Artur brothers “direct threat to national security”: MP Fahmy

Parliament passed an extraordinary motion today (April 2) expressing concern that cabinet ministers’ connections to the Artur brothers posed a “direct threat to national security”.

Police meanwhile revealed they became aware of the Artur brothers presence in the Maldives in January, and launched an investigation to determine if they had been conducting any illegal activities in the country.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News police had contacted “relevant government authorities” in January to inform them of the Artur brothers’ links to drug trafficking, money laundering, raids on media outlets, dealings with senior government officials and other serious crimes in Kenya.

He was reluctant to share any further details given that “this is still an open case under investigation”.

Minivan News understands that relevant authorities, including the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), Ministry of Home Affairs, and the President’s Office were officially informed in January of the presence of the Artur brothers, even as Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb signed a letter seeking residency permits for the pair.

Immigration Controller Mohamed Ali told local media that Artur Sargasyan left the Maldives on Sunday (March 31). Sargasyan first entered the Maldives on a tourist visa in August 2012 and returned again in October, Ali said. Sargasyan’s associate is still in the Maldives at a resort in Male’ Atoll, Ali told local media.

Photos of the Arturs in the company of Adheeb and Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim emerged on social media over the weekend, apparently taken during the Piston Motor Racing Challenge held on Hulhumale’ between January 25 and 26.

One photo showed Artur Sargsyan next to Adheeb and Nazim, while another has him apparently starting one of the motorcycle races at the event, which was organised by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). Another image showed Sargsyan at the red carpet opening for the Olympus Cinema.

Meanwhile the Artur’s US$6000 bill at the Club Faru resort – recently taken over by the government-owned Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) – was paid by a ”top official of the resort management”, according to Haveeru.

Picking up the story today, Kenyan media reported that the brothers’ practice of publicly ingratiating themselves with senior government officials appeared not to have changed.

“The Arturs’ mode of operation where they show up in the company of top and well-connected government leaders appears to have been replicated in the Maldives. Their presence in the Maldives comes days after ousted leader Mohammed Nasheed expressed fear over his life,” reported Kenya’s Daily Nation publication.

Parliament concerned about connections with cabinet ministers

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy submitted the motion to parliament to raise concerns about the Artur brothers’ presence in the country and their possible connections with Nazim and Adheeb.

“The Artur brothers are a direct threat to national security since they are – true to their old style and from the experiences of other countries – directly linked to the top government officials including Mr Mohamed Nazim who is both the Defense Minister and the acting Transport Minister, as well as Mr Ahmed Adheeb who is the Tourism Minister,” Fahmy told Minivan News.

“These are the most crucial government ministries with which the Artur brothers are looking to have special links to achieve their objectives,” he contended.

Fahmy said the Artur brothers were believed to have carried out “all sorts of serious illegal activities internationally” and that the Maldives “is incapable of handling these notorious conmen from Armenia. They are capable of taking local criminal gangs to different heights.”

Fahmy explained that immigration laws do not permit entry into the Maldives if the visitor is “even suspected” of being involved in human smuggling or trafficking; may be [considered] a national threat, or otherwise may commit crimes against the state.”

“Given all these facts – and that the Artur brothers are  world-infamous for carrying out criminal activities of this sort – they were allowed into the country and seen publicly with top government officials,” Fahmy added, alleging that the pair have three meetings with Adheeb and Nazim on Hulhumale’ and on Club Faru.

National security concerns politicised

While the extraordinary motion passed with 27 votes in favour to 10 against,  most MPs from non-MDP parties “were not in favor of this serious issue”, Fahmy claimed.

The Parliamentary Committee on National Security will “seriously look into the matter”, however because it is not an MDP-majority committee, Fahmy believes said it would not be easy for the opposition to hold Nazim and Adheeb accountable.

“You could see how much the Artur brothers have penetrated into the parliament from the number of no votes for this motion today,” he claimed.

During today’s parliamentary debate the MDP was accused of being connected with the Artur brothers by MPs, who claimed the Maldivian shareholder in a company registered by the brothers was affiliated with the party.

Ismail Waseem of H. Ever Chance was listed as holding a 3 percent share in ‘Artur Brothers World Connections’, registered in the Maldives in October 2012.

Waseem’s share was subsequently transferred to Abdulla Shaffath of H. Ever Peace on November 25.

“No member holding a position in the party has anything to do with the Artur brothers,” Fahmy claimed. “Instead President Dr Waheed Hassan Manik, or his top government officials, are known to have been directly involved with them. It is this coup-government that has brought those conmen into this country,” Fahmy said.

Today’s parliamentary session was prolonged for an additional hour due to the extraordinary motion submitted.

Denials

Defense Minister Nazim and Tourism Minister Adheeb have meanwhile denied any involvement with infamous pair of Armenian brothers.

“I came to know about them after the rumours started spreading on social media networks. But no country had informed of us anything officially,” local media reported Nazim as saying.

“To my knowledge those two men have left the Maldives,” he said.

Adheeb acknowledged meeting the brothers during the Piston Cup event, but bemoaned to Haveeru how “information about this issue is being spread by the media rather negatively. I have no links with them.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Adheeb reiterated that he had no personal links with the Artur brothers, whom he said had now left the country on his recommendation.

According to Adheeb, the Artur brothers had previously invested in the country through a registered joint venture company with members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Adheeb said he “advised them to leave peacefully and they agreed to sort out their visa and leave. They have now left.”

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The future of motor racing in the Maldives: The Piston Cup Challenge

Additional reporting by Leah R Malone

Amateur and professional racers took to the streets of Hulhumale’ this weekend to compete in the Maldives’ first official motorsport competition.

The Piston Cup 2013 racing challenge, organised by both Maldives Motor Racing Association (MMRA) and Piston Group, marked the beginning of what competition organisers are hoping to be a future of sponsored motorsport racing in the Maldives.

Over 100 drivers and motorcyclists competed in the Piston Cup 2013 racing challenge, which attracted over 4000 spectators to the two-day event.

Piston Group Director Mohamed Mauroof told Minivan News that events like the Piston Cup take street racers out of Male’ and puts them in a professional and disciplined environment where they can hone their talents.

“We are trying very hard to encourage motor racing in the Maldives. At first, the public were not very supportive of us as we used to be racing on the streets. However, now they are supporting us because we are doing it in a controlled environment.

“This is the start and it will be better from here on in. We are planning to host another race event in June this year and one next year too,” Mauroof added.

The aim of the Piston Cup was not only to increase interest in motor sport, but to set a benchmark for future events with the festival-style atmosphere that included fire dancing, Maldivian rock bands, boduberu (traditional singing and drumming) and fireworks.

Former street racer Ahmed ‘Dada’ Aiman Abaas, who won twice driving for team Rannamarianes, said that organised racing events are the best way to tackle street racing in Male’.

“I started illegal racing when I was 18, but when the government gave us permission to race in Hulhumale’ it all changed. These events give us a chance to race the right way.

“Illegal street racing has stopped now. If the government continues to give us the opportunity to race here, everyone will wait for that. I hope to have the opportunity to one day go professional,” Abaas said.

According to the MMRA website, individuals who held a valid licence and are “physically and mentally fit” were able to compete in the event.

Event Organiser Ismail Agleem told Minivan News earlier this month that while anyone who meets the race requirements could enter, motor cyclists will be required to have five days worth of practice and car drivers will need to attend a practice session prior to the race. Any competitor who failed to attend these sessions would be deemed a “non-qualifier”.

Mohamed ‘Afu’ Afsah, who has international racing experience and won four races – jointly for teams B Bros and Rannamarianes – in the motorcycle events at the Piston Cup, spoke of the difficulty aspiring Maldivian motor sport competitors face living on the islands.

“I have only been racing for the last two years, and it has been very difficult to practice because we are riding on an island with soil roads. We desperately need a track.

“I am so grateful for events like this, because now we have the chance to practice every week. I really appreciate it,” Afsah added.

High speed concern

With the speed limit in Male’ limited to 30km/h for cars and 25km/h for motorcycles, the Maldives Police Service had previously raised concerns over inexperienced racers driving at high speeds during the event.

Asked whether there was a risk that the competitors – some of whom who may have only driven in the speed controlled zones of Male’ – risked an accident, event organiser Ismail told Minivan News prior to the race there had been “no serious accidents” in previous events.

During the weekend races, Piston Group Director Mauroof said that there had been only one major incident during the event.

“For some of the car drivers this is their first event, and the track is not very big for car racing. That was the reason for the accident.

“We have had no other major accidents where the fire and medic teams had to attend. The driver [who crashed] is fine. However his car is not,” Mauroof said.

MNDF involvement

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim said that the MNDF assisted with the event to promote partnership with Maldivian youth.

“We worked with the youth because they came and met me a few days ago and requested me to organise this. It’s good that we meet with youth, so I took initiative.

“I have enjoyed it, the youth have enjoyed, the racing teams have enjoyed it too, it is a very good event, I’ll always be a partner for the youth, and if they request again, I’ll be happy to host it,” he added.

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