Opposition calls for tourism minister asset freeze

The opposition coalition has called for the tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb to face an asset freeze and an investigation over allegations of corruption and bribery.

Defectors from the ruling coalition have in recent weeks accused Adeeb of a series of offences, including using rogue police officers to frame the former defence minister, employing gangs to harass opponents and buying gifts for the First Lady with ill-gotten money.

But Adeeb has dismissed the allegations as defamation. He denies giving first lady Fathimath Ibrahim a car, saying she bought it with her own money.

He was unavailable for further comment at the time of going to press.

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla claimed Adeeb was in debt when he first assumed the tourism portfolio in 2012, but was now capable of distributing US$100,000 gifts such as a diamond ring for the first lady.

Addressing Adeeb at the opposition’s daily protest on Monday, Imran said: “You, more than all Maldivians, know you cannot buy all these gifts with your ministerial salary.”

He said individuals seeking an appointment with the tourism minister were asked to pay thousands of dollars, and alleged that Adeeb was taking millions of dollars under the table from investors interested in doing business in the Maldives.

Adeeb’s corruption will “very soon isolate you, make you destitute, without anyone to care for you,” Imran warned.

In response, Adeeb said in a tweet: “It’s funny that anyone who has uttered filth to President Nasheed & MDP in past, now need to shout my name to get MDP’s acceptance and support.”

The Adhaalath Party, which played a key role in president Mohamed Nasheed’s ouster in 2012, allied with his Maldivian Democratic Party after charges of smuggling weapons were brought against former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism while Nazim was sentenced to 11 years in jail last week.

The Maldivians Against Brutality coalition – made up of Adhaalath, MDP, members of the Jumhooree Party (JP) and members of Nazim’s family – today alleged corruption by the government relating to a recent deal to build a new commercial port in the Malé area.

The opposition would not accept such deals, Sheikh Imran said.

MDP chairperson Ali Waheed said the party has conducted a study of the “economic crimes” involved in Thilafushi, and south central Faafu and Dhaalu atolls.

Supporting an asset freeze, MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy said Adeeb had hijacked the state’s watchdog institutions to ensure they would not investigate his corruption.

Former auditor general Niyaz Ibrahim was sacked by the PPM after he released a damning report implicating Adeeb in US$6million of corrupt transactions, Fahmy noted.

In the report, Adeeb is accused of funneling money from state companies to a company owned by his family and pocketing money paid by an Italian investor for a resort lease.

In Niyaz’s stead, the PPM appointed a family member of an individual implicated along with Adeeb by the report.

Adeeb at the time dismissed the report as baseless and said Niyaz had been influenced by PPM MP Ahmed Nazim, who he claimed had a personal grudge against him, to write the report.

Nazim was sentenced to life in jail last week over corruption charges in a case dating from 2004.

Fahmy said the government had tied up the hands of judges, the prosecutor general and anti-corruption watchdog by awarding them discounted flats in a luxury apartment complex.

President of the Anti Corruption Commission Hassan Luthfee is now residing in the Rehendhi flats.

When asked if the ACC is investigating any cases involving the tourism minister, the body’s vice president Muaviz Rasheed said it does not comment on specific individuals.

The Auditor General’s Office was not responding to queries at the time of going to press.


Government to charge US$25,000 for SEZ applications

The government will charge a US$25,000 application fee from potential investors in its flagship Special Economic Zones.

Accepted applicants are also required to pay a US $1 million guarantee to a bank account of the board’s choice within 15 days of receiving the initial permit, under the new SEZ investment board regulations.

The regulations, published on April 2, set out the terms for a programme that the government hopes will bring in $100m by August. It has so far signed one memorandum of understanding for an SEZ.

The regulations give the President the authority to appoint the board’s chair, vice-chair and to dismiss board members at any time.

They also give the board the power to freeze potential investors’ local assets if the permit is terminated and the investor has any outstanding debt. The board will have the discretion to cancel all visas to migrant workers if a permit is terminated.

Speaking to Minivan News, Economic Council co-Chair and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb said the government is “looking for serious investors”, pointing out that the minimum investment for a SEZ stands at US$ 150 million.

Adeeb said the application fee was set after consulting with investors, and that processing these proposals is hard work.

President Abdulla Yameen has previously declared that the SEZ act would become “a landmark law” that would strengthen the country’s foreign investment regime.

The only SEZ activity since the act was ratified by President Yameen in August 2014 has been a memorandum of understanding for a Dubai Ports World free trade port.

Adeeb said, however, that there is a lot of support for the SEZs, pointing out that Indian investors have shown interest in building a gold refinery after Maldives granted duty free status to gold.

The government estimates that it will be able to acquire over US $100 million in acquisition fees from the SEZs by August 2015.

The US$100 million figure has been included as one of three revenue-raising measures in the 2015 annual state budget, alongside increasing import duties and taxes.

“I think we will meet budget targets. Some investors are prepared to pay a US $100 million acquisition fee on a single project,” said the tourism minister.

The first SEZ project is likely to be the Dubai Ports World free trade port in Thilafushi in Male’ atoll, followed by the mega I-haven port project in the north, Adeeb added.

The government signed an MoU with the Dubai company on the port on March 19, while it is still seeking investors for the I-haven project on the northernmost Ihavandhihpolhu (Haa Alif) atoll.

During parliamentary proceedings, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) submitted more than 300 amendments to the SEZ bill.

The MDP claimed that the law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, while authorizing the president to “openly sell off the country” without parliamentary oversight.

The government, however, maintained that SEZs with relaxed regulations and tax concessions were necessary to attract foreign investors.


Designs for six-lane airport bridge underway

Designs for a six-lane bridge connecting the capital and the airport are expected to be completed by the end of June this year, the government has announced.

Construction of the Malé–Hulhulé Bridge, first slated to begin in 2014, will now start by the end of this year, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb said today.

China has previously said it would ‘favorably consider financing’ the bridge if the design proves feasible, while President Xi Jinping said he hoped the government would call the bridge “the China-Maldives friendship bridge”.

Adeeb said the total cost of the project will only be known after the design is completed. China and Maldives will then consider options for financing and open a bidding process.

According to the government, a team of 60 people is working on the design. The six mile bridge is to connect the eastern edge of Malé to the western corner of Hulhule, where the airport is located. Land may have to be reclaimed in Hulhulé for the bridge, Adeeb said.

The bridge, a key campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen, will also connect Malé to its suburb Hulhumalé, an artificial island located behind Hulhulé and connected by a short causeway.

In March, 227 hectares of land were reclaimed in Hulhumalé for a planned ‘Youth City.’

In February 2014, the economic development ministry announced 19 parties had expressed interest in an initial tender for the bridge, but the tender was cancelled after China expressed interest in the project following a visit by President Yameen in August last year.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had also planned a series of bridges in Male’ atoll when it was in power.


PPM condemns suggestions that tourism minister plotted festival arrests

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has condemned former President Mohamed Nasheed’s criticism of the government and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb regarding the Anbaraa music festival arrests, calling on the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to act more responsibly.

Speaking at a radio show on opposition aligned  97 Minivan Radio yesterday, Nasheed said that the police arrest of 79 people from the two-day music festival on Anbaraa Island was a pre-planned and politically motivated act to suppress the youth.

Nasheed went onto suggest that Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb was behind it.

Denying the allegations, the PPM condemned Nasheed’s comments, describing them as an “uncivilised” attempt to sabotage the implementation of PPM’s youth manifesto as well as the other youth development efforts of the government.

“The young tourism minister is a person who works very hard at national and international levels to bring development to country, without giving any regard to political ideologies,” read the statement.

“This party does not believe Ahmed Adeeb who is also the vice president of the party would do any favors to anyone for his political or personal advantage, or do anything that could harm anyone.”

In the press release, the PPM called on Nasheed to put an end to “the politically motivated defamatory remarks” against the current Maldivian government, PPM and the VP of the party Adeeb.

Nasheed alleged that Adeeb had purposefully put a large number of people into the same place in order to arrest them.

“President Yameen, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and their partners are once again working to oppress and suppress the youth, and to rule for a life time as they want by keeping them [the youth] from speaking out. This is a political plot,” Nasheed told 97 Minivan.

Recalling an incident from 1979 when then-President Gayoom arrested a large group of youth before allegedly torturing them, Nasheed suggested that the youth did not open their mouths to talk about it until Gayoom’s 30 year administration was over.

He subsequently called upon people to come out in defense of the youth, and warned that failure to do so would result in more hardships in the future.