Indian hackers take down MACL website as lenders, Malaysian government seek to resolve GMR crisis

Indian hackers have taken over the website of the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), the government company that has ordered the GMR-Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) consortium to hand over the airport by the end of next week.

The hackers, calling themselves the “Indishell Defacers Team”, replaced the MACL homepage with a black background and a pair of eyes Thursday (November 29) evening, demanding that the Maldives “stop defaming Indian Reputed Companies & learn how to run a website and secure it first.”

“If you don’t know how to secure a website, can you run an Airport securely, MACL?” the hackers added, along with a promise to “do anything for India”.

As of Saturday afternoon, the MACL website remained suspended. MACL CEO Mohamed Ibrahim declined to comment, stating only that he was in a meeting and that the company would “issue media statements from time to time”.

Following the government’s announcement last week that its contract with GMR was void and it would therefore be issuing a seven day ultimatum for the investor to leave the country, MACL claimed that local employees who applied for jobs with the state operator would “have their present basic salary, allowances and other benefits, and training and development opportunities maintained under MACL management.”

The same day, the Immigration Department announced that it would cease renewing the work permits of GMR’s 140 foreign employees, while the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) sent GMR a letter stating that the operator’s aerodrome certificate – the regulatory authority to operate an airport – would be withdrawn at 11:59pm on December 7.

MACL has also filed a complaint with the Maldives Police Service, alleging that the contract was given to GMR in 2010 “unlawfully”.

GMR has meanwhile stated that it has no intention of leaving without exhausting the legal process and seeking due compensation – the company has stated that it has already invested between US$220-240 million of funds set out for the US$511 million airport development project.

Arbitration proceedings over the contentious airport development charge were already ongoing in Singaporean courts prior to the government’s declaration that the contract was void.

GMR is currently seeking an injunction against its eviction in the Singapore courts, with the next hearing reportedly set for Monday.

Malaysian visit

Meanwhile, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and MAHB Managing Director Basir Ahmed visited the Maldives on Friday to try and resolve the situation.

Aman told local media at the airport that his discussion with Maldivian Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla was “fruitful”.

“As we are two friendly nations, there is no reason why this matter cannot be resolved,” Aman was reported as stating by Haveeru.

The reaction from the Indian government and industry groups has been substantially less prosaic.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), expressed “serious concern over the unilateral decision of the Maldives government” and the “violation” of the country’s concession agreement with GMR.

The chamber of commerce group urged the Indian government “to take immediate steps as may be necessary to protect the interests of GMR, its people working in Male’ as well as the Indian banks against such irrational moves.”

Lenders to GMR, including the lead underwriter Axis Bank, Indian Overseas Bank and the Indian Bank have meanwhile written to the Maldives government demanding that their interests be protected. US$368 of the US$511 million project is a loan component, most of it financed by Indian companies.

The Indian government is meanwhile reported to be reconsidering its bilateral aid assistance to the Maldives.

A succession of Indian loans have been crucial to the Maldives’ ability to pay its operating costs, including civil servant salaries.

Days prior to the government’s decision to void the GMR agreement, India had requested repayment of US$100 million in treasury bonds by February 2013.

A further US$25 million state loan from India was found to have been delayed after the Maldivian government failed to submit the requested paperwork, according to an Indian diplomatic source.

Overall Indian aid to the Maldives has totalled MVR 5 billion (US$324 million) over the last three years, according to official statistics from the Indian High Commission released in May.

In additional to credit facilities, purchase of bonds and provision of equipment and financial assistance, India provided the government substantial aid to hold the SAARC Summit in Addu Atoll last year.

In the last three years, India funded the construction of the Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality, provided US$4.5 million for the development of Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), US$25 million for a police academy, US$9 million for police vehicles, US$1.5 million for a coastal management centre, US$1 million for the purchase of pharmaceuticals and sports equipment, US$5.3 million for the Institute of Information Technology, and most recently, the construction of a military hospital for the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Credit facilities of US$40 million were provided for the construction of 500 housing units, while the State Bank of India (SBI) had spent US$100 million of treasury bonds (with a further US$100 as standby credit). India also provided US$28 million for the development of human resources in the Maldives.

Moreover, a substantial amount of private lending to the resort industry development takes place through Indian banking institutions active in the country, most notably SBI, and a significant quantity of food to the import-dependent Maldives (including basics provisions such as eggs) is supplied through trade concessions with India.

India has also provided extensive military support to the Maldives, including supplying vehicles and a helicopter.

“An impact on ties is inevitable,” Indian newspaper The Hindu reported a senior Indian government source as stating, after last week’s decision by the Maldivian cabinet to evict GMR.

“For the time being, we have to consider how things stand and how to proceed,” an official source told the paper, “when asked whether India would continue assisting the Maldives in combating its financial difficulties, including paying salaries to civil servants and shoring up the surveillance and reconnaissance ability of its security forces.”

“Stability can come only after elections. All of them [political parties] are looking for some cause célèbre. GMR has unwittingly become a major political issue in the Maldives,” an official source told the paper.