Gangs thriving amid political instability, political support: Guardian

Political turmoil in the Maldives is fueling gang violence and criminal impunity, reports the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

The gangs are thriving not only because of the drug trade, but due to political parties employing gang members to assault opponents, destroy property, and boost numbers at rallies.

“It’s been a good few months. We’ve been doing well,” one gang leader told Guardian journalist Jason Burke, revealing that the gang had been “providing political parties with muscle to intimidate opponents, swell meetings and provide security.”

“There’s so much demand, we’ve had to appoint someone just to run that side of our operations. Requests are coming in all the time,” the gang leader told the newspaper.

According to the Guardian’s report, “Ibrahim’s outfit of more than 70 members works around the clock, trafficking heroin, enforcing its territory and carrying out what he calls ‘political work’. Ibrahim asks for MVR 10,000 (US$650) for 10 of his gang members to attend a demonstration for an hour. The rate charged for roughing up a political opponent – damaging his car or house – is between MVR 25,000 and MVR 50,000 (US$1650-3250), but for a stabbing the price would be much higher: US$25,000 at least.

“It’s not bad, enough to pay our expenses for a month,” Ibrahim told the paper.

The newspaper noted that corruption meant that “police officers can easily be persuaded to ‘lose’ evidence and judges can be bought off. Nor is prison much of a deterrent. Phones, cigarettes, DVDs, ‘anything except women’ is easily available,” the gang leader informed the paper.

The Guardian’s article echoes the findings of a report into the Maldives’ gangs by the Asia Foundation, published last month, which revealed that politicians and businessmen are paying gangs tens of thousands of rufiya to assault rivals, damage property, and in some cases have them killed.

“Political and business elites exploit gangs to carry out a range of illegal activities that serve their political or business interests in exchange for financing the gangs,” stated the report, which collected data through 20 focus groups and 24 in-depth interviews with gang members.

Politicians are described as being involved in symbiotic relationships with gangs, who depend on the gangs to suppress opponents and carry out tasks to help maintain their popularity or to divert media attention from political issues.

“Politicians have asked us to cut the TVM cable for MVR 25,000 (US$1620), to light up a bus for MVR 10,000 (US$650). Also in the recent political riots we were involved in things like burning the garbage collection area,” said one gang member.

“We were given some amount of money, two of us and the 10 people who accompanied us were paid some amount, we had to set fire and run from the spot and be seen in another area. We got paid to do this by a political group. Sometimes in return for the work we do, we also get to party in their safari boats with girls and alcohol,” they added.

In other cases, gang members were paid MVR 20,000 (US$1230) to destroy shop windows. Interviewees also stated that being offered immunity from prosecution was normally part of this deal.

Leaders, who deal directly with the politicians, were reported as earning up to MVR 1 million (US$65,000) a month via such activities.

One member even described instances where murder contracts were handed out.

“We may be given a file with all the information about the person and be told and told we may be paid in millions to carry out the killing,” explained one member.

The gang leader who spoke to the Guardian said that he had made enough money and was now looking for a quieter life: “I’m not sure where I’ll go. Maybe [Sri] Lanka. Maybe India. Out of here anyway,” he told the paper.

“People around the world [need] to know how things are here. This is a paradise, but not everyone is an angel. Things have gone this far because of politics,” he said.