Parliamentary debate begins on special economic zones bill

Preliminary debate on the government’s flagship special economic zones (SEZs) legislation began today with opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs warning that the envisaged law could turn the Maldives into a haven for “money laundering and washing black money.”

If the bill is passed into law, the government could hand out uninhabited islands or plots of land for periods, prices, and terms of its choosing without either parliamentary oversight or a role for local councils, contended MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef.

“The Maldives could become a machine for money laundering and turning black money white,” he added.

If the country becomes a money laundering destination for international criminal enterprises, Shareef warned that developed nations could impose sanctions on the Maldives.

Shareef also expressed concern with the impact of tax exemptions for investors in the SEZs on the local tourism industry.

Among other MDP MPs who spoke during the debate, MP Ahmed Nashid noted that the bill “supersedes” 14 other laws while MP Abdul Gafoor Moosa insisted that the legislation should be amended with the input of the main opposition party.

Speaking at an MDP gathering last week, former President Mohamed Nasheed had dubbed the SEZ legislation the “Artur Brothers bill,” referring to the infamous Armenians linked with money laundering and drug trafficking who made headlines in Maldivian media last year after they were photographed with cabinet ministers.

Nasheed claimed that the zones are intended for criminal activity, money laundering, gambling, and “other irreligious activities.”

The Maldivian government’s liaison officer in Addu during British occupation of Gan island had more authority and freedom than what the government would have in the SEZs, Nasheed contended.


Introducing the 70-page draft legislation (Dhivehi), MP Ahmed Nihan – parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – stressed that the bill includes provisions for terminating agreements with investors if an act of corruption specified in the International Convention against Corruption is proved.

The MP for Vilimale’ appealed for “cooperation and assistance” from opposition MPs in reviewing the legislation and addressing shortcomings at the committee stage.

In the ensuing debate, Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Ibrahim Hassan declared support for the legislation but suggested that the power to form a board of investment to oversee the zones should not be vested solely with the president.

JP MP Moosa Nizar Ibrahim suggested that environmental and national security concerns should be addressed, while JP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed said the bill contained “serious problems.”

While supporting the “concept” of SEZs, Ilham expressed concern with the bill offering tax exemptions to investors for a 10-year period and allowing uninhabited islands to be leased without advance payments.

The government would not receive any revenue from investors during the 10-year period, he noted, while investors would enjoy subsidised staple foodstuffs.


PPM MP Jameel Usman argued that the bill was intended to assure investor confidence and offer incentives to choose the Maldives over other developing economies in the region.

SEZs in the Dominican Republic and Philippines created thousands of jobs, noted PPM MP Abdulla Rifau, suggesting that new jobs for Maldivian youth would make up for lost tax revenue.

Moreover, the bill requires investors to carry out corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, he added.

Incentives for investors offered in the bill include tax exemptions and relaxed regulations for employing foreign labour.

Investors would be exempted from paying either import duties for capital goods or business profit tax, goods and services tax and withholding tax.

Moreover, regulations on foreign workers would be relaxed while companies with foreign shareholders would be allowed to purchase land without paying privatisation fees or sales tax.

Geographical areas or regions declared an SEZ by the president would also be removed from the jurisdiction of local councils.

The nine SEZs envisioned in the bill includes an industrial estate zone, export processing zone, free trade zone, enterprise zone, free port zone, single factory export processing zone, offshore banking unit zone, offshore financial services centre zone, and a high technology park zone.

President Abdulla Yameen had declared in April that the SEZ bill would become “a landmark law” that would strengthen the country’s foreign investment regime.


Doctor’s passport held as drug kingpin’s medical release investigated

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has confiscated the passport of an expatriate doctor who signed the medical report recommending that Ibrahim Shafaz Abdul Razzaq be sent abroad for medical treatment.

Shafaz was sentenced to 18 years in prison last November for drug trafficking, but was permitted to leave the country unaccompanied in February. Shortly after his arrival in Sri Lanka, Shafaz asked the High Court to review his sentence.

The ACC has told the local media that the doctor’s passport was held last week after a warrant had been obtained  from the Criminal Court.

Speaking to Minivan News today, President of ACC Hassan Luthfy said that he could not give any information except to confirm that the passport of an expatriate doctor had been held by the commission.

He said that detailed information on the case will be revealed to the media as soon as the commission concludes its investigation.

Commissioner of Prisons Moosa Azim has previously told Minivan News that all due procedures had been followed in allowing Shafaz to leave to get medical treatment.

“A medical officer does not have to accompany the inmate. He was allowed to leave under an agreement with his family. Family members will be held accountable for his actions, including failure to return,” Azim told Minivan News at the time.

Shafaz was arrested on June 24, 2011 with 896 grams of heroin from a rented apartment in a building owned by PPM MP Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem.

Former head of the Drug Enforcement Department, Superintendent Mohamed Jinah, told the press at the time that police had raided Henveiru Fashan based on intelligence information gathered in the two-year long ‘Operation Challenge’.

Jihah labeled Shafaz a high-profile drug dealer suspected of smuggling and supplying drugs since 2006.

He claimed that the network had smuggled drugs worth MVR1.3 million (US$84,306) to the Maldives between February and April 2011.

Since the formation of the new government late last year, the Home Ministry has made the combating of illegal drugs its top priority, culminating in the confiscation of a record 24kg of heroin.


Police bust trafficking network, arrest man with swallowed drugs

Maldives Police Service (MPS) arrested a 44 year old man in Male’ who had swallowed drugs, at midnight yesterday (March 3). After scanning the person at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, police was able to confirm that he had drugs inside his body.

In addition to him, another 21 year old who helped accommodate the person was also arrested. Police also searched a house in Male’ in the operation and found related documents and more than US$4000 in cash.

As the investigations continue, the police are now looking for a suspect believed to be part of this trafficking network – Mohamed Ihsan Saeed, 24.
According to MPS Ihsan has prior criminal records such as gang activity, disobeying police orders and damaging police property.


Eight arrested in drug bust with more than 300k in cash

Police arrested eight Maldivians with illegal narcotics and more than MVR140,000 (US$9,000) and US$11,000 in cash from a residence in Malé yesterday.

In addition to the drugs and cash seized after searching Maafanu Zillion with a court warrant, police discovered a caged slow loris. The importation and sale of the endangered primate species is illegal in the country.

The house was searched based on information of a “wide drug network” obtained by police drug intelligence.

Yesterday’s raid followed a similar operation earlier in the month, in which a 23-year-old suspected of supplying illegal drugs was arrested – also in Maafanu ward. Official statistics reveal drug-related offences reported to police had risen by 84 percent between 2012 and 2013.

The suspects taken into custody yesterday included three men aged 20, 24 and 53 as well as three women aged 19, 35 and 47.

The Criminal Court today extended the remand detention of the 20-year-old man and 35-year-old woman to 15 days and granted a three-day extension for the remaining four suspects.

Police also found a liquor bottle and a handcuff from the adjoining residence, Maafanu Zefiah, and took two men aged 21 and 28 into custody.

According to the police Drug Enforcement Department (DED), the street value of the drugs seized from Maafanu Zillion was more than MVR200,000 (US$12,970).

The drugs were found in five small film canisters and a large rubber packet.

Among other items confiscated from M. Zillion – located near the Maafanu police station – included four sex toys, empty bottles of alcohol, walkie talkies of the Kenwood brand used at construction sites, 39 cans of beer and equipment used for packing drugs.

The search operation conducted jointly by the DED, drug intelligence department and the Specialist Operations (SO) command concluded at 5:30pm on Monday.

The case is currently investigation by the DED and the Criminal Investigation Department.

Police further revealed that the 47-year-old woman had previously been convicted for drug trafficking and sentenced to 25 years in prison. She was however transferred to house arrest on December 6, 2008 due to poor health.

Local daily Haveeru reported today that the woman was convicted in late 2007 for assisting her son – who was in grade nine at the time – to buy and sell drugs.

The conviction was upheld by the High Court in 2012 following an appeal on the grounds that the woman suffered from a mental illness.

During an interview with Minivan News this month, Home Minister Umar Naseer said that the main target of his ministry for the next five years would be to curb drug-related crimes.

Naseer said that he intended to give high priority to enhancing the customs services in order to stop illegal drugs and other contraband from being smuggled in to the country. He also said that the police intelligence department was being expanded.

Speaking about reducing drug-related crimes, Naseer said that he would focus more on major drug dealers, rather than those further down the criminal hierarchy.

The home minister also pledged to find ways to enforce Maldivian law on drug lords living overseas who were allegedly involved in the drug trafficking in the Maldives.


Police raid Malé house, finding large amounts of cash and drugs

Police have searched the house of an alleged drug lord who is believed to have been smuggling drugs in to the country. The individual himself has also been arrested.

The police did not reveal the identity of the man but said he was 30 years old.

According to the police, when officers searched his house ‘Finifenjambuge’ in Mahchangolhi ward, police found large amounts of money and drugs inside the premises.


Police charge six Maldivians, six Indians with smuggling drugs

Police have forwarded the names of six Maldivian and six Indian nationals to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) in connection to the smuggling of nine kilograms of illegal drugs into the country in November 2012 on a cargo boat named Ms Silver Cloud.

In a statement issued today, the police identified the six Maldivians as Ali Imran, 45, of Mahchangolhi Coconut House; Ibrahim Shihab, 25, of Villingili; Ilyas Ahmed, 29, of Henveiru Kahafathi; Hassan Shimaz, 28, of Mahchangolhi Canovo House; Mohamed Hameed, 27, of Rathafandhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll; and Ahmed Visam, 28, of Maafannu Boiling House.

The Indian nationals were identified as Sahubarali Abubaidha, 54; S.Mariya Anthony Christo, 27; Anthony Selvoraj, 58; D.Silva Paruthipan, 28; A. Kingston, 29; and M. Anantha Kurmar, 23.

The police stated that these men were apprehended on 27 November 2012 in a joint special operation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Department (DED) and the Customs Service.

According to the statement, they were alleged to have been caught in the act of throwing the drugs onto Boduthakurufaanu Magu over the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) wall, with Maldivian men waiting on Boduthakurufaanu Magu to receive it.
Police said some of them were already leaving the area after receiving the drugs when police arrested them.

Those found on the boat were searched under a warrant, and police discovered 9kg of illegal drugs which tested positive to cannabis and diamorphin.

Police said that all the Maldivians arrested in connection with the case had previous records of theft and drugs recorded at police.

‘Silver Cloud 49’, is a vessel used to carry goods from India to the Maldives. In November last year it came to the Maldives to unload eggs, potatoes, and onions that were to be brought to the Maldives from Tuticorin port in India.
On November 28, 2012, police told the media that one of the six suspects was arrested on allegations that he was the ringleader responsible for trafficking illegal drugs into the Maldives.

Police said the man was arrested while he was inside a room at Kunnumalaage in Maafannu ward.

When police officers searched Kunnumalaage they discovered more than MVR1million, US$11,318, and EUR 39,725, as well as currencies of 11 other nations, police said.

Police at the time searched other houses in connection with the case including coconut House in Mahchangolhi Ward and Moonlight View in Galolhu Ward.

According to police, officers discovered a further MVR134,050, US$2,200, and tools used to pack drugs in Coconut House.

The police also released the video footage of the operation.

Deputy Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed at the time tweeted that the street value of the drugs discovered during the operation would reach over MVR 10million (US$648,000).


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.


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.”


Police arrest four people after seizing 91 bullet-sized narcotic packages

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) have seized 91 bullet-sized packets of suspected narcotics, arresting four suspects in connection with the haul on Friday (December 14).

All four suspects were arrested at the ‘Reyalivaa Guest House’ property, according to a press release issued by the MPS.

Police have claimed that the raid on the property was carried out jointly by its drug enforcement department and intelligence department, based on information it had received.

Authorities added that the suspects, who were all arrested under court warrants, included a 19 year -old-female and three males aged 29, 24 and 22.

Investigations are said to be ongoing, according to police.


Laamu drug kingpin sentenced to 25 years imprisonment

The Criminal Court on Wednesday sentenced a man identified by the police as one of the top drug dealers in the Maldives to 25 year imprisonment for illegal trade of narcotics, with an additional five years for possessing an illegal narcotic without a prescription.

The Criminal Court identified the person as Hassan Yousuf, Mathimaradhoo ward of Gan in Laamu Atoll.

The court saidthat  according to police officers that attended the scene to arrest Yousuf, he was holding a cigarette pack in his hand when he saw the officers and he threw the pack away.

When police picked up the cigarette pack and searched it, they found two grams of heroin inside.

Yousuf was arrested last year September in a special operation conducted by police, after they were informed that he was in possession of illegal narcotics.

“Police and society have recognised him as the top dealer in Laamu Atoll, and he has now been caught for the second time,’’ said Head of Drug Enforcement Department Superintendent Ahmed Jinah, at the time. “A recent case involving him is in trial, and he was again caught with suspected narcotics.”

Jinah said Yousuf was in police custody and the court had granted an extension of his detention to 10 days.

“The atolls have lately been used by drug traffickers for transportation and establishing hideouts,’’ Jinah said. ‘’We have conducted special operations in the islands to curb the number of users and dealers, which is hard and challenging due to the low numbers of police officers in the atolls and the large areas [to cover].’’

Jinah in September said police had observed that Addu Atoll, Laamu Atoll and Noonu Atoll were being used by dealers and users for transportation of drugs and the construction of hideouts.

Another drug related case against Yousuf is still ongoing in the court.