Judge may bar defence evidence in ‘airport protest’ cases

A criminal court judge overseeing charges against 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the airport has allegedly said he may bar the defence from calling witnesses if evidence by the state is sufficient to prove charges.

Some 14 women and one man were arrested on March 5 while carrying posters calling for former president Mohamed Nasheed’s release at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

The freedom of assembly act prohibits protests at airports. The penalty is a MVR150 fine or a six-month jail term, house arrest or banishment.

Lawyers claimed the women were not protesting, and requested the opportunity to present defence witnesses. But criminal court judge Sujau Usman said if the testimony by ten police officers proves charges, he may not allow the defence to present evidence.

Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges, without allowing him to call defence witnesses.

The UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described the move as “contrary to international fair trial standards.”

Former defence minister Mohamed Nazim was also not allowed to call the majority of his defence witnesses in a weapons smuggling charge. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail by the same bech that oversaw Nasheed’s trial.

The opposition has held nightly street protests and mass demonstrations on February 27 and May 1 over Nasheed’s sentencing, but it is rare for demonstrations to take place at the airport in view of international tourists.

Among those arrested were Malé City deputy-mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice-president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed.

One woman, Yumna, says her passport has been withheld over the charges.

Meanwhile, MDP MP Ali Azim has been charged with obstructing police duty during a mass protest on February 27. The first hearing is scheduled for May 25.


Singapore firm to advise on airport expansion

A Singapore-based consultancy is to advise the Maldives Airports Company on the long-awaited expansion of the country’s main international airport.

Surbana International Consultants will provide management consultancy services and a design and engineering review for the proposed redesign of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on Hulhule’ island near Male’.

Plans for the renovations include a new international terminal building, runway, cargo terminal and taxiway expansions and new fuel firm.

Airport capacity will increase to 7 million international passengers and 1.5 million domestic passenger movements from the current 2.3 million after the renovations, said a joint statement from the two companies.

The government had previously signed a separate consultancy agreement with Singapore’s Changi International Airport to advise on the renewal and expansion of the airport terminal.

President Abdulla Yameen last month held talks with Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Fund about low-interest loans for the project, appearing to have scrapped previous plans to seek aUS$600million loan from China and Japan.

The expansion project is estimated to cost US$ 845 million, including improvements to shore protection of the airport island, new seaplane facilities and existing runway re-surfacing.

Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed previously said the runway expansion project had been awarded to Chinese Beijing Urban Construction Group, while the development of the airport terminal was awarded to Japanese Taisei Corporation.

The airport redevelopment project has been beset by problems and delays. In 2012, the government abruptly cancelled a concession agreement with the GMR-Malaysia Airports (GMR-MAHB) consortium to manage and upgrade the airport.



Saudi Arabia assured loan assistance for airport development, says Dr Shainee

Saudi Arabia has assured loan assistance at a low interest rate from the Saudi Fund to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee has revealed.

Speaking to reporters at the airport yesterday after accompanying President Abdulla Yameen during a state visit to the kingdom, Dr Shainee said Saudi Arabia has offered a lower interest rate than other parties the government has approached.

“They have indicated they would give us a loan with about two percent [interest],” he said.

A Maldivian delegation would depart for Saudi Arabia in the next week for further discussions, he added.

Last month, the government revealed that the estimated cost of the INIA development and expansion project was US$845 million. The government had previously announced it was seeking a US$600million loan from China and Japan for airport development.

While a project for building a second runway has been awarded to Chinese Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG), development of the airport terminal was awarded to Japanese Taisei Corporation.

61324_7af2b0d2-b_President Yameen meanwhile told journalists that several bilateral agreements between Saudi Arabia and Maldives would be signed in the next two months.

The Maldives sought assistance in various fields, such as education, health, and foreign investment, Yameen said, and “constructive” discussions took place with government ministers during the visit.

During the state visit – made at the invitation of the Saudi king – President Yameen met the Saudi Arabian ministers for education, defence, petroleum and mineral resources, and finance.

The Saudi Arabian government has pledged 150 scholarships for Maldivian students to pursue higher education in Saudi institutions, he noted, stressing that relations between the countries have been significantly strengthened as a result of the visit.

Reject “foreign interference”

A joint communique issued on March 18 noted that President Yameen “held talks with the Custodian of 61346_742a4339-6_the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in an amicable atmosphere that reflected the bonds of brotherhood that unite the two countries and the excellent relations between them.”

“The two sides confirmed their intentions to continue fortifying their bilateral cooperation in all fields including foreign affairs, defence, Islamic affairs, judiciary, economy, commerce, investment, education, and health for the purpose of accomplishing their common interests and providing support to the issues of the Muslim nation, while rejecting any foreign interference in their internal affairs,” read the communique.

“To this end, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has agreed to open an embassy in the Republic of Maldives.”

It also stated that the two sides agreed to increase “their commercial exchange while expanding and enhancing investment between the two countries and extending invitations to their respective private sectors to explore the available investment opportunities in both countries.”

“The Saudi Fund for Development will continue to finance the development projects in the Republic of Maldives and will consider participating in the expansion of Malé airport and beache preservation in Hulhumalé,” it added.

President Yameen meanwhile “emphasised that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the primary partner of the Republic of Maldives.”

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed told the press that the Saudi government has agreed to increase the Maldives quota from 1,000 pilgrims at present to 2,000 next year.

President Yameen also requested a plot of land in Mecca to construct a hotel for Maldivian pilgrims, Shaheem revealed, the Saudi government agreed to allocate land.

Moreover, the Saudi government would assist with the establishment of an Islamic University in the Maldives, he added.

King Salman asked for an agreement to be signed between the Maldivian Islamic ministry and the Saudi counterpart in order to provide assistance in Islamic affairs, Shaheem said.

The communique also noted that the “two sides have agreed to finalise the procedures leading to the signing of an agreement in Islamic affairs between the two countries.”


14 MDP women arrested from “last warning” protest at airport

The Maldives Police Services arrested 14 opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) female activists at 3:00pm from a protest at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The women were carrying posters calling for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed, currently in police custody until the end of a controversial terrorism trial.

The MDP this week scaled up its protests, with letter campaigns, daily protests and motor cycle rallies under the banner “a last warning.”

A police spokesperson said the Freedom of Assembly Act bars protests at airports. Among those arrested are Deputy Mayor and MDP Women’s Wing President Shifa Mohamed and Women’s Wing Vice President Shaneez ‘Thanie’ Saeed.

Nasheed is charged with terrorism over the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The charges come amidst increasing tension in the Maldives following the MDP’s alliance with former ruling coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP).

Shortly after the alliance was formed, police arrested President Abdulla Yameen’s Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim over a controversial weapons discovery at his house during a midnight raid.

Last warning

Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said President Yameen had failed to listen to the people despite over 10,000 people taking to the streets in protest of what they call a lurch towards authoritarianism on February 27.

“On February 27 the people of Maldives showed that they are against the unjust prosecution of President Nasheed. But the government did not listen. So we will escalate our activities and see how far we have to go in order for the government to listen to us,” he said.

The MDP has planned a boat protest on the seas near Malé at 4pm on Friday and a rally in Malé on Friday night.

“This is a warning call. The government has to listen to its people,” Shifaz said.

The MDP claims the terrorism charges against Nasheed are unjust and have pointed to several irregularities in the trial, including two of the three judges in Nasheed’s trial having provided witness statements during a 2012 investigation into Judge Abdulla’s arrest.

The judges refused to step down from the bench and have ordered state prosecutors and defense lawyers not to name them as witnesses.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government welcomed peaceful political activity conducted within the limits of the Constitution.

“Violating the rights of people who are not joining your cause, or damaging their businesses and goods are not activities within the boundaries of the law,” he said.

Meanwhile, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed today said the opposition’s protests were aimed at discrediting and defaming the police, and said the police force had always followed best practices and continued to respect human rights in its interactions with protesters.

Police ranks would remain united despite the opposition’s attempts to disrupt public order through its daily protests, Waheed told 31 officers participating in a public order training today.

“Unfair verdict”

Speaking to opposition aligned Raajje TV, MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed today said the party would not respect an unfair verdict against Nasheed.

“We are in this struggle assuming there is a verdict against President Nasheed already. But we will not consider Nasheed’s candidacy to be void even due to this verdict, because this trial is unjust,” Waheed said.

Waheed’s comments came after a joint MDP and JP meeting with Home Minister Umar Naseer this morning.

He dismissed rumors that MDP would hold a General Assembly and elect a new President if Nasheed is convicted.

“MDP will not go on with our usual political agenda after sacrificing Nasheed’s freedom. That will not happen as long as I am the Chairperson of the party. We will not stop our work until we find solutions to the present problems and we will explore all channels in doing so.”

Waheed warned the government of increased unrest if Nasheed is to be jailed and called on the government to initiate reconciliatory talks.

“The government is mistaken if they think Maldives will stay calm after unjustly imprisoning Nasheed. Maldives will slide back 30 years. We will not stop our work to free President Nasheed. I want to say to the government that our nation will only be calm if our problems are sorted out through reconciliation,” he warned.

Despite the government’s claim it has no power over Nasheed’s prosecution, Waheed argued the responsibility rests on President Yameen’s shoulder.

“I believe the judiciary and other independent institution need to be reformed. But considering the situation of the nation we can’t blame them alone. President Yameen has to take full responsibility.”

Nasheed will come back stronger, he assured party members.

“In the few minutes that I was able to meet with Nasheed in Dhoonidhoo I saw confidence in him. He has sacrificed all his life for this ideology, for MDP. God willing Nasheed will come back even stronger.”


INIA capacity will increase threefold with new runway and terminal, says economic council

Additional reporting by Hassan Mohamed

The capacity of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) will increase threefold to seven million passengers annually with the development of a new new runway alongside the previously announced new terminal, the cabinet’s economic council has revealed.

At a press briefing today, Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed said efforts were underway under the direct supervision of President Abdulla Yameen to secure financing for the projects.

“The previous development concept was only for the development of the terminal,” says Saeed.

“But now we are talking of a whole new airport. We are going to build a second runway. President Yameen wants to build a second runway. That means there is no debate to this.”

After presenting a conceptual video of the airport depicting the envisioned developments, Saeed said the government’s target was completing a large portion of the project by 2017.

“We estimate that MACL [Maldives Airports Company Ltd] will earn MVR6.4 billion (US$ 410 million) in revenue in 2017 as a result of the redevelopment,” Saeed explained, adding that the income would be unprecedented in the government-owned company’s history.

Under the new master plan, Saeed said the project for the second runway has been awarded to Chinese Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG), which has since submitted BOQ (bill of quantities) and designs to the Chinese Exim Bank.

The project – to be financed by a concessionary loan – also involves building a fuel farm and expanding the cargo terminal as well as the runway apron, Saeed noted.

The development of the airport terminal was awarded to Japanese Taisei Corporation and is to be financed by the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), Saeed added.

Saeed revealed that he would be leaving for Tokyo in the coming weeks to fast-track the loan approval process, adding that construction could begin as soon as the loans are approved.

In December, MACL signed an agreement with Singapore’s Changi Airports International for consultancy in the development and expansion of INIA.

The estimated cost of the projects is US$845 million, Saeed continued, which includes improvements to the shore protection of Hulhulé Island, new seaplane facilities, new hangars, nine aero bridges, existing runway resurfacing and the relocation and demolition of existing facilities at the airport.

The redeveloped airport would also be connected to Hulhumalé via a new road, Saeed said.

Speaking at a ceremony last night, Saeed claimed that the Maldives will see US$600 million of foreign investment in the next five years.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada has recently alerted tourists on travelling to the Maldives, citing political instability after former president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested on terrorism charges.

Asked if the current unrest could adversely affect the Maldivian economy, Saeed urged the opposition to refrain from engaging in activities that could harm the tourism industry and the economy.

GMR Compensation

In June last year, Indian infrastructure giant GMR won an arbitration case against the government for the premature termination of its airport development agreement in 2012.

A Singaporean tribunal deemed the airport development contract “valid and binding” and the MACL liable for damages after former president Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration declared the deal void ab initio (invalid from the outset).

The exact amount owed by MACL is to be determined after the second phase of the arbitration case, with GMR seeking US$1.4 billion in damages – a figure which exceeds the state budget for 2014.

However, Attorney General Mohamed Anil has contended that the government was liable only for GMR’s initial outlay of US$7 8million, plus any costs for construction work completed after the 2010 deal was agreed.

The US$511 million agreement to manage and develop INIA – signed during the tenure of former President Nasheed – represented the largest foreign direct investment in the Maldives’ history.

Chinese arrivals

Saeed meanwhile noted that Chinese tourist arrivals account for 35 percent of all tourist arrivals to the Maldives, predicting further growth in the coming years.

However, according to statistics from the Tourism Ministry, Chinese arrivals have been slowing down in the past months, with negative growth recorded during December and January.

“January 2015 was recorded as the worst performed month for the Chinese market to the Maldives so far, with a strong negative growth of 33.1 percent,” the ministry noted in a statement last week.

“China being the number one market to the Maldives, the negative growth registered from the market was reflected in the total arrivals to the country.”

However, Saeed insisted that arrivals would pick up this month with the Chinese new year celebrations on February 19 and continue to rise with the growth of outbound Chinese tourists, which reached 109 million last year.

Related to this story

Government seeks US$600 million from China and Japan for airport development

Tourist arrivals decline in January as Chinese arrivals slow down

GMR wins arbitration case, tribunal deems airport deal was “valid and binding”

Police arrest former President Mohamed Nasheed ahead of terrorism trial


MACL head called to Majlis over expatriate worker issue

Managing Director of the Maldives Airport Company Ltd (MACL) Bandhu Ibrahim Saleem has been summoned to appear before the Majlis regarding the number of expatriate workers at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

Saleem has been asked to appear before the government oversight committee with human resources personnel from the company on Wednesday (December 17), writes Haveeru.

The paper reported a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) member of the committee as saying that the company had ignored requests for further information regarding the replacement of Maldivian staff, after the issue was raised by party members.

“It is one of the current government’s vows to provide Maldivians with job opportunities. But we have learnt that MACL isn’t acting in accordance with this. We have the incriminating information,” the PPM member told Haveeru.

Last December, the Ministry of Youth and Sport said it would attempt to resolve the large youth unemployment issue by replacing expatriate workers with locals.

However, angry staff at the airport soon launched a Facebook page titled ‘Say NO to foreign staffs in MACL INI Airport’, which singled out individual expatriate workers for abuse.

Source: Haveeru


Changi signs consultancy deal as MACL aims for 9.6 million passengers

Singapore’s Changi Airport International has today signed a deal to provide consultancy services for the renewal and expansion of Malé international airport.

During a ceremony held this morning Maldives Airport Company Ltd (MACL) Managing Director Ibrahim ‘Bandu’ Saleem revealed that the new masterplan envisioned 9.6 million passengers using the airport by 2030.

Saleem questioned why “not much has been done for the development of Malé international airport”, saying that financial arrangements with China’s Exim Bank were in place, with work expected to start early next year.

A previous concession agreement with India’s GMR for the management and operation of the airport was terminated in late 2012, with the company winning its arbitration case against the Government of Maldives in June this year.

Political opposition to the GMR deal focused on nationalist sentiment, and President Abdulla Yameen has emphasised the importance of retaining government control over Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Both Changi CEO Lim Liang Song and Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb spoke today of the strong emotional symbolism of the airport.

“As we know, our airport is very much emotionally attached – it’s not only an airport, but an airport that was built by Maldivian people and it is in their sentiments and it is President Yameen’s vision to develop the airport by the government of Maldives and to keep its operation under the government of Maldives,” said Adeeb.

Song compared this sentiment with Singaporean’s feelings towards Changi International Airport, noting that this would be kept in mind as the group.

“At the end of this, we are the consultants. We will give you best advice on practices on processes – the airport has to be moved by the emotions, the vision, of the government as well as MACL,” he explained.

During today’s signing ceremony, Adeeb discussed the government’s vision for the airport, noting that infrastructure would have to be complemented by enhanced human resources in order to provide an international class facility.

“We look forward to opening a brand new, luxurious, airport where the high end tourists would like to spend their time and have that luxurious feeling – a feeling that they are in an airport in the most beautiful destination in the world.”

Adeeb has previously explained that Changi, which manages Singapore’s multiple award-winning Changi airport, would be hired as consultants as they are better qualified to work with Chinese and Japanese contractors.

Following GMR’s renovations to the current international terminal in 2012 – part of the country’s largest foreign investment deal – the project became overwhelmed by political opposition, leaving the foundations of a new terminal to rust on newly reclaimed land.

After arbitration proceedings found the agreement to have been valid and binding, GMR have recently revealed they are seeking US$803 million for damages and loss of reputation – a figure equivalent to around two thirds of next year’s forecast state revenue.

With the court yet to conclude on the amount owed by the Government of Maldives, GMR were reported to have expressed surprise when a preliminary agreement was signed with Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) to upgrade INIA.

2013 saw over 1.3 million tourists land at INIA – around one third of which were Chinese.

MACL’s Bandu Saleem noted today that the government also had plans to expand regional airports – of which there are currently ten – with plans to develop an airport in Raa Atoll.

Correction: this article previously incorrectly stated MACL had signed an agreement with Changi Airport Group. MACL signed an agreement with Changi Airports International.

Related to this story

Airport development begins, with “no chance” of GMR returning to project

GMR lodges US$803million claim, pleads for award of further damages for loss of reputation

GMR surprised with decision to give airport development to Chinese firm

Agreements on bridge and airport penned during Chinese president’s visit


Demands for release of Maafushi prisoners reportedly behind Flyme bomb threat

Demands for the release of unnamed Maafushi prisoners is reported to have been behind the Flyme passenger flight bomb threat last night.

A Flyme official speaking to Haveeru said that the bomb threat came via a note placed on a seat which was then handed to the pilot by one of the crew members on the flight.

The official also stated that the note threatened to blow up the flight and demanded the release of unspecified inmates from Maafushi jail.

On receiving the threat, the pilot immediately turned around and headed back to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. All arrivals to Malé were diverted and departures, including a Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines flight, were delayed.

The airport runway was opened after a two and a half hour closure while the flight was emptied under the supervision of Maldives National Defense Force who searched for explosive devices.

A press statement from Flyme today stated that there were ten foreigners and one Maldivian on the flight in addition to three crew members.

However, a Flyme media official speaking to Minivan News refused to comment on the details of the threat.

Exactly one year ago, on November 23 2013, a Flyme flight departing to Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Kaadehdhoo was delayed after a group threatened to hijack the plane.

Flyme is operated by Villa Air, a subsidiary of Villa Group. Tourism tycoon, Jumhooree Party Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim is the owner of Villa Group.

Last week a Flyme flight was forced to return to Malé en route to Kadadehdhoo after a 59-year-old woman died during shortly after takeoff.

Related to this story

Flyme flight makes emergency landing after bomb threat


Flyme flight makes emergency landing after bomb threat

A Flyme passenger flight has made an emergency landing at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA)  at 11:49pm on Saturday after the pilot received a bomb threat, the Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) has confirmed.

All 11 passengers and three crew members on board the flight have been escorted safely off the plane, the statement said. The MNDF is now conducting a search of the aircraft.

The airport runway was opened after a two and a half hour closure.

The Maldives Police Services declined to state if any arrests were made, only stating that said an investigation team is active at the airport.

The flight to Baa Atoll Dharavandhoo Island left Malé at 11:04pm, a journey of approximately 20 minutes.

Minivan News understands a passenger on board the flight passed the bomb threat written in English to the pilot via a member of the crew.

On receiving the threat, the pilot immediately turned around and headed back to INIA. All arrivals to Malé were diverted and departures including a Singapore Airlines and Turkish Arlines flight were delayed.

Only one of the 11 passengers is a Maldivian, a Flyme official has confirmed.

A year ago, on November 23, a Flyme flight departing to Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Kaadehdhoo was delayed after a group threatened to hijack the plane.

Flyme is operated by Villa Air, a subsidiary of Villa Group. Tourism tycoon, Jumhooree Party Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim is the owner of Villa Group.

Last week a Flyme flight was forced to return  to Malé en route to Kadadehdhoo after a 59-year-old woman died during shortly after take off.