Maldives must ensure it does not become hub for people smuggling: Defence minister

With additional reporting by Lucy Lovell

The Maldives should take precautionary steps to ensure that it does not become a hub for people smuggling, Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim said on Sunday.

“This smuggling of people is done by garnering a lot of financial aid. People smuggling has become a huge business globally.”

“We must do all necessary to inhibit people smuggling through the Maldives,” said the minister.

Despite the recent introduction of legislation to address the country’s longstanding problems with human trafficking, doubts persist over implementation, as well as the law’s capacity to prosecute human smuggling – different to trafficking in that individuals give a measure of consent to be transported illegally.

Speaking at the inauguration of a workshop titled ‘Capacity Building for Front line Investigation and Border Control Officers to Combat People Smuggling’ – which started in Kurumba Island Resort on Sunday – Nazim spoke of the important role that can be played by immigration and police officers to prevent people smuggling.

He further stated that the immigration cell established at the Immigration Department needs to further develop and function more strongly in the future.

“We in the Maldives do not want anyone to use our borders to illegally cross into other countries. Even quite recently, we came across some Syrians who used the Maldives as an intermediary to travel onto another country.”

“We must ensure that the Maldivian border is one which is safe and protected, and that people are aware of this security,” added Nazim during the event organised by the International Organisation for Migration, and the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Smuggling concerns

The defence minister – also in charge of the immigration department – announced plans to apprehend and deport all undocumented foreign workers from the capital Malé within four months.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives recently estimated that the number of migrant workers in the country could number as many as 200,000 – a figure that amounts to two thirds of the country’s population.

The Maldives’ first anti trafficking legislation was ratified by President Abdulla Yameen in December last year, receiving a mixed responses from the Human Rights Commission Maldives (HRCM).

Assistant Controller Ali Ashraf from the HRCM described the new legislation at the time as “an excellent piece of work”, though he noted that the failure to include the category of smuggling in the act made it very likely that offenders would be able to evade prosecution.

“The definition of trafficking can be twisted so easily,” warned Ashraf.

The HRCM has also raised the issue of Syrian refugees – mentioned by the defence minister today – using the Maldives as a transit point back in November 2013.

A leaked document from the immigration department, obtained by Minivan News last year, that the Maldives status as a tourist hub granting free visas upon arrival to over one million tourists a year, made it increasingly attractive as a transit destination

Previous case studies on several refugees appeared to reveal inconsistencies with the immigration department’s decisions, with similar refugee cases receiving different verdicts from Maldivian authorities.

HRCM member Jeehan Mahmood argued that the government’s inconsistencies resulted in discriminatory practices inappropriate to a country aspiring to uphold its human rights obligations.


Senior military officers send “letter of concern” to Chief of Defence Force

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed and Mohamed Naahii

Senior officers in the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) have sent a “letter of concern” to Chief of Defence Force Major-General Ahmed Shiyam, following the failure of the country to hold scheduled elections on Saturday (September 28).

Police surrounded the Elections Commission (EC) on Friday with orders from Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz to storm the building and confiscate ballot papers should the EC continue to attempt to hold the election.

The Supreme Court had the previous evening opened at midnight to order security forces to physically obstruct the election in line with its earlier suspension, invoking article 237 of the Constitution, concerning the authority of the security services to “protect the nation’s sovereignty, maintain its territorial integrity, defend the constitution and democratic institutions, maintain and enforce law and order, and render assistance in emergencies.”

The MNDF’s letter to Major-General Shiyam was initially signed by four senior officers, but 16 officers across the top brass subsequently added their names to it.

MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem, himself a signatory, confirmed the letter’s existence to Minivan News.

“It was to inform the leadership of our concerns about political turbulence in the country right now and how the military should plan and prepare for it,” Colonel Raheem said, and implied that it was not unusual for senior officers to brief the Chief of Defence on such matters.

One signing officer told Minivan News on condition of anonymity: “This is not a petition. It is a letter of concern over the Supreme Court’s order to delay elections, the failure of state institutions, and the possible politicisation of the military, and asking that unconstitutional orders not be issued,”

The officer said the letter had been signed by ranks including Generals, Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels, Captains, First Lieutenants, Sergeant Majors and Warrant Officers.

The 3000-strong MNDF is responsible not just for defence, but also the Coastguard and civil services such as firefighting and rescue operations.

The letter seems to have prompted an internal shuffle in the organisation, including a marine commander switched to another unit. One resignation letter obtained by Minivan News, of First Lieutenant Mohamed Haleem, was addressed to Defence Minister Retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim.

“I do not believe the security services are currently adhering to the constitutional provisions stated in articles 237 and 238. Also, while the spirit of article 246 of the constitution is, to refrain from political affiliations and to treat equally among the people and different groups, respecting the principles of Islam and human dignity, I do not see this currently happening [within the security services],” First Lieutenant Haleem stated.

“For the last 23 years [of my military service]; I have served this country under a solemn oath taken in the name of Allah, I do not see any way that I can carry out my duties as prescribed in the constitution and the military act, while in this position, therefore I request you to relieve me from my duties,” he concluded.

Former Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, who as a junior soldier was instrumental in defending the Maldives from the coup attempt of 1988 which saw 80 mercenaries from the Tamil militant group the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) launch a frontal assault on the Maldives’ military headquarters, issued a letter today over social media.

“My advice to the military officers is: ‘Do not give the opportunity to anyone who plans to rule this country by taking the laws to their own hands and override the constitution and undermine the constitutional framework of this country’,” wrote Didi, who was the Male’ Area Commander during the 7 February 2012 controversial power transfer before resigning “prematurely” from his 32 year career on July 16, 2012.

“Given the sad state of affairs this country has fallen to, as a person who came out to sacrifice my life to protect holy Islam and this nation when required, as a person who would still take any action required in the best interest of this country, people and religion and as a person who has been trained and acquired military expertise at the expense of the public funds, I could not remain silent today. I believe it is a national and a religious duty to say something on the issue,” he wrote.

This country is in a state of chaos since February 7, 2012. The government elected by people of this country were not given the opportunity to breathe. Opposition politicians, businessmen and religious clerics who supported them were continuously seen calling for the ousting of the government.

The people within the government were claiming that the opposition was insincere and irresponsible. The opposition claimed that the government officials were insincere and irresponsible. In this situation, conflicts between three powers of the state led to the military being unduly influenced.

Also, it is shameful and unacceptable in such a highly polarised society to see the government which the military ought to legally defend, regardless for whatever reason, be thrown out to the street.

In that circumstance, the international community saw the best solution for the country was to find a peaceful solution. And in that discourse, they saw the need to facilitate a presidential election, in which the people would make the ultimate decision. [It had to be this way] because of the conflicts within the three powers of the state and between these powers.

With that, I must disappointingly highlight that I am seeing the country falling into a state of chaos. I have heard some businessmen claiming that the only solution left for the country is a military solution. I am ready to challenge those who say this. That is a theory based on lies, deception and greed which only serves them a temporary benefit. We have seen what happened to countries that followed this theory.

In this situation, my advice to the military officers is, do not give the opportunity to anyone who plan to rule this country by taking the laws to their own hands and override the constitution and undermine the constitutional framework of this country.

The reason is, if such a thing happens, it would be all of us, our children and our children’s children who would suffer the consequences.

What does the constitution say about this? Article 268 says that any act committed in contrast with the constitution is void and invalid.

Article 124 states that in case of incapacity of the President and Vice President, it must be the Speaker of Parliament who takes up the duties and responsibilities in running the state.

Article 107 states that the duration of a presidential term is five years.

Therefore after November 11, 2013, regardless of who gives the orders and regardless of the situation, I sincerely urge the military to not let anyone take over the country in contrast with the provisions in the constitution, as this would have dire consequences. I request all military officers to sincerely and peacefully protect the interests of this country in such a situation.

By any means, the head of state should not be someone who assumed powers in contrast to the constitution of this country.

Translated from Dhivehi – read original


PISCES “enhancements” will match Nexbis technology: Defence Minister

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim has said that “enhancements” will be made to US Government-supplied border controls in the next few days, amidst allegations the technology is not an adequate replacement for the scrapped Nexbis system.

Amendments will be made to the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) installed this week in order to ensure the US technology “matches” the capabilities of a previous border system provided by Malaysia-based IT group Nexbis, Nazim told Minivan News yesterday (August 21).

Nexbis’ border control system, used at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) since September 2012, was replaced on August 20 following the government’s decision to terminate its concession agreement for the use and management of the system.

The US-provided PISCES system would only provide one of several functions afforded by the “total solution” Nexbis had installed, alleged a local source experienced in working with both border control systems. The source spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

The two systems are not compatible – at present PISCES can handle just one of the many modules managed by technology provided by Nexbis, the source continued.

“Nexbis provided a total solution that not only allowed for checking of biometric data, but would also be used to process visas and work permits.”

By comparison, the source claimed that PISCES was expected to serve effectively as an extension of the US government’s own border tracking system, allowing the country – as well as Maldives officials – to monitor the movements of specific individuals passing through the country.

Meanwhile, Nazim claimed that PISCES, which went into operation at INIA yesterday (August 20), was continuing to be developed by US and local authorities in order to meet the criteria required by Maldives immigration officials.

“During training [to use the system], we realised that we needed to do enhancements,” he said.

US officials are continuing to work with authorities to provide PISCES technical support, which had been provided as a “free gift” by the US government under a Memorandum of Intention agreed in March this year, added Nazim.

Asked if the country’s border controls could be open to abuse while these enhancements were being implemented, Nazim responded that several amendments were expected to be completed in the coming days.

“Total solution” to be replaced with “terrorist tracking”

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has confirmed that the PISCES system came into operation yesterday morning, with officials representing Nexbis and the government present to oversee the transfer of technology.

The system was functioning and had been transferred without many issues after coming online this week, said Immigration Department Spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf.

PISCES is still presently reliant on data from the Nexbis system, though technical staff from the Malaysian firm and the Immigration Department were currently working on transferring the necessary information, said Ashraf.

However, immigration officials today requested Minivan News contact the Ministry of Defence over alleged challenges resulting from the implementation of the PISCES system.

A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Sri Lanka reiterated comments made in an official statement released in March that the system had been “tailored to the Maldives’ specific border control needs”.

Nexbis last week rubbished the Maldivian government’s reasons for terminating their agreement to build and operate a new border control system, accusing human traffickers – fearful of a more comprehensive system – of being behind the decision.

“The US PISCES system that is meant to replace the MIBCS [Nexbis system] is not a border control system nor is it an immigration solution, rather it is a terrorist tracking system that simply captures information of travellers and Maldivians who transit in and out of the country,” read an official statement.

In June, the Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.

The PISCES system, designed by US tech firm Booz Allen Hamilton, has already been implemented in numerous other countries around the world, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Thailand.

Nexbis’s statement also took issue with Defence Minister Nazim’s claims that the installation of its system was causing “major losses” to the state – this claim was reported in local media on August 6 when the Malaysian company was informed it had 14 days to vacate the country.

Nexbis contended that the official notice of the termination it had received contradicted the statement given by the Defence Minister.

The company argued that its system was also installed and operated free of charge, and that the US$2.8million it had billed the government was the amount due for the arrival and departure of foreigners as per the original agreement.

The terms of the agreement are governed under Singapore law, as are those of the GMR airport contract – terminated in November last year. The cancellation of this deal, the largest foreign direct investment in the country’s history, has led the GMR to seek US$1.4billion in compensation.

The Nexbis deal has been dogged by allegations of corruption since it was agreed under the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010. The failure of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to conclusively prove foul play in this respect has exonerated Nexbis from such charges, the company has claimed.


Summary: Testimony of Brigadier General Nilam to Government Oversight Committee

Following is a summary of the testimony (Dhivehi) of Brigadier General Ahmed Nilam of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) to parliament’s Government Oversight Committee on January 9, 2013.

Brigadier General Ahmed Nilam was head of military intelligence until late 2011. At the time of the transfer of power, General Nilam was commander of the marine corp. In the wake of his testimony to the Government Oversight Committee, General Nilam was suspended and relieved of his duties by Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim on January 18, 2013.

As his first intimation of a plot to overthrow the government through the security services, Nilam took note of an opposition demonstration on January 24, 2010, during which Umar Naseer led protesters to the MNDF headquarters and rattled the gates.

“My field officers [in the intelligence department] said they were seeing signs of something abnormal about to happen. But we could not know what it was, right?”

Nilam ordered the gates to be shut before the protesters made their way to the Republic Square or the “green zone” where gatherings are prohibited.

“I see now that there is a connection between the incidents that night and February 6. This is what I feel.”

In November 2010, a senior officer serving under the Vice Chief of Defence Forces Farhath Shaheer shared information of an alleged plot to assassinate President Mohamed Nasheed during a live-fire exercise on November 11, 2010. Based on the forewarning, President Nasheed did not attend the Republic Day function. The case was sent to police for further investigation.

In late 2011, then-Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaan removed Nilam from his post as head of military intelligence. Within three months, he was appointed to two posts before being made commander of the marine corp.

Nilam learned that Tholhath made the decision on his own without consulting the commander-in-chief. Nilam saw that President Nasheed trusted the defence minister.

In November 2011, Nilam sent a six or seven page letter to President Nasheed expressing concern with Tholhath’s actions. The defence minister was interested in “very quickly purchasing expensive instruments.” Tholhath also made a number of changes to the military top brass, shuffling senior officers, including Commander of Special Forces Colonel Giyas.

A month after Nilam was removed as head of intelligence, his former deputy, Colonel Abdulla Zuhuree, was also transferred.

Prior to the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, General Nilam participated in a meeting on January 15, 2012 with the Supreme Court bench, senior police officers and military officers to discuss national security threats posed by the judiciary.

In a meeting with senior military officers a day before, Tholhath spoke about taking the judge under military custody. Nilam opined that any person could be detained if he was a threat to national security. He however advised against moving too quickly and suggested planning and coordination with other institutions.

But the minister wanted it done immediately and asserted that he would take responsibility “even after 40 years.” Police had officially requested military assistance at the time in accordance with the law.

On the night of February 6, 2012, Nilam was unaware that the military was brought to red alert, the highest security status. He found out later from a timeline of events. Contrary to normal procedure, the duty head did not inform him nor was a message sent.

Nilam was having coffee with Chief of Defence Forces Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel when he saw Specialist Operations (SO) police on television running towards the artificial beach. The generals then made their way to the operation room. Both were in plainclothes. Nilam did not have any operational command at the time.

Shortly afterwards, SO officers returned to the Republic Square and began their protest or strike. Nilam decided against going to the barracks at Kalhuthukkala Koshi for his uniform.

“I felt staying inside would be better than going because it was unclear how this was unfolding. So I stayed as I was. It kept getting dragged on and on. And as I recall the then-President came [to the military headquarters] some time around dawn.”

Fearful of the potential threat to domestic security, Nilam remained inside the operation room and returned to the room despite being sent out six or seven times by Tholhath.

Nilam stayed close to President Nasheed, who was asking the operation commanders to clear the Republic Square of mutinying police. Nilam warned of dangerous consequences if the situation dragged on and worsened. He later learned that the military ranks were not functioning and some soldiers wanted to join the mutiny.

Nilam thought that a violent confrontation between police and the military might have been the desired outcome of the then-opposition. After the break of dawn, President Nasheed went out and addressed the mutinying police but they remained defiant.

More police officers kept joining the protest at Republic Square as false rumours began to circulate. About 45 soldiers from Kalhuthukkala Koshi came to the Republic Square. Nilam learned later that military police opened the gates to let the soldiers out.

Military officers also joined the police officers and opposition activists in taking over state broadcaster MNBC.

The president, defence minister and chief of defence forces were issuing orders because “the [military] lines weren’t working.”

“I was really saddened. This was not something I ever saw inside the military. There has been insubordination. There are former officers here [among MPs on the committee]. There is insubordination. But things have never happened like this in such an operation.”

Nilam saw a president in a “very helpless state”, which was “a sad moment.”

“We are entrusted with the duty and responsibility of protecting the country’s independence and sovereignty. It is truly disturbing to see something like that from [the military].”

The situation inside the barracks was chaotic. Soldiers were filming on their phones or cameras although it was strictly prohibited.

Nilam also learned that the military did not have “any control of [presidential residence] Muleeage after 7:00am or 7:30am in the morning.”

Police and ex-servicemen entered Muleeage after 7:15am on February 7. Nilam heard later that some officers of the Special Protection Group (SPG) guarding the President and Vice-President had joined the mutiny.

He also learned later that First Lady Madam Laila Ali was taken out of the presidential residence in a car whose number plates had been changed to avoid detection.

Nilam was surprised and saddened when the CoNI report did not include any recommendations for the MNDF. He believed it was important to thoroughly investigate the role of the military in the events of the day.

“That is because if something like this happens and it is not investigated, the consequences will be very dangerous. We are in that state now.”

Following the change of government, Defence Minister Nazim asked Nilam if he believed the transfer of power amounted to a coup or a revolution.

Nilam replied, “Looking at it academically, this has all the characteristics of a coup. Some signs are what would happen before while other signs are what occurs during the event. Then we have what happens afterward. I have even looked into this and studied this along principles that academicians would consider. So I told [Nazim] that this has all the characteristics. He didn’t say anything else.”

Under Maldivian law, a “coup d’etat” could not be carried out without the military’s involvement as the offence is specified and prohibited in the Defence Forces Act of 2008.

Inside the military headquarters, Nilam overheard President Nasheed refuse assistance from two foreign nations before he decided to resign.

“[The President] said this is an internal matter. He answered both calls in much the same way.”

Considering the chaotic situation at the Republic Square, there was possibility of bloodshed “if it dragged on” and the president’s life was in danger.

Nilam was present when current Defence Minister Nazim relayed the ultimatum to Tholhath for the president’s “unconditional” resignation.

Nilam saw military officers bang the president’s car with their boots while he was escorted to the President’s Office from the military headquarters. He also noted that current Chief of Defence Forces General Ahmed Shiyam took over as acting chief before President Nasheed officially resigned.

“There are a lot of questions here. I believe that this should be investigated thoroughly and looked into. These are very serious matters.”


Defence Minister launches defamation case against Nasheed over “traitor” allegations

The first hearing of a defamation case filed by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim against former President Mohamed Nasheed took place at the Civil Court today, with MVR 3.75 million (US$243,506) being sought in compensation.

The hearing was attended by legal representatives for both Mohamed Nazim and former President Nasheed, who was today detained by police for a separate criminal trial over the detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Nazim’s lawyer told the court that the defence minister’s good name and reputation had been affected by claims made by Nasheed, who had called his client a traitor during a public address at a rally following February’s controversial transfer of power.

Newspaper ‘Haveeru’ reported at the time that following Nasheed’s speech, a group of protesters came outside Nazim’s house and that it had “left Nazim’s family in fear”.

Former Youth Minister Dr Hassan Latheef attended today’s hearing to represent Nasheed, telling the presiding judge that the former president denied the charges against him.

Latheef told the court that evidence would be provided to support Nasheed’s allegations, adding that the former president would want to produce such evidence to the court.

The next hearing for the case is now expected to take place will held a week on Thursday (October 18) . The presiding judge also said that during the next hearing Nasheed’s lawyer will get his chance to respond to the charges.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed was arrested this morning after Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court issued an arrest warrant. The warrant was issued after Nasheed ignored court summons to produce himself to the court for the hearing of a case filed against him for ‘’unlawful’’ arrest of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed.

Nasheed was at Fresmathoda Island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll campaigning for the next presidential elections when he was arrested.

Another case of defamation has also been filed by Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz at the Civil Court against Nasheed. A hearing in to the case was recently scheduled but before the scheduled time it was cancelled.  Local media reports say that the hearing was postponed upon Riyaz’s request.

Back in April, the Maldives Police Service had forwarded a case concerning alcohol bottles allegedly confiscated from the home of Nasheed to the Prosecutor General’s (PG’s) Office.

A source with knowledge of the case has told Minivan News that the PG’s Office had decided that evidence provided by police at the time had not been obtained under the required procedures and regulations.

The source who wished to remain anonymous, said the PG had requested that police resubmit the case with evidence that was “legally obtained”, if the case was to proceed to a criminal hearing – a request that had not been forthcoming so far.

Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press for an official response.