Maldives to pardon Filipino fraudsters in exchange for Climate Summit support

The Maldives government intends to pardon seven Filipino nationals who were arrested in 2008 for credit card fraud and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The seven workers, identified by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as Kenneth Navarro, Lito Lago, Dario Agao, Christian Ryan Pineda, Jeffrey Jenkins, Gilbert Bendana and Joey Omawas, were employed at the Dome Cafe at the Maldives International Airport until they were arrested in 2008.

The Inquirer reported that the seven were initially jailed for a one and a half months after they were charged with theft and fraud for stealing a customer’s credit card and receiving items bought with the card in May 2008.

They were conditionally freed while their case was heard, but on February 17, 2009 were sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay Rf100,000 (US$77,800) in damages after the court found their statements were “conflicting”, and ruled that all of them were guilty.

“The Phillipines government has made a formal requet for clemency to be granted, and the President has given instructions for the request to be accomodated,” confirmed the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair.

The request had not yet been granted and the process was “ongoing”, Zuhair said, suggesting that should the prisoners be released, the government of the Phillipines “should underwrite the damages, or the government should request it. The issue of compensation is a legal matter,” he noted.

The Philippines government has meanwhile published a statement crediting the release of the seven waiters to a ‘farewell gift’ from President Mohamed Nasheed to outgoing Phillipines Ambassador to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, Zenaida Tacorda Rabago.

“Several avenues were sought for the release/deportation of the seven Filipinos” under the authority of pardon granted to President Nasheed through the recently approved Clemency Law, the release stated.

“In turn, President Nasheed requested that the Philippines support an Asian Summit on climate change,” and “intimated to the Ambassador the hiring of Filipino professionals from the medical, entertainment, and educational fields,” the statement read.

Rabago has also worked to free two Filipinos who have served seven months in jail while awaiting formal charges from the Sri Lankan Government.

State Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said the Ministry had not been given “any specific instructions” on the matter, but approved in principle.

“We need to send these people away because the jail system here is not conducive to holding foreigners,” he said, noting that the matter had been handed to the Clemency Board.

The Maldivian government is meanwhile working on repatriating Maldivian citizens imprisoned overseas. Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, speaking in a meeting at the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) headquaters, last week, announced that government would seek to return Maldivian detainees from Syria.

Dr Shaheed said that he would soon travel to Syria with the main purpose of releasing the Maldivian detainees from Syrian jails.

”The main reason of scheduled trip to Syria is to release the Maldivian detainees from prison,” Dr Shaheed said. ”Hopefully, we can release these prisoners and bring them back to the Maldives.”


Government to return Maldivian detainees from Syria

Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, speaking in a meeting at the Maldvian Democratic Party (MDP) headquaters, has announced that the government will return Maldivian detainees from Syria.

Dr Shaheed said that he would soon travel to Syria with the main purpose of releasing the Maldivian detainees from Syrian jails.

”The main reason of scheduled trip to Syria is to release the Maldivian detainees from prison,”  Dr Shaheed said. ”Hopefully, we can release these prisoners and bring them to the Maldives.”

He said the detainees had been kept there for a long time.

”We will bring them and hand over them to their parents,” he said.

He said the Foreign Ministry was a ministry which worked “in transparency making everything visible to the people”.

Speaking in the meeting, Dr Shaheed responded to claims made by the Peoples Alliances (PA) that the current government was trying “to please white people.”

”When the Maldives ran for a seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council, 185 countries voted for us. Are they all white people?” questioned Dr Shaheed.

”Last week the United Arab Emirates (UAE) asked us if they could establish a Maldivian Embassy. Are they also all white people?”

Dr Shaheed did not mention who the detainees were or what they had been arrested for.

Spokesperson for the Foreign ministry Irushadha Abdul Sattar said the ministry was trying to return two Maldivians detained in two different prisons in Syria.

Irushadha said that the two men were detained in Syria due to drug related charges.

”one of them has been detained since 2003 and the other since 2008,” She said.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom said if the detainees were Maldivians and innocent people, “the government should not wait a single minute without helping them.”

”If there are innocent Maldivians detained anywhere the government should help them,” Dr Mausoom said.

The Maldivian government has recently announced that it will resettle two detainees from Guantanamo Bay jail, creating public outcry. President Mohamed Nasheed dismissed concerns and claimed it was a “humanitarian” act.

Parliament’s National Security Committee is now investigating the case of the detainees the Maldivian government allegedly agreed to bring in to the country, which some MPs claimed might disrupt the peace and sovereignty of the country.

Dr Shaheed and State Foreign minister Ahmed Naseem was on an official trip and was unable to get a comment, while the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair is on leave.


Ali Waheed reports leaking of documents to police, “too late” says Zuhair

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Waheed has also reported the leakage of several document concerning the Guantanamo Bay detainees to police. The Foreign Ministry said it was reporting the matter to the police on Tuesday.

Press secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that Waheed was trying to escape after he was accused of being the recipient of a stolen secret document of the government.

Zuhair claimed Waheed had reported the case because ”he realised what he had done.”

”All the collaborators involved in the crime of stealing a government document and spreading it without clarifying its validity are also equally culpable,” said Zuhair. ‘They should be given the punishment that one receives for being a thief.”

Zuhair said the theft of the documents was a crime under articles 12 and 13 of the penal code.

”Politics is not an excuse for crime,” he said. ”Whoever stole the documents is a criminal shall be treated as a criminal.”

He said that government was not trying to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees into the country in secret.

”We will only bring him according to the law,” he said. ”What is the problem with it if he has a valid passport, the threat of being attacked if he goes back to his own country and he is a innocent Muslim?”

He said that Ali Waheed was aware the matter was not unlawful or dangerous, and dismissed counter-claims by the opposition as ”pure political circus”.

”That man [Waheed] has the look of a comedian,” Zuhair said.

Waheed, in a press conference yesterday, announced that he had reported the leaked document to police and said he had requested they investigate the case, so the government’s documents could be safely protected while the National Security Committee was investigating the Guantanamo Bay affair.

”I did not steal anything,” he claimed. “When I received government documents that I believed had the potential to harm the national security of the country I presented it to the national security committee to investigate,” he said.

”I do not believe that it is known as thieving. It was not leaked by my mistake.”

Foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has also reported the case to the police.

Dr Shaheed said the documents consisted of unofficial communications to the Maldives government from the US government, and a document sent to the Attorney General’s office by the Foreign Ministry.

Dr Shaheed said the documents also included an unofficial letter sent from the US discussing how a legal framework could be established to bring in the detainees.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair has recently said that the document was not leaked but was “deliberately stolen”, which he said caused “a lot of trouble” for the Maldives, by disrupting diplomatic relationships between countries.


“99.9 percent” sure detainees already in the Maldives: MP Nihan

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Nihan has said that he has information that the Guantanamo Bay detainees have been brought to the Maldives secretly.

”I am 99.9 percent sure that they are here. The information I received on the issue was from senior officials of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) who are very familiar with the case,” said Nihan.

Nihan said the absence of Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed from yesterday’s National Security Committee proved that there were “still hidden secrets behind the scenes.”

”If the government has not done anything unlawful and if they are so confident, why would they be so afraid to face the parliament and the people,” Nihan asked.

He claimed the government had kept the matter a secret ”but when the document was leaked the issue became heated and people became aware that this was happening.”

Nihan claimed that the Maldives was now at risk of becoming “a nest for terrorists.”

”When the country becomes a nest for terrorists, others will start hating us,” h said. ”Then we will see our little nation under attack by another country.”

He accused President Mohamed Nasheed of failing to disclose details of the case during his presidential radio address.

”He only briefly said that we should help the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, and urged the President of the United States to release the detainees and shut down the jail.”

Furthermore, Nihan claimed that the act of government could potentially disrupt the peace and sovereignty of the country, and claimed the Maldives may “turn into a terrorist hub.”

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said the foreign ministry did not want to comment on the issue.

However, Press secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair denied the suggestion made by Nihan and dismissed it as ”all lies.”

Zuhair said that Nihans aim was to hype up the population.

”The President gave information about the Maldives accepting Guantanamo detainees last year on November 9, 10 and 11 during his official speeches,” Zuhair said.


Claims of citizenship for Guantánamo detainees are “total lies”, says Attorney General

Attorney General Husnu Suood has described a claim by the Opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) that Guantánamo Bay detainees will get Maldivian citizenship as  “a total lie.”

After a meeting with the US Ambassador in Colombo last week, DQP has said the agreement between the US and Maldivian government involves granting citizenship to any detainees resettled in the country.

AG Suood said negotiations were still at a very “early stage” and added that claims of the government giving citizenship to foreign detainees were fabricated.

“We are not obliged to give citizenship to foreigners,” he said, noting the same guidelines would apply to a foreign detainee as to any other foreign national wishing to acquire Maldivian citizenship.

He said “we are still in the preliminary stages of negotiation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US Embassy and the governments,” and currently there is only “a basic text, a draft proposal” of the regulations and procedures for resettling Gitmo detainees in the country.

The AG’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will then make comments on the draft. “Based on that,” Suood said, “the ministry will negotiate.”

One of the conditions proposed by the US states that the Maldivian government shall “conduct surveillance on the prisoners while they are in the country, including monitoring their phone calls, letters and other communications.”

Additionally, they must “prevent them from leaving the country.”

Suood said “that’s what we’re seeking to clarify, how we deal with [the former inmates]”, and added that their comments and concerns would all be sent to the US Embassy before the transfer was formally accepted.

“There is no concrete agreement between the two countries as of yet,” he noted.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said “the government of Maldives supports President Obama’s plans to close Guantanamo,” adding that “a Palestinian gentleman is due to be transferred from Guantanamo to the Maldives.”

He said “the United States has cleared this Palestinian man of any association with terrorism or any violent activities,” and have also confirmed “he has no criminal charges pending against him.”

He noted the man could not return to the Middle East due to his association with Guantánamo, and it is feared his life will be in danger if he is sent back.

“We should support innocent Palestinians. As a people, they have suffered so much injustice,” Zuhair said. “I hope when he arrives in the Maldives, we will treat him as he should be treated: as a victim who has been jailed for many years even though he has committed no crime.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, said the identity of the prisoner “has not been confirmed yet,” and added it will only be confirmed once the National Security Committee has concluded its meetings and have cleared the detainee of any charges.

He said “it will take some time” until the committee concludes its inquiries, as they have to “look at files and go through the process they require.” Dr Shaheed said after the legal framework is looked at, they can start assessing individual detainees.

Dr Shaheed did not attend a committee meeting held today.

He said although the Palestinian man Zuhair referred to was “one of the candidates” to be transferred to the Maldives, “it is not confirmed.”

Citizenship for detainees was not something the government was discussing yet, he said.

“I’m not saying we will do it or not,” he said, adding it would only be raised after the legalities of the transfer were cleared.

He added the transfer of detainees to the country was being looked at as “temporary,” like a “half-way stop” for the detainees, and not something permanent.

MPs meet US High Commissioner

A number of MPs met with the US High Commissioner today, said Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Nihan.

Besides Nihan, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdul Gafoor, Jumhoory Party MP Gasim ‘Buruma’ Ibrahim, DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed and Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed participated in the meeting.

Nihan said “very important doubts about the Gitmo issue were clarified by the American High Commissioner.”

“We exchanged information between the High Commissioner and MPs,” he said, noting “the High Commissioner gathered us to see our opinion on the issue.”

Nihan said in the meeting he highlighted how poor the communication is between people and the government, adding “the administrative decision was made inside the ‘smoking room’ of the president and not in the Cabinet.”

He said President Mohamed Nasheed never discussed the detainee issue with either Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed or the Cabinet.

“He always presents decisions in the cabinet meetings,” Nihan said, “but he did not discuss it with anyone before deciding.”

National security committee meeting

Parliament’s National Security Committee held their first meeting on the resettlement of Guantánamo Bay prisoners in the Maldives on Sunday, after it was postponed last week by Speaker of Parliament, Abdulla Shahid.

There are still more meetings to be held on the issue, as they need to hear from more government officials and police.

AG Suood said he was meant to attend a meeting tomorrow, but it has now been cancelled. He said he was asking the Majlis to look at Article 5 of their rules of procedure, which says “any summons should be in writing and signed by the Speaker.”

The AG said he and the foreign minister received letters of summons from Parliament, but “they were signed by a legal council” and not the Speaker. “We are seeking clarification,” he said.

The US Embassy in Colombo said they could not confirm or deny whether DQP members met with the ambassador last week, and could not say whether they spoke about the transfer of detainees or the issue of citizenship.

Leader of the DQP, Hassan Saeed, did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Shanghai newspaper reports Chinese honeymooner dead in robbery

The Shanghai Daily newspaper has reported that a Chinese national on honeymoon in the Maldives was killed and his wife injured during a robbery last Sunday 14 March.

The English-language daily reported that the man, identified by his surname ‘Dai’, was a software engineer in his 20s who worked for the telecommunications company Alcatel Shanghai Bell.  The newspaper attributed the information to a statement issued by the company.

The report said Dai’s body was covered with bruises and cuts, and that the cause of his death had not yet been confirmed by Maldives Police Service.

Dai’s parents arrived in the Maldives after being informed of their son’s death and were initially told he had drowned, the newspaper reported.

Police confirmed to Minivan News today that they received a report at 12:45pm on 14 March that a Chinese national, Rui Dai, died while snorkelling at Holiday Inn Kandooma Resort, South Malé Atoll.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said they had found no major injuries on his body and police suspected he had drowned. He said a post-mortem examination was not performed on the body, and there were no reports of Dai’s wife being injured.

A source at Kandooma Resort confirmed a guest by the name of Dai and his wife were honeymooning at the resort, and that Dai had died the day after arriving on the island.

“He drowned while swimming in 5-10 feet of water,” the source said, adding that the body was found in the morning between 10:30am and 12pm by housekeeping staff and a French guest.

There was no bruising on the body, the source noted, adding that Dai’s family had arrived to pick up his body and were staying at the Holiday Inn in Malé.

Management at Kandooma had ordered staff not to divulge any information about the case, the source noted.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they had no information on a foreigner being robbed and killed, but said they had received a police report on Sunday about a man who died in a snorkelling accident. The President’s Office did not know about the murder claims, either.

Minivan News is seeking clarification of the reports from the Shanghai Daily and Dai’s employer, Alcatel Shanghai Bell, who released the report in China.

Dai is the second Chinese national to die in the Maldives this month.

Another Chinese tourist, Yeh Shihwei, drowned while snorkelling, also on his honeymoon, at Chaaya Lagoon Hakurahura Island Resort on 1 March 2010.

The resort manager for Chaaya Lagoon confirmed Shihwei died accidentally while snorkelling.


Maldives to ease trade barriers with India

The government will ease trade barriers with India to promote trade between the two countries and accelerate foreign investment. Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed is currently leading a delegation in India to facilitate trade.

Indian financial newspaper Business Standard claimed Indian companies, including Tata, Suzlon, GMR, Apollo Hospitals and Oberoi, could invest as much as US$1 billion in the Maldives and significantly boost the country’s economy.

The Standard also reported that the Maldives foreign ministry will increase the leasing periods for resort development to 50 years and reduce the base rent in a bid to promote foreign investment in the hospitality sector.

Ahmed Naseem, state minister for foreign affairs said “many items that are traded between countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) will have tariffs eased on them, and this will make trade between the countries easier.”

Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Dnyaneshwar Mulay, said such a move would benefit the Maldivian economy.

“The lower tariffs will make exports and imports cheaper and make the market more competitive,” he said, adding that such a deal would also encourage the Maldives to increase its own exports.