Updated Hajj regulation will help prevent fraud: Deputy Islamic Minister

Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Aishath Muneeza has said that the updated regulations for Maldivian Hajj pilgrims would help prevent Hajj-related fraud cases in the future.

Muneeza told Minivan News that the new regulations published in the Government Gazette today would make the whole Hajj process more transparent and accessible.

“We have brought major changes to the existing Hajj regulations,” said Dr Muneeza, who also serves as Chair at the state owned Hajj Corporation – officially inaugurated last week (January 20).

Dr Muneeza said one of the biggest improvements to the regulation was the introduction of a new bank guarantee to be held at the Islamic ministry paid by the Hajj agencies, requiring the agencies to deposit 25 percent of the price per head when submitting proposals.

The regulation states that the deposited money will be used to cover any required expenses which have not been paid for by the agency such as airlines or hotel payments. It also states that the money will be taken to the ministry if it receives news that the agency has taken more customers than the quota assigned to the company.

While the Hajj Corporation is to handle 50 percent of the quota given by the Saudi Arabian government, the remaining slots are equally distributed to three private companies after a bidding process.

“We have also changed the requirements of agencies submitting proposals to the ministry,” explained Dr Muneeza. “The managing director of the company should now have five years’ experience of taking people to Hajj compared to the previous one year of experience”.

Under the new regulations, the license will not be released to the company if “anyone convicted or suspected fraudulent Hajj transactions are present in the board of directors or management,” requiring the companies to hand in the criminal records of all board members while submitting the proposals.

“The new law would also require the agencies to submit a timeline to the ministry giving itself deadlines such as the dates by when tickets are brought, money is taken from customers. This allows the ministry to keep track of the agencies while giving them some leeway to construct their own timeline,” said Dr Muneeza.

Speaking at the ceremony inaugurating Hajj Corporation last week, Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed – while pledging to reduce the cost of the pilgrimage  – said that the government has become more involved in the Hajj grips after the activities of unscrupulous Hajj companies.

Last year, the government covered the expenses of 121 defrauded customers of the Al-Fathuh Hajj Umra Group with an amount in excess of US$500,000.

Dr Shaheem revealed to the press that Al-Fathuh only informed the ministry that it would be not be able to take the customers to Mecca the day prior their departure.

Related to this story

Government sends defrauded pilgrims to Mecca

Hajj corporation inaugurated, Shaheem pledges to reduce cost of pilgrimage

Police arrest al-Fathuh Hajj group managing director for fraud

Hundreds queue to submit forms to Hajj Corporation


MIFCO denies reducing staff allowances, ACC investigates fraudulent US$1 million transaction

The chairman of Maldives Industrial Fisheries Corporation (MIFCO) has denied rumours the company is to reduce staff allowances, while the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has launched an investigation after US$1 million receivable to MIFCO was transferred to an incorrect bank account.

Speaking to Haveeru, MIFCO board Chairman Hassan Rasheed said the recent merging of the two state-owned fisheries companies with MIFCO had brought the need to “synchronise” the allowances as the employees were being paid differently at the two companies.

Kooddoo Fisheries and Felivaru Fisheries were brought under the management of MIFCO in September this year after having been separated into independent entities during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.

“The staff allowances were not the same in the three companies,” said Rasheed. “While attendance allowance is provided not for staff in one company, the other provides attendance allowance, thus bringing about the need to synchronise the allowances.”

Meanwhile, the ACC and the Maldives Police Service have launched an investigation into a missing US$1 million after a company from Thailand transferred the money into an account that did not belong to MIFCO.

ACC president Hassan Luthfee told Minivan News that the commission initiated the investigation last week. Local media reported that the commission had started the investigation after rumours began circulating in the press and social media.

Speaking about the transaction, MIFCO CEO Adhlee Ismail alleged the Thai company was tricked into sending the sum to the wrong account after a group of people impersonating MIFCO contacted them via email.

“What really happened was, the buyer sent the money to a wrong account after a group of hackers impersonated MIFCO by creating an email with an extra letter to the MIFCO email. The buyer did not do the necessary background checks before transferring the money,” local media reported Adhlee as saying.

Adhlee denied MIFCO staff involvement in the fraudulent transaction while alleging that the emails were sent to Thailand from Nigeria.

According to Raajje.mv, MIFCO submitted the case to Maldives Police Service on Thursday and the company has since received US$600,000 of the missing money.

Related to this story

Kooddoo, Felivaru merged with MIFCO

MIFCO yellow fin tuna receives Friends of the Sea eco-label


Former council president sentenced to 11 years’ exile

The Criminal Court has sentence former Ungoofaaru Council President to 11 years, local media has reported.

Abdulla Nasir confessed to using the income from local power station for personal purposes, with Sun Online reporting the defrauded amount to total MVR114, 325 (US$7,414).

Nasir has been ordered to repay the figure within one month.


Sheesha brothers file case to retrieve stolen funds from State Bank of India

The Sheesha brothers have have filed a case with the Civil Court to implement the court’s January 16 ruling which had ordered the State Bank of India (SBI) to pay them MVR13.5 million plus interest within one month.

During a press conference held yesterday the brothers and their lawyer Abdul Nasir Ibrahim revealed that SBI had not paid the money to the company according to a Civil Court ruling, and that the court had now accepted the case.

On January 16, the Civil Court had ruled that SBI had to pay the brothers’ motorcycle importing company MVR13.5 million outstanding from the total MVR18 million that had been discovered missing from its account in November 2011 after a series of unauthorised transfers.

Nasir said yesterday that he had met with SBI before filing the lawsuit and that the bank had told him that it would transfer the money only if the Civil Court deemed that the previous court ruling should be implemented.

Nasir told the press yesterday that, although SBI had the right to appeal the Civil Court ruling at the High Court, ruling was now in existence and had to be implemented unless the High Court rules otherwise.

Having met with the Maldives Monetary Authority governor – then Dr Fazeel Najeeb – regarding the issue, Sheesha’s lawyer had been told to find a solution through the courts. Nasir also called on the MMA to take action against SBI for not implementing the Civil Court’s ruling.

Following the discovery of the unauthorised removal of the funds, the company – owned by Ahmed Hassan Manik, Hussain Husham, and Ibrahim Husham – told local media that the money had been transferred to a Bank of Maldives account using a forged document faxed to SBI with Manik’s name and signature.

The brothers said they would sue SBI and requested that the bank take full responsibility for the theft – which had comprised of two transactions totalling MVR18 million.

The Prosecutor General’s Office pressed charges against seven people in connection with the case in May 2013, including a retired Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) colonel, and two staff members from SBI.

In November 2011, the Criminal Court issued an Interpol red notice to apprehend three persons suspected to be involved in the case.

Local newspapers at the time reported that Colonel Shaukath Ibrahim’s bank account was used to transfer the money and to withdraw it.

Yesterday, Sheesha’s lawyer told the press that the Civil Court had ruled SBI had neglected its responsibilities and that its negligence had caused the loss of the company’s MVR18million.

Of the total MVR18 million stolen, local media has reported that the company was able to recover MVR4.4 million from the Bank of Maldives account that the money had been transferred to.


High Court concludes hearings into deputy speaker’s corruption case

The High Court has concluded appeal hearings into one of four corruption cases concerning Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim. Today’s case was lodged by the Prosecutor General (PG) after the lower court had ruled Nazim innocent.

The hearing concerned charges of fraudulently collecting funds through a company owned by Nazim to buy sound systems for a mosque. The amount alleged to have been misappropriated by the deputy speaker in all four cases is alleged to be over US$400,000.

According to local media, High Court judges presiding over the case today said that there would be no more hearings unless the court needed to clarify further information.

Newspaper Haveeru has reported that, during today’s hearing, state attorney Abdulla Rabiu told the court Nazim had abused his authority as a company owner and had also used staff as accomplices.

Rabiu said that there was no need to press charges against the staff used in the corruption, however, and that only Nazim was to be held responsible.

Nazim’s defense lawyers had previously told the court that witnesses produced against him were company staff who had also been involved in the alleged fraud, and who therefore were not acceptable to the court as witnesses.

The state lawyer today responded to these claims by saying that the witnesses not been charged with any of the cases, noting that the constitution states everyone to be innocent until found guilty by a court of law.

Case history

In February 2012, the Criminal Court dismissed four corruption charges against Nazim. The decisions came just days after the controversial transfer of power on February 7 that brought former President Dr Mohamed Waheed to office. The court had then ruled that Nazim’s “acts were not enough to criminalise him”.

Along with Deputy Speaker Nazim, MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, and Abdulla Hameed – both then ministers at the now-defunct Atolls Ministry – were charged in late 2009 on multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the ministry.

The scam – first flagged in an audit report released in early 2009 – involved paper companies allegedly set up by the defendants in order to win bids for projects worth several hundred thousand dollars, including the fraudulent purchase of harbour lights and national flags, as well as mosque sound systems.

According to the report, the documents of Malegam Tailors – the company which won the bid for the harbour project- showed that it shared the same phone number as another of Nazim’s companies, Namira.

Fast Tailors, another company that submitted a bid, also shared the phone number registered under Namira.

Anther company – Needlework Tailors – which submitted the bid, had an employee of Namira sign the documents under the title of general manager, while there were no records to prove that a fourth company named ‘Seaview Maldives Private Maldives’ existed at all, according to the audit report.

The auditors noted that the Seaview bid documents had an date error also found on Fast Tailors documents. According to the auditors, the error was sufficient to prove the same party had prepared both company’s bids.

The prosecution began in late 2009, after police uncovered evidence that implicated Hameed, Saleem, and Nazim in a number of fraudulent transactions.

At a press conference in August 2009, police exhibited numerous quotations, agreements, tender documents, receipts, bank statements, and forged cheques showing that Nazim had received over US$400,000 in the scam.

A hard disk seized during a raid of Nazim’s office in May 2009 allegedly contained copies of forged documents and bogus letterheads. Police alleged that money was channeled through the scam to Nazim, who then laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies


Police warns of people fraudulently collecting funds for dollars exchange

The police have urged caution after reports that groups have been collecting Maldivian rufiyaa from people, promising to exchange it before fleeing with the money.

In a statement the police revealed that last lots of such cases filed in recent days.

Police said that common targets are people walking alone on the streets who are then approached regarding exchangin ruffiyaa for dollars.

Police also said that in some cases these people arrive on motorbikes and take their victims on the bike to silent areas of Malé.

Another tactic used has been to attempt to gain the trust of their victim by giving them a mobile number which, when checked by police often turn out to be sim cards taken in the name of expats.

Investigations in to this type of cases show the offenders to be well presented – most of the time tucks their shirt under their pants and a pen in their pocket – giving the appearance of someone who normally does money exchange, the police said.

The police appealed people not to trust unknown individuals when dealing with money and also to identify people using an official document.

An online businessman who spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity said that people do not go to the Bank of Maldives to get dollars because it is a difficult procedure.

“Each bank account registered at BML gets USD100 per day,’’ he said. ‘’But the thing is, to get that US$100 you have to join the queue at midnight and wait till the bank opens next morning.’’

He said that is the reason why people resort to easy methods such as buying dollars on the black market.

A BML media official told Minivan News that the bank has been giving out dollars to the customers as much as possible.

“If the person has a bank account and dollars in it we will release the dollars and there will be no limit,’’ he said. ‘’It also depends on which branch of BML the person is going to.’’

President Abdulla Yameen in his inauguration speech has warned the Maldivian economy is in “a deep pit” and has pledged to reduce state expenditure.

Meanwhile, the MMA has printed over MVR 1 billion (US$ 64,516,129) in the past year alone, MMA statistics show.

Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Dr Fazeel Najeeb  in August warned that “excessive” government expenditure was directly responsible for the pressure on the rufiyaa.

Speaking during a function to celebrate the third anniversary of the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA), Dr Najeeb said: “The value of rufiyaa is dropping because government accounts do not have the money, because it is a necessity to print large quantities of money.”

Najeeb said that a long-term economic stability plan would be needed in the country as part of attempts to increase foreign investment, reduce inflation, and curb printing of the Maldivian rufiyaa in order to calm an increase in prices.

“The plan shall include new foreign investments, aim to reduce inflation, decrease the printing of money and cease it altogether. This will decrease the pressure on the rufiyaa”.

The state budget for 2014 remains stalled in the People’s Majlis with Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad as yet failing to submit revisions.


Prosecution calls for for retrial of Deputy Speaker’s corruption case

The High Court has concluded hearings into a case in which Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim stands accused of defrauding the now defunct Atolls Ministry, a scam worth US$260,000 (MVR 3,446,950).

The case was first filed at the Criminal Court which ruled that Nazim’s actions were not sufficient to criminalise him. The case was appealed in the High Court by the Prosecutor General.

The Prosecutor General’s lawyers today told the High Court that Nazim used the staff of his Namira firm as tools in the scam, after the staff told the investigation that they did not know of the existence of the unregistered companies used by Nazim.

According to media outlets present at the hearing the PG’s lawyers requested the High Court order the Criminal Court to cancel the previous verdict and conduct a retrial.

Nazim’s lawyers meanwhile said it was unfair that the state was charging only Nazim in the case, despite the allegations that the staff had acted as accomplices. Nazim’s lawyers also accused the state of trying to defame Nazim.

The judges presiding over the case concluded the hearing announcing that this would be the last hearing unless the court needed any clarification.

At a press conference in August 2009, Chief Inspector Ismail Atheef said police had uncovered evidence that implicated Nazim in fraudulent transactions worth over US$260,000 (MVR 3,446,950).

Police exhibited numerous quotations, agreements, tender documents, receipts, bank statements and forged cheques they stated proved that Nazim had received over US$400,000 in the case.

A hard disk seized during a raid of Nazim’s office in May the same year allegedly contained copies of forged documents and bogus letterheads.

Fraud charges were also filed against Atolls Minister Abdullah Hameed (half brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom) and Eydhafushi MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, former director of finance at the ministry who were implicated in the same case.

Police further alleged that MP Saleem actively assisted from the atoll ministry while Nazim’s wife Zeenath Abdullah had abused her position as a manager of the Bank of Maldives’ Villingili branch to deposit proceeds of the fraudulent conspiracy.

Police said Hameed played a key role in the fraud by handing out bids without public announcements, making advance payments using cheques against the state asset and finance regulations, approving bid documents for unregistered companies and discriminatory treatment of bid applicants.

During the original trial held at the Criminal Court the then-employees of Namira testified under oath that they were instructed by Nazim to bid for the projects – however, the presiding judge concluded from their testimonies that they were responsible for the procurement fraud and therefore dismissed the testimonies against Nazim on all counts.


MDP condemns Attorney General’s intervention in JP’s Supreme Court effort to annul election results

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has condemned the intervention of Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor in the Jumhooree Party’s (JP’s) case at the Supreme Court seeking annulment of the September 7 presidential election, expressing concern over the AG’s support of the JP’s stance at Tuesday’s hearing.

In a press release on Tuesday night (September 17), the MDP accused Azima Shukoor of advocating against “the interests of a state institution or the state and in favour of the Jumhooree Party’s self-interest.”

As the Attorney General represents the state, the MDP contended, Azima Shukoor should advocate on behalf of the state and protection of the public interest.

“Therefore the party calls upon the Attorney General – appointed by Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who got only five percent of the vote – to cease advocating on behalf of the state to nullify the votes cast by the people in the first round of the presidential election, and annul the election to dis-empower the people and the constitution,” the statement concluded.

Azima meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru today that article 133(d) of the constitution allows the Attorney General to intervene in such cases. The article states, “The Attorney General shall have authority, with the leave of the court, to appear as a friend of the court in any civil proceedings to which the Government is not a party, where in the opinion of the Attorney General the interests of the State or the public interest dictate.”

“The government decided that we have to say something for the sake of public interest since we can see all this information,” Azima was quoted as saying.

Azima also denied seeking annulment of the election at yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing. She had however asked the apex court to order the Prosecutor General and the police to investigate alleged electoral fraud as “serious issues” had been noted.

The AG told the court that her office had uncovered discrepancies in the voter registry, including underage people listed as eligible for voting, and the mixing up of voter information – including gender, address, and date of birth.

High Court ruling

Meanwhile, in its judgment (Dhivehi) yesterday in the JP’s case against the Elections Commission (EC), the High Court ordered the commission to allow the JP supervised access to the voter lists in lieu of ordering the EC to release hard copies of the list to the party.

The JP had claimed that the registry included hundreds of ineligible voters (underage citizens), names of voters doubled or repeated, and thousands of people registered to houses without the home owner’s knowledge.

The High Court ruling however stated that the JP was unable to offer any evidence to substantiate the claims of electoral fraud.

The ruling stated that election complaints “should not be submitted based on suspicion,” noting that the EC’s lawyer, former Attorney General Husnu Suood, had addressed each of the JP’s arguments.

Of the seven people the JP claimed were deceased but had voted, the EC proved to the court that four were alive.

On the JP’s complaint regarding people registered to houses in Male’ allegedly without the home owner’s knowledge, the EC explained that people who were originally on the Male’ Municipality’s Special Register – a special registry of people residing in the capital without owning homes – were registered to vote in ballot boxes closest to their current residence. They were registered upon written request, the EC lawyer noted.

Moreover, Suood said that the EC depended heavily on data provided by the Department of National Registration (DNR) in compiling the voters registry. The 170 names that the JP claimed were doubled on the list would have different identity card (ID) numbers and dates of birth, he noted.

DNR Director General Fareeda Yoosuf insisted yesterday that there was no chance forged IDs could be used to vote.

Each individual identity card is unique and does not change even when renewed and, even in cases where lost IDs are replaced, the same identity number is used, Yoosuf noted.

“The card number will remain the same for each individual no matter how many times the card is renewed,” she explained. “We haven’t issued identity cards with two different numbers to the same person, so I’m certain that can’t be done.”

“When each person has a unique number and is allowed to vote based on that number, there is no chance a person can vote more than once by using different ID numbers,” she continued.

No complaints of forged identity cards have been received by the DNR so far, she noted.

“Vote Rigged!”

According to the official results of the first round of voting, MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed finished top with 45.45 percent (95,224 votes) of the vote, followed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate MP Abdulla Yameen in second place with 25.35 percent (53,099).

JP candidate Gasim Ibrahim narrowly missed out on a place in the second round run-off on September 28 with 24.07 percent (50,422 votes). The JP coalition however disputed the results at both the High Court and Supreme Court and launched a “Vote Rigged!” campaign of rallies – complemented by special programmes on Gasim’s Villa TV – alleging that the EC rigged the polls.

“God willing, it will be Gasim Ibrahim who will be the President of the Maldives on 11 November. Allah willing, do not doubt this. I tell you, do not doubt this,” the business tycoon declared at a recent rally.

Early on Monday morning , police acting on a tip-off from the JP, barricaded streets around the EC and took its garbage into custody. The JP accused the commission of disposing of evidence, though police later reported that the rubbish contained nothing affecting the outcome of the election.

EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek has emphatically denied allegations of vote rigging, pointing to the commission’s transparency, ongoing complaints investigations, and praise from a broad spectrum of election observers.

The UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives, Tony Lisle, issued a statement yesterday encouraging “all presidential candidates to respect the results” of first round of presidential elections – in line with those of all other observers on the September 7 polls including delegations from the Commonwealth, UK, India, Australia, Malaysia, US, EU, Japan and Thailand.


Atoll Paradise attributes troubles to “lengthy delay in securing bank finance”

Tour operator Atoll Paradise has issued a statement “apologising unreservedly for any frustration caused to any of its customers due to recent cancellations.”

Atoll Paradise is one of the Maldives’ largest local tour operators. However, the Tourism Ministry last week suspended its permit amid allegations it had defrauded customers and international travel agents.

Tourism Ministry Senior Legal Officer Faseeh Zahir told Minivan News the government had have received several complaints in recent months that bookings had been cancelled by the company without being refunded.

“There are allegations of fraud and of the company not acting according to regulations. This is not just a case of one guest, we have received several complaints,” said Zahir. The company has also been fined MVR 1 million (US$65,000).

In its statement, Atoll Paradise said it “wished to make it clear that it is a reputable business organisation and the recent unfortunate developments stemmed from a lengthy delay in securing bank finance to sustain its business operations.”

Cancellations were “unavoidable”, the company said, while “strenuously emphasising” that no employee of the company “ has ever engaged in fraudulent activities towards any external parties.”

The company acknowledged it had encountered “some cash flow difficulties” in 2013, stemming from an “unexpected delay in a bank loan facility.”

“This delay is not to be blamed on anyone (neither person nor corporation), as financial proceedings can sometimes encounter unexpected obstacles and include complexities and lengthy legal clearance procedures beyond the initially expected scope,” the company contended.

“Although the management had explored all available options and done its best to avoid having to cancel any bookings, such cancellations could not be avoided anymore, if Atoll Paradise did not want to further disappoint its customers by leaving them stranded at the airport after their arrival in the Maldives,” the statement read.

“These actions, although difficult to make, were taken in accordance with the Booking Policy of the company, and all customers will be refunded with minimum delay,” the company promised.

Atoll Paradise said it was working with the Ministry of Tourism on “resolving these unfortunate issues so that all pending refunds can be processed without any further delay and normal business operations of the company can commence as soon as possible. It is important to note here that several refunds have already been processed prior to this decision by the Ministry. All customers are informed periodically on the status of their refund.”

Disgruntled customers waiting on refunds

Several of the company’s customers meanwhile contacted Minivan News following publication of last week’s article, with details of their grievances and extensive documentation and correspondence with the company.

The Barras couple initially booked their 14 night, US$24,698 holiday at Dusit Thani resort through Atoll Paradise in July 2012 for mid-February 2013. However three weeks before travelling the couple were forced to cancel their booking for medical reasons, and were promised a refund of US$23,113, including a US$350 ‘admin fee’ and five percent ‘bank charge’ on January 24, as a “one time exception”.

In a long series of successive emails, assorted company staff repeatedly apologised and promised repayment in several days, providing reasons including “It will take 1 to 2 billing cycles for the amount to be posted back to your account”, “I can only file for the refund request by Monday due to bank holidays here until Sunday”, and “we are moving all of our principal banking from three different banks to just one which is Mauritius Commercial bank.”

Several staff members informed the couple that Atoll Paradise had already paid the resort in advance, and was waiting for a refund.

The couple contacted the resort’s management directly, only to discover that the resort had never received payment from Atoll Paradise, and had cancelled the booking immediately on first request.

“The money you paid [to Atoll Paradise was not remitted to us, nor was there any communication regarding a refund since no monetary transaction had transpired between Dusit Thani Maldives and Atoll Paradise for this particular booking,” wrote Dusit Thani’s General Manager Desmond Hatton to the couple on April 9, 2013.

After waiting three months for the refund, the couple began to add their concerns about the company to others on Tripadvisor.

“Your case has been raised this with our Executive Management team, to try and get a better understanding as to when we can rectify this internal issue, as you know this has been pending a while and as such we are not delivering the exceptional service we are known for, this is very disappointing and I can assure you this matter is not being taken lightly,” the couple were informed in April by a staff member called ‘Laura’.

The Barras were then contacted by Atoll Paradise’s Director of Business Development, Chloe Esme Bagir, who informed them that “due to the extent of your unruly comments on the internet, it is now being dealt by our Legal and Accounts Department and will be reviewed in strict adherence to our published Booking & Cancellation Policy. We will reply to you once we get their decision.”

At the time of their contacting Minivan News, the couple were still awaiting payment of their refund.

“Since we didn’t go, the hotel didn’t get paid … so [Atoll Paradise] decided to keep the money for themselves. What kind of company does this?” asked Tristan Barras.

In an email to Minivan News, Atoll Paradise advised that Barras “cancelled shortly before arrival and thus lost 100 percent of the amount paid, in accordance with Atoll Paradise Booking Policy.”

Booking cancelled four days before flight: “I appreciate this will have come as somewhat of a shock”

In another case, Nitchima Chia from Thailand booked a two bedroom pool villa at Centara for six people on March 6-10 through Atoll Paradise, paying US$6,235 upfront via credit card.

Four days before the group was due to depart, having already paid US$3450 for flights from Bangkok to the Maldives, Chia was informed by Atoll Paradise that due to “unavoidable circumstances arising within our operations” their booking, among others falling between May 1-16, had been cancelled.

The company gave Chia the option to refund the full booking value, or reschedule the booking after July 1.

Noting that the group had days left to get on the plane and that the flights were non-refundable, Chia urged Atoll Paradise to move them to another hotel, or refund the full expenses of the trip: “July is impossible as the kids need to go to school during this time,” she said.

Atoll Paradise replied: “I appreciate this will have come as somewhat of a shock, however we are unable to honor any bookings within this period.”

“Atoll Paradise is in the process of relocating to a newly built office compound. This is a project we have been working on for the past 12 months to expand and grow our business. Due to this we are having difficulty in managing some our arrivals for this period efficiently,” the company wrote.

“Your booking with Atoll Paradise is cancelled and will not be reinstated.”

In another email, Atoll Paradise advised that “as only the accommodation is confirmed with us, we cannot hold any responsibility for the flights”, and urged Chia to contact her travel insurance provider.

Chia was initially promised a refund within four weeks with a “cut-off period” of eight weeks. However, on June 6 she was informed that the “refunds are taking a further delay due to lack of funding. We are confident we should receive these funds within the month of July. Please give us a little more time to settle this.”

On July 5, the company informed Chia that it understood this delay in your refund “is causing a lot of frustration for you”, and assured her that “the delay in your refund is not intentional.”

“The entire management team are working tirelessly to expedite the refund process for all our clients. Our bank has already agreed a facility for us, agreement already approved and signed. Due to lengthy legal documentation, the funds from our bank have taken longer than initially anticipated hence these delays. We anticipate the refund will be in your account end of this month and latest first week of August.”

Chia subsequently contacted the Royal Thai Consulate in Male.

Some customers, speaking about their experiences with the company on a 28-page Tripadvisor thread, reported success in securing chargeback payments direct with their credit card companies.

Police Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef meanwhile last week confirmed police had begun investigating the company over fraud allegations.

The Tourism Ministry has said Atoll Paradise’s permit will remain revoked until all alleged outstanding payments and grievances have been settled.