Police find handmade gun in Gan woods

The Maldives Police Services have uncovered a handmade gun hidden in the woods of Laamu Atoll Gan Island.

The improvised firearm was found on February 12, the police said in a statement last night. No arrests have been made yet.

Gan is the largest island in the Maldives, but has a population of only 3,543 people. Large areas of the island remain uninhabited.

In Septmber 2013, two men were charged with terrorism over handmade weapons found in a Malé workshop. The Criminal Court has held a first hearing into the case, the Prosecutor General’s office confirmed today.

According to Haveeru, the police had found an improvised pistol, a sniper rifle and a mine during the raid. The operation was carried out on a tipoff that residents of the house were planning to depart on jihad to Syria. But Haveeru claims there is no evidence to suggest the suspects were attempting to leave the country.

The Anti- Terrorism Act bars Maldivians from possessing firearms and explosive devices. The offense carries a jail term between 10 and 15 years.

In January, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed said there were over 50 Maldivians fighting in foreign wars.

In 2007, a home made bomb was set off at Sultan Park injuring twelve tourists, including eight from China, two from Britain and two from Japan. The blast was triggered using a mobile phone and washing machine motor attached to a gas cylinder.

Former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim is currently in jail on suspicion of terrorism and treason after the police discovered a pistol and live bullets during a midnight raid on January 18.

Nazim was subsequently dismissed from his ministerial post. The police later claimed to also have found an improvised explosive device at Nazim’s house.

He was arrested on midnight on February 10. The Criminal Court the next day extended his remand for 15 days.

The police have since accused Nazim of plotting to overthrow the government and harm senior government officials.

Nazim’s lawyers claim the former minister is being framed and have said the firearms were planted.

Related to this story

PIC investigating Nazim’s complaint against Police Commissioner

Police accuse Nazim of plotting coup, planning to harm senior government officials

Suspect in 2007 Sultan Park bombing arrested after arriving from Pakistan


Authorities investigating Facebook adoption advert

Police have confirmed they are investigating reports that a woman in Laamu Atoll used Facebook to announce her one-week old baby was up for adoption.

Local media have reported that the Facebook post – since taken down – said it was “a golden opportunity for anyone who wished for a cute, cute baby girl.”

While Minivan News was unable to obtain comment from the Ministry of Law and Gender today, local media was told that the ministry was also looking into rights of the child having been violated.

“Ministry has set up special procedures and ways in which a child can be put into the care of another, in cases where parents are unable to look after the child. Or for the child to be taken immediately into State custody,” Deputy Gender Minister Shidhatha Shareef told Haveeru.

Local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) explained that cases of adoption are very rare in the Maldives, and so there is no clear legal framework such proceedings.

Minivan News has been told previously that the Maldives has no formal adoption procedures, with courts instead permitting permit a long-term guardianships – normally by extended family members.

While officials from Maavah Island Council told Haveeru that the gender ministry had been notified when the woman gave birth on December 11, though the ministry said it had not been notified that the family did not have resources to look after the child.

The child was reportedly born in the health center on the island, which has a population of 1,270.

Related to this story

Informal adoption laws and lack of legislation hampering Health Ministry


Government launches guest house island project

With additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

Details of the government’s first guest house island on Thumburi, in Laamu atoll, were revealed last night.

“Once again today we are looking to diversify tourism, to shape it in a different way. It does not mean moving away from the existing concept of having one resort on one island,” said President Abdulla Yameen during the launch.

Part of the Progressive Party of Maldives’ election manifesto, the guest house island concept aims to diversify the tourism industries to include small and medium enterprises, without encroaching on inhabited islands.

While guest house tourism on populated islands has grown rapidly in recent years, some in the industry have expressed concern that it may damage the high-end resort image of the Maldives.

The project – which will involve the development of a 2,100 bed resort run by multiple local businesses – was described as  “communal tourism development” or “vertical tourism” by the president.

“So in this newly introduced concept, we are inviting various small and medium businesses who are interested in this industry to chip-in money – [it is a] type of tourism based on amounts which could be easily borrowed from banks as well,” he continued.

The president also revealed that further guest house island projects would be carried out within the special economic zones to be established under proposed legislation.

Speaking at yesterday’s event, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb explained that the decision had come in response to medium sized businesses who wished to gain a foothold in the resort industry.

Only Maldivians will be permitted to invest in such projects, with priority given to those not yet involved in the industry, explained Adeeb.

The Thumburi project will  make land available on the 17 hectare uninhabited island – as well as the linked Hulhiyandhoo island – for investors to develop hotels, a diving school, water sports centres, restaurants and shopping centres, while government owned companies will invest in the island’s basic infrastructure – electricity and sewage.

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) will lead the project and engage with investors who will then market their own products.

MMPRC is currently fielding expressions of interest and expects to begin development by the end of the year.

“In our mind, the ultimate objective of this [project] would be increasing job opportunities and providing the opportunity to go forward benefiting the economy for many young Maldivians, and to double our per capita GDP income when our five-year term is completed,” President Yameen said at yesterday’s event.

Despite the tripling of guest house bed capacity in the past six years, the industry continues to be dominated by the one island/one resort model.

Growing from just 22 registered businesses in 2009, to 171 currently listed, the guest house tourism project – initiated during the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed – was introduced as an attempt to allow local communities to benefit from the billion dollar industry.


Week in review: February 22– 28

A tragic incident at the country’s main public hospital – IGMH – caused outrage this week as it was revealed that HIV infected blood had been given to a patient.

Profuse apologies from the Home Minister were not enough for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) who accused the government of hiding the news for eight days in order to complete the celebrations of its first 100 days in power.

Earlier in the week, Minivan News was informed that certain operations at the hospital had been suspended owing to the lack of the necessary staff safety equipment. The week had begun with Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid pledging US$10 million for the renovation of the Indian-built facility.

The introduction of unlimited health insurance had already been announced earlier in the week. The ambitious pledge is soon to be followed by larger pensions, both of which are set to be sustained through the issuance of government debt.

Promises for completion of the long-awaited Malé-Hulhulé bridge within two years were also given, though development of the central atolls appeared to be coming at the expense of the Addu – the country’s second-city.

High priority is being given to the housing situation of police officers, while the fisheries minister launched a training scheme for long-line fishing, arguing that deviation from the country’s traditional pole-and-line approach was important to utilise all fishing grounds.

The Supreme Court’s decision to prosecute the Elections Commission (EC) on contempt of court charges prompted alarm this week from both representatives of the EU and Maldivian civil society, who demanded the court “earn the respect of the people”.

The EU called upon the government to ensure the EC’s independence in the run up to the March 22 parliamentary elections. Despite the government’s financial restrictions on EC spending, the commission has assured that polls will be unaffected.

While on the campaign trail, the MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed warned that the people of the country would not tolerate further electoral interference, labelling the ongoing court case “unjust”.

While Nasheed assured that his party does not intend to obstruct the government should it win a majority, President Yameen remained unconvinced, assuring voters that the MDP would attempt to remove him.

Yameen also rounded on the current members of the country’s legislature, arguing that the public had lost confidence in the institution. The recently jailed MP Abdulla Jabir was this week cleared of further cannabis possession charges – his lawyers have suggested his earlier conviction violated his constitutional rights.

The Criminal Court’s running feud with the Prosecutor General’s Office continued this week, with the PG’s Office accusing the court of overstepping its authority when introducing new time limits for the forwarding of cases.

In the Civil Court, a dispute over an oil trade agreement between the State Trading Organisation and Villufushi constituency MP Riyaz Rasheed was thrown out after the former’s legal team failed to show up.

Further agreements on oil trade could be on their way, however, as the the national oil company announced it was searching for outside assistance for further exploration projects.

Though well-qualified to discuss oil, Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz was reported to be visiting the Maldives in order to talk about potential investments in tourism, transport, and Islamic affairs, as well the provision of a soft loans to the Maldives.

One avenue of Saudi investment into the country was confirmed this week, with a prominent investment firm from the kingdom making plans for a US$100 million resort in Laamu atoll.

Maldivians seeking to travel in the other way may have to delay their plans, however, after both the Civil Court and the Anti Corruption Commission ordered the Islamic Ministry to halt the awarding of contracts for Hajj trips pending investigations into the bidding process.

Elsewhere this week, the second case of forced child prostitution in the country’s southern atolls, while an inmate at Maafushi jail suffered severe head injuries during a fight with other inmates.


Saudi investment firm to develop US$100 million resort in Laamu atoll

Saudi real estate investment and development firm Best Choice has announced plans to develop a US$100 million resort on Vadinolhu island in Laamu Atoll.

“We are negotiating with investors, and we are looking for more,” Best Choice CEO Mohamad Rabih Itani told Minivan News today.

“Our aim is to develop Vadinolhu Island as a high-end resort with world-class facilities to promote it as a complete family destination,” Itani explained in a company press release.

With headquarters in Bahrain, Best Choice – formed just last month – also has offices in Turkey and the Maldives. The company’s owners, however, have been active in the Maldives for a number of years, Mitani told Minivan.

“The company was established last month, but we already had a company in the Maldives called Miulu developments since 2011.”

Established by Saudi investors, the group currently specialises in properties in Italy and Spain, as well as selling mixed-use projects in Turkey and residential developments in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz is scheduled to visit the Maldives this week, and ties between the Arab state that the Indian Ocean archipelago have been growing under the presidency of Abdulla Yameen.

Headlines in Saudi Arabia have suggested that Prince Salman will discuss potential investments and partnerships in energy, tourism, transport, and Islamic affairs, as well the provision of a soft loan facility of US$300 million for the Indian Ocean nation.

President’s Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz today said that prince’s visit is still due to take place, and that Prince Salman will meet with President Yameen during his stay.

When asked about Best Choice’s links with the Saudi royal family and the increasing relations between the two states, Mitani stated that the timing of the resort announcement was “pure coincidence”.

The proposed resort, reported to feature 100 beach villas, world-class dining services, wellness facilities, and leisure activities, a Best Choice press release has stated. The resort is expected to be completed by 2017.

“We have already designed a business proposal targeting potential investors to collaborate with us in the operation and management of the resort. We are confident of achieving an operating profit in the second year with the cash payback period at six years,” Mitani explained.

Best Choice’s press release describes the Maldives as “one of the most recent investment destinations in South Asia”.

“Due to its investment-friendly policies, the South East Asian Island offers attractive opportunities to keen investors – especially those into resort management,” read the release.

The Yameen administration has sought burnish the country’s credentials as an attractive place to invest after the premature termination of Indian company GMR’s deal to develop the international airport in late 2012.

Although Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives – part of the governing coalition at the time of GMR’s expulsion – includes many vocal opponents of the GMR deal, the party has since distanced itself from the decision.

Reassuring foreign investors of the safety of the Maldives as a destination for investment was recently announced of one of the main aims of the administration’s foreign policy.

The Maldives brand of luxury tourism currently accounts for 70-80 percent of the country’s GDP, with the IMF noting recently that investors in the Maldivian resorts can expect a quicker return on investment than in similar resort industries. The industry attracted over 1.2 million tourists in 2013.

The IMF delegation also noted that, despite plans to increase tourist goods and services tax to 12 percent later this year, the Maldives tourism industry was still only lightly taxed in comparison to other destinations.


Leading Swiss retail group opens training centre for Maldives fisherman

Switzerland’s retailing group Migros and the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) have opened a training centre for Maldivian fishermen.

The fishing industry news source ‘Fish Site’ reported that the aim of the newly opened Fishermen’s Community and Training Centre (FCTC) was to provide long term support for the country’s pole and line fishing communities through fisheries training and education.

According the website, the FCTC will provide free training courses for active fishermen and school leavers.

The source quoted Chairman of the IPNLF John Burton, who described the training centre as “an important milestone for the Maldivian fishing industry, an industry we are all part of, an industry that is at the heart of Maldivian way of life.’’

Government records show that, in 2012, over 120,000 metric tons of fish were caught in the Maldives, with over 10,000 fishermen registered.

“The opening of this centre marks our collective and considerable efforts in building a stronger and commercially competitive pole and line fishing industry for this country, while directly supporting the local fishermen and their communities,’’ said Burton.

Also present at the ceremony, Maldives Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee sincerely thanked everyone supporting the program in the name of the ministry and local fishermen for partnering in the development of the fishing industry, keeping pole and line fishing a sustainable method as well as promoting it to other countries.

The FCTC is based in Gan in Laamu Atoll, and will be run by Maldives Fishermen Association.

In November 2013, The European Union declined to extend the duty-free status of imported fish from the Maldives, following the country’s failure to comply with international conventions concerning freedom of religion.

The Maldives exports 40 percent of its US$100 million fishing industry to the EU – its single largest export partner by value.

However, in an interview with Minivan News, Fisheries Minister Dr Shainee stated that this issue could be solved through bilateral relations between the countries in EU.

“The European market or consumer will be affected from this as well. There will a lot of pressure from the consumer’s side, as when prices of fish go up, it’s not just us carrying the burden, but also the consumers. So I think there will be a lot of pressure,’’ he told Minivan News.

Shainee noted that there would be a lot of pressure from the consumers in Europe, with the minister suggesting that people were more educated and wanted these types of niche products.

“Maldives is the only country that doesn’t catch by-catch fish. We are dolphin free. We are catching one by one. We are the most green fisheries industry in the world, in fact. So I am sure the consumers in the European market would like to get something from this side of the world which is more green and environmental friendly,’’ he added.


Criminal Court frees murder suspect due to lack of evidence

The Criminal Court has released Ahmed Niyaz, 28 of Gan in Laamu Atoll, a murder suspect arrested in connection with the death of 51 year-old man in Gan in Laamu Atoll, citing lack of evidence.

Criminal Court Media Official Ahmed Mohamed Manik today told Minivan News that the court released him because it’s been nine months since he was arrested and the police were unable to collect enough evidence to charge him.

‘’The court repeatedly asked the police to decide on charging him with the case and to try and collect more evidence to charge him,’’ Manik said.

Manik said that the court released him on 26 December.

On March 13, Mohamed Hassan, 51, died in the ICU of Indira Gandi memorial Hospital (IGMH) with injuries to the right side of his head which caused serious injuries to his skull.

His condition was critical and doctors did not allow him to be transferred abroad for further treatment.

The Laamu Gan Regional Hospital Manager told local media at the time that that the victim’s nose and ears were bleeding continuously when he was admitted to hospital

Sources from the island told Minivan News that the victim was having an affair with a woman living in the house he was sleeping in.

The source said one of the woman’s sons was arrested in connection with the case.

In 2010, the Criminal Court released Ibrahim Shahum Adam, who had been arrested in connection with a murder case, citing lack of cooperation from the government before the same man was arrested six months later in connection with another murder case.


Police charges Ahmed Niyaz with Laamu Gan murder case

Police have asked the Prosecutor General’s office to charge Ahmed Niyaz, 28 of Gan in Laamu Atoll, with the murder case of Mohamed Hassan of the same island.

Hassan was killed while he was sleeping on March 12, 2013.

According to police, at around 11:25pm Niyaz hit Mohamed Hassan in the head whilst he was sleeping. He died the following day after failing to survive the injuries received.

Police said the case was investigated by police Serious and Organized Crime department and sent to the PG’s office on November 26.

Niyaz is still in police custody.

Furthermore, the police said Niyaz had previous records of assault, battery and robbery.

On March 13, Hassan, aged 51, died in the ICU of Indira Gandi memorial Hospital (IGMH) with injuries to the right side of his head which caused serious injuries to his skull.

His condition was critical and doctors did not allow him to be transferred abroad for further treatment.

The Laamu Gan Regional Hospital Manager told local media at the time that that the victim’s nose and ears were bleeding continuously when he was admitted to hospital

Sources from the island told Minivan News that the victim was having an affair with a woman living in the house he was sleeping in.

The source said one of the woman’s sons was arrested in connection with the case.


Three arrested in connection with assault in Laamu Atoll

Police have arrested two men and a minor in connection with a case where a group of men attacked a man inside a tea shop on the island of Gan in Laamu Atoll.

Police said the persons arrested were aged 22, 19, and 16.

According to police, the three persons went inside a tea shop yesterday (3 September 2013) and attacked the man at around 5:30 pm.

Police said no major injuries were caused in the attack.