EPA report chronology unclear, claims Champa Moosa’s lawyer

An Environment Protection Agency (EPA) report on alleged illegal dredging and reclamation on Kaafu Thun’bafalhu was not clear whether it took place before or after environmental regulations came into force, Azima Shukoor, lawyer for Champa ‘Uchoo’ Mohamed Moosa, claimed in the Civil Court on Monday.

Azima Shukoor, former Attorney General, is contesting that the EPA violated the constitution and the Environment Protection Act by imposing a fine on Champa Moosa.

In June, the EPA labelled Champa an “environmental criminal” for irreversibly damaging the island of Thun’bafushi and the marine ecosystem of Thun’bafalhu and fined Moosa the maximum penalty of Rf100 million (US$6.5 million) for conducting dredging and reclamation works in the area without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

According to newspaper Haveeru, Azima argued in court that the island or sandbank was leased to Champa Moosa in 1992 while regulations under the Environment Protection Act of 1993 requiring EIAs was put in place in 2007.

Azima further claimed that the EPA provided its report to Champa with chapters missing, depriving the local business tycoon of his right to fully answer the charges.

State Attorney Usham Ahmed however said that the island was leased to Champa in 1997 and read out the first letter sent from the EPA noting the illegal activities on the island and ordering a halt to it.

“When she says they do not know what was done illegally, I don’t know how to make this any clearer,” Haveeru quoted Usham as saying.

Usham said that the EPA met Champa on numerous occasions and offered him opportunities to answer the charges, adding that the report was made available to Champa’s legal team four days after it was requested. Usham noted that Champa Moosa did not request the report before the EPA decided to impose the Rf100 million fine.

Judge Mariyam Nihayath adjourned the hearing after announcing an additional trial date to consider the full EPA report before delivering a judgment, which is reportedly due on September 27.