subsidised oil from OPEC nations, thanks to its 100 percent Sunni Muslim population. The Gayooms bought oil, saying it was for the Maldives, and sold it to Myanmar on the international black market. As Myanmar is facing international sanctions, the junta secretly sold the Burmese and ‘Maldivian’ oil to certain Asian countries, including a wannabe superpower,” alleged Chakrabarti.

“Sources in the Singapore Police said their investigation has confirmed ‘shipping fraud through the diversion of chartered vessels where oil cargo intended for the Maldives was sold on the black market creating a super profit for many years,’” the report added.

Quoting an unnamed Maldivian cabinet Minister, The Week stated that: “what is becoming clear is that oil tankers regularly left Singapore for the Maldives, but never arrived here.”

The article drew heavily on the investigation report by Grant Thorton, commissioned by the Maldives government in March 2010, which obtained three hard drives containing financial information detailing transactions from 2002 to 2008. No digital data was available before 2002, and the paper trail “was hazy”.

According to The Week, Grant Thorton’s report identifies Myanmar businessman and head of the Kanbawza Bank and Kanbawza Football Club, Aung Ko Win, as the middleman acting between the Maldivian connection and Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, the second highest-ranking member of the Burmese junta – one of the world’s most oppressive regimes.


According to The Week article, the engine of the operation was the Singaporean branch of the government-owned State Trading Organisation (STO), of which Yameen was the board chairman until 2005.

Fuel was purchased by STO Singapore from companies including Shell Eastern Petroleum (Pte) Ltd, Singapore Petroleum Company and Petronas, and sold mostly to the STO (for Maldivian consumption) and Myanmar, “except in 2002, when the bulk of the revenue came from Malaysia.”

The “first red flag” appeared in an audit report on the STO by KPMG, one of the four major international auditing firms which took over the STO’s audits in 2004 from Price WaterhouseCoopers.

The firm noted: “A company incorporated in Singapore by the name of Mocom Trading Pte Ltd in 2004 has not been discluded under Note No. 30 to the Financial Statements. There was no evidence available with regard to approval of the incorporation. Further, we are unable to establish the volume and the nature of the company with the group.”

In a subsequent report, KMPG noted: “The name of the company has been struck off on 20th April 2006.”

Investigators learned that Mocom Trading was set up in February 2004 as a joint venture between STO Singapore and a Malaysian company called ‘Mocom Corporation Sdn Bhd’, with the purpose of selling oil to Myanmar and an authorised capital of US$1 million.

According to The Week, the company had four shareholders: Kamal Bin Rashid, a Burmese national, two Maldivians: Fathimath Ashan and Sana Mansoor, and a Malaysian man named Raja Abdul Rashid Bin Raja Badiozaman. Badiozaman was the Chief of Intelligence for the Malaysian armed forces for seven years and a 34 year veteran of the military, prior to his retirement in 1995 at the rank of Lieutenant General.

As well as the four shareholders, former Managing Director of STO Singapore Ahmed Muneez served as director. The Week reported that Muneez informed investigators that Mocom Corportation was one of four companies with a tender to sell oil to the Burmese junta, alongside Daewoo, Petrocom Energy and Hyundai.

Under the contract, wrote The Week, “STO Singapore was to supply Mocom Trading with diesel. But since Mocom Corporation held the original contact, the company was entitled to commission of nearly 40 percent of the profits.”

That commission was to be deposited in an United Overseas Bank account in Singapore, “a US dollar account held solely by Rashid. So, the books would show that the commission was being paid to Mocom, but Rashid would pocket it.”

In a second example cited by The Week, investigators discovered that “STO Singapore and Mocom Trading duplicated sales invoices to Myanmar. The invoices showed the number of barrels delivered and the unit price. Both sets of invoices were identical, except for the price per barrel. The unit price on the STO Singapore invoices was US$5 more than the unit price of the Mocom Trading invoice. This was done to confuse auditors.”

As a result, “the sum total of all Mocom Trading invoices to Myanmar Petrochemical Enterprises was US$45,751,423, while the sum total of the invoices raised by STO Singapore was US$51,423,523 – a difference of US$5,672,100.”

Furthermore, “investigators found instances where bills of lading (indicating receipt of consignment) were unsigned by the ship’s master.”

Money from the Maldives

Despite his officially stepping down from the STO in 2005, The Week referenced the report as saying that debit notes in Singapore “show payments made on account of Yameen in 2007 and 2008.”

Citing the report directly, The Week wrote: “The debit notes were created as a result of receiving funds from Mr Yameen deposited at the STO head office, which were then transferred to STO Singapore’s bank accounts. This corresponded with a document received from STO head office confirming the payments were deposited by Yameen into STO’s bank accounts via cheque.

The Week claimed that Yameen was aided by Muneez on the STO Singapore side, and by Mohamed Hussain Maniku, former STO managing director, on the Maldivian end until 2008.

“In conversation with Mr Muneez, this was to provide monies for the living expenses of his [Yameen’s] son and daughter, both studying in Singapore. Their living expenses were distributed by Mr Muneez,” the Grant Thorton report stated, according to The Week.

In a previous interview with Minivan News, Yameen confirmed that he had used the STO’s accounts to send money to his children in Singapore, “and I have all the receipts.”

He described the then STO head in Singapore as “a personal friend”, and said “I always paid the STO in advance. It was a legitimate way of avoiding foreign exchange [fees]. The STO was not lending me money.”

He denied sending money following his departure from the organisation: “After I left, I did not do it. In fact I did not do it 3 to4 years before leaving the STO. I used telegraphic transfer.”

Yameen described the wider allegations contained in The Week article as “absolute rubbish”, and denied being under investigation by the Singaporean police, saying that he had friends in Singapore who would have informed him if that were the case.

The article, he said, was part of a smear campaign orchestrated by then President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, a freelance writer and the dismissed Auditor General “now in London”, who he claimed had hired the audit team – “they spent two weeks in the STO in Singapore conducting an investigation.”

Yameen said he did not have a hand in any of the STO’s operations in Singapore, and that if Muneez was managing director at the time of any alleged wrong-doing, “any allegations should carry his name.”

He denied any knowledge or affiliation with Steven Law or Lo Hsing Han, and said that as for Mocom Trading, “if that company is registered, Maniku would know about it.”

Asked to confirm whether the STO Singapore had been supplying fuel to Myanmar during his time as chair of the board, “it could have been – Myanmar, Vietnam, the STO is an entrepreneurial trade organisation. It trades [commodities like] oil, cement, sugar, rice to places in need. It’s perfectly legitimate. “

Asked whether it was appropriate to trade goods to a country ostracised by the international community, Yameen observed that the trading had “nothing to do with the moral high-ground, at least at that time. Even even now the STO buys from one country and sells to those in need.”

Asked why the President would hire a freelance writer to smear his reputation after the local council elections, “that’s because Nasheed would like to hold me in captivity.”

The only way Nasheed could exert political control, Yameen claimed, “was to resort to this kind of political blackmail”.

“Unfortunately he has not been able to do that with me. I was a perfectly clean minister while in Gayoom’s cabinet. They have nothing on me.”

On February 1, 2012, the Presidential Commission set up during Nasheed’s administration to look into the malpractices of his predecessor Gayoom’s administration, sent the case to Prosecutor General for prosecution.

Parliament resolution

However, in June 2011, former Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Musthafa presented a resolution to the parliament demanding the investigation by the parliament.

In the motion, Musthafa claimed that the article in the week magazine had outlined how the fraud was conducted to local media, and provided evidence.

His resolution requests an investigation into what it describes as “the biggest corruption case in the history of the Maldives”.

Issues relating to the Singapore-based joint venture that allegedly carried out the deal, Mocom Trading Pvt Ltd, which was used established to carry out this fraud, were first raised by audit firm KPMG, Musthafa noted in the resolution.

The resolution stated that later in 2004, audit firm Price Water House Coopers also audited the STO.

“This year the government handed the auditing to [forensic accountancy firm] Grant Thornton which found that the two audit reports contained legitimate concerns in their reports,’’ the resolution said.

Yameen dismissed the allegations and called on the government of Nasheed to investigate the allegations during the debate on the resolution.

He conceded that the STO did sell oil to Burma “but if you claim that the trade was illegal, you have to prove it first.”

Yameen added that STO senior officials alleged to be involved in the oil trade were still employed by the government: “They are now in high posts in the MDP,” he said.

“So if you dare to investigate this, by all means go ahead,” he continued. “I encourage that this be investigated. The other thing I want to say is that I have now become impatient. Even if they stack US$800 million worth of documents on one end of the scale, there is no way they would be able to prove [any wrongdoing].

“The documents are with the government. We did not take documents home with us when we left office,” he said.

Yameen claimed at the time that the Nasheed administration possessed a list of senior officials of the previous government who had purchased assets overseas.

“The government will have that list now,” he said. “Why is it that they won’t make it public? I know that this work was done under the World Bank’s stolen assets recovery programme [StAR]. This list will have people who are now helping this government, not anyone else. Why don’t you release the list?”

The MP for Mulaku claimed that the government had paid “over a million dollars” to Grant Thornton, without uncovering any evidence to implicate him..

“In such investigations, forensic accountants are given two or three weeks to complete their work,” he said. “[But] this has now been dragged out for over a year.”

Yameen said that he was “ready to sue” for defamation if a final report “under seal and signature of Grant Thornton” was made public.

“But there’s no way to file this suit because no official document has been released,” he continued. “All that’s been released are draft reports without any signature or seal that can be taken to court.”

Yameen added that “the US$800 million worth of trade was done with back-to-back LCs (lines of credit) in Singapore based on trust between one bank and another.”

“All the bank documentation is there,” he said, claiming that Grant Thornton had cleared out all the “invoices and documents” from STO Singapore so that “there’s not even one photocopy left.”

“How can eight or nine years worth of documents of a government company be taken like this?” he asked. “I know this for a fact.”

The right of individuals to be considered innocent until proven guilty was “a sacred provision” in the Maldivian constitution, he said.

The resolution was later sent to a committee to investigate by an approval of 52 – 11.

In his closing statement, Musthafa said that MP Yameen’s conceding during the debate that US$800 million worth of trade in oil did take place had “fulfilled the main purpose of my resolution.”

Counter claim?

The Attorney General’s revealing of the expenses of the Grant Thornton investigation comes a day after it was revealed that President Waheed’s government spent £75,000 (MVR 1.81 million) on advice from former UK Attorney General and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Patricia Scotland, in a bid to challenge the Commonwealth’s “biased” stance on the Maldives.

The Maldives was suspended from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) – the Commonwealth’s democracy and human rights arm – and placed on its formal agenda after former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged that his resignation on February 7 had taken place under duress.  Nasheed contended he was forced out of office amid a mutiny by police and armed forces, orchestrated by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and funded by several local wealthy resort businessmen.

CMAG swiftly challenged the impartiality of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) established by incoming President Mohamed Waheed to examine the circumstances of his own succession, and called on Waheed to hold early elections to restore the country’s democratic legitimacy.

After a number of countries – including the UK and EU – backed the Commonwealth’s stance, the government was pressured into reforming the CNI to include a member of Nasheed’s choosing and a retired judge from Singapore, GP Selvam. The reformed Commission is due to publish its findings in late August.

“The Maldives government is of the view that the Maldives has been placed on the [CMAG] agenda unfairly, and there is a general feeling that the Commonwealth and the CMAG view points are biased in favour of President Nasheed’s allegation of a coup,” the Attorney General’s office, stated in the terms of reference.

The terms of reference document for the contract, obtained by Minivan News, is dated May 28, 2012 and is signed by Scotland and the Maldives’ Deputy Attorney General, Aishath Bisham.  It also carries the official stamp of the Attorney General’s Office.

The story first emerged in the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper based in London.  The Mail established that the peer and former Attorney General had not listed the payment from the Maldives on the House of Lords’ register of members’ interests.

“Her entry says she has set up a firm to provide ‘private consultancy services’ but says it is ‘not trading at present’,” the Daily Mail reported.

In a statement, Baroness Scotland confirmed she had been “instructed by the Attorney General of the Maldives to give legal advice”, and slammed the leak of the terms of reference and “all communications passing between myself and the Attorney General, whether written or oral, pertaining to the nature and extent of that advice, as confidential and legally privileged.”

She additionally claimed to have been approached by both the government and the opposition (MDP), and said she had accepted an invitation to chair a roundtable “at which all parties are to be invited.”

“I am a senior barrister with specific expertise in the area of constitutional law, criminal and civil law reform, and am skilled in mediation,” she explained.

Baroness Scotland was previously scrutinised by the UK press in 2009 after she was found to have been employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper in her London home.

As the story emerged, MPs from the UK’s Conservative Party – which has long backed Nasheed and the MDP – seized the opportunity to attack the former UK Labour Party Cabinet Minister.

Conservative MP Karen Lumley told the Daily Mail that is was “disgusting that a former British attorney-general should take a well-paid job advising the new regime, which has no democratic mandate. President Nasheed was overthrown in a coup and the Maldives is now very unstable. Many of my friends there have been arrested by the new regime.”

Conservative MP John Glen told the paper that Baroness Scotland should “hang her head in shame”.

“What happened in the Maldives was a military coup,” he said, adding that it was “outrageous” that the former AG should be “advising a regime responsible for ousting a democratically-elected president.”

Former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Farahanaz Faizal, described the government’s employment of Baroness Scotland as “absolutely shocking. If the government wanted legal advice to support the AG’s Office, the proper way is to request the UK government bilaterally.”

“To think that someone of her calibre would undertake an assignment to check if Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, Jamaica, and others of CMAG had acted against their mandate is disgraceful,” Dr Faizal said.

Following the reports, President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza in an interview given to local TV station VTV denied the allegations.

“It is not true that the government spent 75,000 pounds on a former British attorney general. It is part of the lies that the Maldivian Democratic Party is spreading,” Riza was reported as stating in Haama Daily.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad meanwhile told Minivan News “I think that case was handled by [President Waheed’s Special Advisor] Dr Hassan Saeed.”

“[Baroness Scotland] did consult with us during the time CMAG was pressuring us, and we sought legal advice as to how to proceed,” Masood added.

In today’s press conference, in contrast to Riza, Shakoor conceded that the claims made in Daily Mail were true and that It was normal for the government to seek legal advice on international matters.

“The government has previously sought international legal advice on several other issues including the Air Maldives case and GMR’s lawsuit against Maldives government in Singapore arbitration court over the Airport Development Charge (ADC),” she said.

Shakoor said that the case of Scotland was carried out similarly.

“We believe that the CMAG has put the Maldives in its agenda not in accordance with their own procedures and also their calls for an early election reflects that they did not do proper research on the Maldivian Constitutional mechanism, therefore we had to seek legal advice from Baroness Scotland,” he added.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor was not responding at time of press.


MPs debate leaving Commonwealth

Members of parliament backing President Mohamed Waheed Hassan have called on the state to withdraw the country’s membership from the Commonwealth, during a debate on a resolution forwarded today.

The resolution that sparked the debate was forwarded by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim ‘Bonda’ Rasheed, “condemning” the current government’s failure to adhere to the calls of Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) concluding statement on the Maldives, notably the call for early presidential elections in 2012.

The CMAG statement also noted that it will consider “further and stronger measures” against the Maldives unless the composition of its Committee of National Inquiry (CNI) was revised in the next four weeks.

Withdrawing Commonwealth membership

Speaking in the debate, Dhivehi Qaumee Party MP Riyaz Rasheed called for the Maldives to withdraw membership from the Commonwealth “for now”.

“We don’t want to, but there is no reason to have international relations with a group like this, who don’t even know to ensure justice,” he said. “I propose to disassociate  ourselves from the Commonwealth for now,” The MP said.

MP Rasheed has been highly critical of the Commonwealth and also Queen Elizabeth, who is the ceremonial head of the Commonwealth.

During a diatribe on DhiTV in March, he argued that the British public had funded the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in return for the establishment of churches in the Maldives, and also alleged that the UK hated the Maldives for gaining its independence.

Rasheed went onto criticise Queen Elizabeth stating, “After 50 years, the English Queen, she is physically challenged. But she is still the Queen, and if she wants she can remove the Prime Minister. Where is democracy? Where is democracy? That is not a democracy.”

Also speaking in the debate, MP Muththalib from the government-allied and religiously conservative Adhaalath Party, said that international organisations should ensure that their calls fitted with the constitution of the country and Islamic virtue.”

“CMAG should not be a weapon used to destroy the religion [Islam] of this country. The United Nations and all the other international organisations including the United States and India have accepted this government, “ he claimed.

“I do not believe CMAG has any right to demand our country hold early elections. Also, we should consider those [countries] that do things for us,” he added.

Muththalib said he would fully support the Maldives’ withdrawal from the Commonwealth if the government of President Waheed Hassan felt it was in the best interests of the county.

“If the current government feels that disaffiliating with CMAG or the Commonwealth is what is best for this country, I am in full support for this Majlis to pass such a motion,” he reiterated.

Deputy Parliamentary Group leader of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Ilham Mohamed, stated that there were no stipulations in the Constitution calling for an early election, and that one could only be held after amending the constitution.

He argued that that the Maldives should “immediately” withdraw its membership with the Commonwealth.

“I am saying this very clearly. I call on President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who is in charge of this state, to carry out what ever necessary measures that needs to be taken to disaffiliate from the Commonwealth. We are ready to part with Commonwealth,” MP Mohamed said.

MP Mohamed sent a warning to the current government stating that the the government decides to hold early elections, his party would withdraw its support to the government.

“Elections will be held on 2013. Or else we won’t be supporting the government. [No one] can hold an election before 2013. I am saying it very clearly. Be it Commonwealth or any other country that calls for it, no one can hold an early election,” he said.

MDP response

MDP MPs argued that the government should adhere to the calls of CMAG and that early elections should be held in 2012.

The opposition MPs also expressed concern that an inter-governmental organisation such as the Commonwealth had said that it would consider taking action against the Maldives.

Speaking in the debate, MDP MP Eva Abdulla, who was recently elected to the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s standing committee on Women Parliamentarians, stated that CMAG did not represent the foreign ministers of just nine countries but rather the entire 54 countries of the Commonwealth.

MP Abdulla also stated that when government officials said that the members of CMAG did not even know the “skin colour” of the Maldivians, such a statement was also directed at individuals such as the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh.

“When we make such statements we are not harassing the Ministers, but our own peaceful relations with neighboring countries,” she said.

She also reiterated that if the Commonwealth suspended the Maldives, it would have a great impact on the ordinary citizens of the country.

MDP MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa, of the Kulhudhuffushi North constituency, said that the Maldivian people had come to a “fork in the road” over the issue of early elections. He also stressed on the importance of adhering to the calls of Commonwealth.

“We don’t have the capacity to stand up against international bodies such as the Commonwealth, ASEAN and the SAARC. If we stay ignorant [of the calls of Commonwealth] in our greed for power, the ordinary citizens of this country will suffer,” Ghafoor said.

MDP MP Mohamed Riyaz during the debate expressed concern that some parliamentarians were accusing the Commonwealth of trying to destroy the Islamic faith of the Maldives. He also expressed concerns about possible impending Commonwealth action against the Maldives.

Earlier, President Waheed’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News that although the government was not currently seeking to reassess its Commonwealth membership, it was concerned over the language in the CMAG statement.

“We condemn the language used and the foreign minister has conveyed this as well,” he said. “If this language continues, we will look to consider our position [in the Commonwealth],” said Riza at the time.


Commonwealth suspends Maldives from CMAG, calls for “formal” investigation with “international participation”

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has refrained from declaring whether the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed was constitutional, but has called for a “formal” independent and impartial investigation with the involvement of international partners.

In a press conference held in London on Wednesday, CMAG noted the formation of an inquiry by the new Maldivian government, but said it “strongly felt that there should be international participation in any investigative mechanism, as may be mutually agreed by political parties in Maldives.”

Echoing calls from other international bodies including the European Union, the Commonwealth called on President Waheed and former President Nasheed “to commence an immediate dialogue, without preconditions, to agree on a date for early elections, which should take place within this calendar year.”

Such a dialogue, CMAG urged, “should facilitate the opening of the Majlis (parliament) session as scheduled on 1 March 2012.”

“This dialogue should lead to collaboration on the passage of the necessary constitutional amendment for the holding of early elections, as well as such legislation that needs to be passed to ensure peaceful, inclusive and credible elections,” CMAG stated.

CMAG further expressed “strong concern” at the ongoing arrest warrant issued against former President Nasheed, “and urged that this issue be addressed in order that his ability to participate fully in the electoral process is not prejudiced.”

Furthermore, “given the questions that remain about the precise circumstances of the change of government, as well as the fragility of the situation in Maldives, CMAG decided that Maldives should be placed on its formal agenda.”

The Maldives would no longer participate in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group while it remained on the Commonwealth’s watch list, the statement added, however the country would not be suspended from the Commonwealth itself.

“The Group further agreed that, in line with the agreed parliamentary agenda and matters emerging from the dialogue, the Commonwealth should enhance its technical assistance to Maldives to help build capacity in such areas as the Judiciary and the Parliament, and that of the Elections Commission, as well as to promote adherence to democratic values and principles.

“In particular, it urged the Commonwealth to support the Elections Commission as well as to engage with all stakeholders towards ensuring the credibility and peaceful conduct of the next elections. It recommended the expeditious development of a code of conduct for political parties in the lead-up to the elections.”

Responding to questions at the London press conference, CMAG stated that the circumstances of Nasheed’s resignation “remain unclear to us” and said that “a more formal inquiry is needed, with international support.”

“Both parties have requested the help of the secretariat, and CMAG has made clear it is fully supportive and will lend what support it can.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) issued a statement on Wednesday evening “fully endorsing” CMAG’s recommendations.

“First, that an independent and impartial investigation of the events of 6-7 February should be completed in a transparent manner within a reasonable timeframe, and that there should be international participation in any investigative mechanism, as may be mutually agreed by political parties in Maldives. MDP notes that, unfortunately, Dr Waheed has already failed to comply with this recommendation,” the party said, referring to his appointment of two former ministers of Gayoom’s regime to the inquiry commission, including the former defence minister.

“Second, that key parties to the crisis should commence an immediate dialogue, without preconditions, to agree on a date for early elections, which should take place within this calendar year. The MDP remains ready to participate in serious discussions in this regard with other political parties that have a democratic mandate.”

“Third that such a dialogue should facilitate the opening of the Parliament session as scheduled on 1 March 2012, which should in turn lead to collaboration on the passage of the necessary constitutional amendment for the holding of early elections, as well as such legislation that needs to be passed to ensure peaceful, inclusive and credible elections. MDP believes securing such amendments should be the sole focus of the new parliamentary session. Other parliamentary business, including the annual Presidential Address, must be cancelled.”

“Fourth, the decision to appoint a Special Envoy to the Maldives, and the call for all sides to respect human rights and refrain from violence and incitement.”

The MDP further agreed with CMAG’s decision to suspend the country’s membership of CMAG “until such a time as the crisis is resolved and until a democratically-elected government once again holds office.”

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan meanwhile responded thanking CMAG for its recommendations, “recognising the challenges we face as a nation and the honest attempts of the National Unity Government to deal with them.”

“The CMAG recognises that progress will only be made if peace and harmony return to our streets, political parties put aside partisan advantage and put the nation first, all parties join in a genuine dialogue without preconditions.

“We have already established an Independent National Enquiry Commission look into the events surrounding the transfer of power on February 7. Clearly as it is independent it will be for them to decide if they wish to take up the generous offer of international assistance in its deliberations,” Dr Waheed said.