Comment: Maldives caught in Russo – American tiff

Through a deft post facto damage-control, the Government of President Abdulla Yameen seems to have diffused and warded off – at least for the time being – what threatened to be a major diplomatic incident for Maldives, and involving the US and Russia, the two ‘Cold War’ era competitors who havce lately been flexing their political muscles in distant Europe.

The issue relates to the arrest of a Russian national on Maldivian soil, and his immediate handing over to waiting US marshals, who flew him away, seemingly without giving Male enough time for second thoughts – and naturally so. How things shape may now depend more on how events play out on the domestic front in Russia and/or on the international arena relating to the Russo-American stand-off/trade-off in the ‘Ukraine-Crimean crisis’ which refuses to die down, than on anything Maldivian.

Maldives was literally and possibly unknowingly caught in the Russo-American politico-diplomatic cross-fire after the local police reportedly arrested Roman Valerevich Seleznyov, the 30-year-old son of a Russian parliamentarian, whom the US has claimed was a ‘hacker and bank fraud’ wanted by American courts since 2011. Seleznyov was apprehended at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male and handed over to the US Secret Service – though a slightly different version has claimed greater credence.

Russia sought an immediate explanation from Maldives. Valery Seleznyov, the parliamentarian-father of Roman, even wanted Moscow to impose economic sanctions on Male, for allowing three waiting US marshals to fly away with his son. He also claimed that the US flew his son to the western Pacific territory of Guam, where not all protection under US civil laws were available/applicable, for his son to seek relief.

MP Valery charged the US with ‘kidnapping’ his son for a (possible) trade-off against the return of Edward Snowden, a sub-contractor of the US’ National Security Agency (NSA), who has taken refuge in Russia after leaking top-secret American phone-and-email tapping records the world over. Thankfully for the US – and possibly for Maldives, too – the Russian Government is not known to have shared the parliamentarian’s claims linking the US action now to a Snowden ‘trade-off’.

‘Abduction’ and ‘outrage’

Either owing to domestic pressure, or the opportunity to hit the US once more in the prevailing circumstances of ever-dipping bilateral equations, the Russian Foreign Ministry lost no time in coming down heavily on the ‘Cold War’ era adversary. “It is not the first time that the US resorts to de facto abduction of a Russian national, ignoring the bilateral 1999 treaty on mutual legal assistance” ministry said. With much of the rest of the world media reporting near-nothing on the episode – it’s true in India, too – the Maldivian media reported that Russia had compared the Seleznyov incident to two other extradition cases. One was of Viktor Bout, whom the US claimed was an arms-dealer. The other related to an alleged drug-smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko. They too were “forcibly taken to the US from third countries and convicted on dubious charges”, the Russian Foreign Ministry claimed in its early reactions to the Seleznyov incident.

Moscow simultaneously claimed that Maldives had not kept them informed of the imminent arrest, and called upon Male to provide the necessary explanations. “The stance of Maldives’ authorities cannot be but outraging, since despite the existing international legislation norms they allowed another country’s special service to kidnap a Russian citizen and take him out of the country,” the ministry said further. Independent of ‘sovereignty’ issues that may be weighted in Male’s favour, in practical terms, these were strong Russian words against a small country like Maldives.

Seleznyov’s father advised fellow-Russians not to travel to Maldives, whose economy is heavily dependent on international tourism. Whether he had this alone in mind when he demanded ‘economic sanctions’ against Maldives, or something more specific pertaining to possible abrogation/cut in government-to-government arrangements is unclear.

As the Maldivian media recalled, in September 2013, Russia had issued a travel advisory, asking its citizens to avoid countries where US law- enforcement can arrest and extradite its citizens. Would Maldives’ name be found on the Russian list, if any, too is unclear. It is another matter that according to available statistic, the Russian market for inward tourism in Maldives “deteriorated further posting a negative growth of 7.5 percent for the period from January to May 2014. Market share of Russia stood at 6.4 percent at the end of the period”.

‘Cyber crook’, says US

According to the US, Seleznyov was arrested by the US Secret Service and was transported to Guam Island where he was presented to a court. He is under detention until a second hearing on July 22, the US has clarified since. In a related development, US Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Jenny A. Durkan, in a statement thanked the US Secret Service for apprehending Seleznyov. “Cyber crooks should take heed: you cannot hide behind distant keyboards. We will bring you to face justice,” said Durkin, who also heads the US Justice Department’s Cyber-crime and Intellectual Property Enforcement Sub-committee of the Attorney-General’s Advisory Committee.

According to the American statement, Seleznyov was indicted as far back as March 2011 in the Western District of Washington for hacking into point-of-sale systems at retailers throughout the country between October 2009 and February 2011. He is said to have been involved in the criminal underground for carding (verifying validity of stolen credit card data), where he is known as “Track-2??.

In this, Seleznyev is accused of engaging in a bank fraud scheme, hacking into retail POS systems and installing malicious software on them to steal credit card numbers. He is also accused of creating and operated infrastructure – among the servers that hosting carding forum websites selling stolen credit card numbers.

“The arrest of Roman Seleznyov is yet another example of how the Secret Service continues to successfully combat data-theft and financial crimes,” according to Robert Kierstead, Special Agent in Charge of the US Secret Service Seattle Field Office. “The Secret Service utilised state-of-the-art investigative techniques to dismantle this criminal network. Our success in this case and other similar investigations is a result of the extraordinary work of our investigators, and our close work with our network of law-enforcement partners,” the Maldivian media quoted US official statements as saying.

The US statements clarified that Maldives acted under its own law in the matter. Yet, the local media also referred to the fact that the current passenger-identification system installed at the Male airport was a gift from the US. If they had questions if the same had been linked to American computer-aided person/passport identification systems installed elsewhere in the country other than that of the Interpol’s, to facilitate tracking and detaining persons ‘wanted’ by the US, the media has been silent over flagging such issues – at least thus far.

Procedural lapses, if?

In between, the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) lost no time in bringing out the nation’s purported embarrassment through media statements, and laying the blame at the doorsteps of the Yameen Government. The MDP statement claimed that Seleznyov was not accorded ‘consular services’ from the Russian Embassy in Colombo before his detention, nor was a court order obtained under the law in Maldives for his arrest.

It is another matter that the MDP, which is now being seen as more sympathetic to the ‘Russian cause’, as if by a matter of principle, was more inclined towards supporting the American line in international fora when party leader Mohammed Nasheed was the nation’s first democratically-elected President, but short-lived in the post (2008-12). At the time, Maldives was seen as backing the US line UN fora, boldly inviting Israeli farm scientists and medical doctors to work in the country despite the nation’s traditional reservations flowing from the ‘Palestine issue’. The one issue that keeps coming to mind from that period was the reported Maldivian decision to accept a Guantanamo Bay detainee at American instance – though domestic protests put paid to the proposal before long.

No detention order from court?

According to social media claims, the criminal court in Maldives had declined to issue the detention order, indicating that the airport detention was the last-ditch but successful effort at ensuring that Seleznyov did not jump the American coup. These reports also indicated that Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, whom the MDP Government had detained in January 2012, but restored later, was at the centre of the current controversy attending on the possible denial of detention order against Seleznyov.

The reports also indicated that the Russian Embassy in Colombo might have been brought into the picture post facto, and not before Seleznyov’s detention and transportation to Guam. Whether the official Maldivian intimation to Russia came before Seleznyov’s father’s public statement or not remains unclear, however. However, reports indicated that it might have been otherwise, thus upsetting Russia, and the Russian Embassy in Colombo.

Social media circles have since pointed out how a section of the Maldivian media had removed previous references to possible legal advice purportedly provided to the Government in the matter, sometime during the course of the detention discourse within. It is unclear if the removal of an earlier media reference to the advice that the Government could stamp Seleznyov’s passport as ‘Departed’ and then have him arrested inside the airport was removed at anybody’s instance and insistence. It is however not uncommon for the media to remove such references in subsequent despatches, if later inquiry or clarification had put things in perspective.

There has been relative silence from the Russian side after the US statements that Seleznyov was a ‘cyber crook’ and ‘bank-fraud’. If nothing much comes off on that front, it may remain that the Maldivian lapses, if any, might have been procedural at best. Sooner than the Russian reactions came out, President Yameen, and the Maldivian Home Ministry, in quick succession, lost no time with their clarification. Accordingly, Maldives had acted on an Interpol ‘Red Alert’, as always.

“As Interpol is the biggest international police institution and the Maldives has been a member of the Interpol since 1984, the government of Maldives considers Interpol ‘Red Notices’ to be of high priority and takes serious action (regarding such notices),” the Maldivian Home Ministry said in a statement. The ministry also said the Maldives respects international treaties it is party to and strives to sustain relations with friendly nations.

However, questions have been raised, particularly pertaining to the ‘due process’ – followed or not by the Maldivian authorities. Maldives does not have an extradition treaty with the US, and ‘social media’ critics in the Indian Ocean archipelago have asked how their Government could hand over the detained person to the waiting American marshals, without handing him over through the Interpol, under the circumstances. Questions have also been raised about the kind of coordination required to apprehend the Russian and hand him over to the US personnel, who might have already been there on Maldivian soil.

The social media has gone viral with purported details that no Government has denied, or clarified, since. According to eye-witness accounts quoted in these reports, US marshals were the ones who actually effected the arrest at the airport after shouting their presence – as seen often in Hollywood films — even as Maldivian Tourist Police personnel looked on. If however there was any visual evidence to the same – as it often happens by the use of a mobile-phone camera or the like — it has not made its appearance on the social media networks.

The first and foremost question remains — why the Maldivian authorities did not go public about the 5 July arrest until after the Russians had made an issue of the same. Though initial confusion remained if Seleznyov was apprehended when he was landing or departing at Male, the social media has since come up with reports that have not since been denied.

Accordingly, a woman (variously described as his wife or girl friend) and child had accompanied Seleznyov, and they had been staying in Maldives for five days before departure. Having been allowed to proceed to Russia with Seleznyov’s detention, they had taken up the matter with his family and the Government. Father Seleznyov, reportedly heading a regional political party in Vladivostok that is partnering with President Vladimir Putin’s Government, his anguished voice could not have but found resonance in official reactions, initially. Or, so goes an argument.

‘An isolated incident’

With strong and unexpected reaction from Russia possibly taking the Maldivian Government by surprise, President Yameen lost no time in sending out a delegation of senior officials to Colombo, the seat of the Russian Embassy and Ambassador, co-accredited to Sri Lanka and Maldives, to explain the situation. This has since been followed in double-quick time by Maldives’ A-team, comprising Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon and Attorney-General, Mohammed Anil, meeting with Russian officials, again in Colombo, to take forward the discussions.

Critics of the Yameen Government nearer home would want to believe that the first-round official-level talks with Russia did not go on Maldives’ expected lines, hence the need for despatching a senior minister and the AG, personally. However, after her round of talks, Foreign Minister Dunya said later that the “strong, mutually beneficial” relations between the two countries would not “derail” due to an “isolated incident” like Seleznyov’s arrest.

According to a Maldivian Foreign Ministry statement, the two ministers explained to the Russian officials that the Maldives had followed “past practices” in dealing with Interpol ‘Red Notices’. The two sides also discussed on entering into agreements in order to avoid such incidents in the future, the ministry added. With President Yameen now on expanding the nation’s external relations with a visit to Japan earlier this year, and one to China next month, the two countries may also consider a presidential visit to Russia on a subsequent occasion. Or, would they, just at the moment when things would still be hot in Moscow?

India’s ‘sphere of influence’

Weeks ahead will determine how the ‘Seleznyov episode’ plays out in the Russo-Maldivian relations. Considering in particular that the US, withdrawing from Afghanistan yet wanting its political and naval presence relatively intact in the Indian Ocean region has been wooing nations like Maldives and threatening those like Sri Lanka in the neighbourhood, the current Russian diplomatic stand-off with Male, may have consequences for India too in its ‘traditional sphere of geo-strategic and politico-economic influence’.

With the new Government in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi lending greater focus to the immediate South Asian neighbourhood, it remains to be seen how India views the recent developments in Maldives. It is another matter that in the overall context, India has no role to play per se, either before, during or after the event, as it pertains entirely to Maldives’ ‘sovereign’ decision-making capacity and inherent capabilities as a nation-State that cherishes its independence even more. Yet, India may not be able to look the other way if the current Russo-Maldives impasse were to blow out of proportion. Or, if the US marshals’ presence and actions in Maldives, without due information to a neighbour like India – or, Sri Lanka – came to be viewed as something more, and well into the future.

The question would then arise when and how far did Maldives take India into confidence on the ‘Seleznyov affair’, if at all. The sub-text would relate to the need – or, absence of it — for Maldives doing so, particularly in the context of the new and ‘independent’ Foreign Policy that President Yameen unveiled after assuming office – but which would have been on the works earlier, too. In context, the question would arise if the Maldivian Government would have benefited from any Indian advice or intervention in the matter, had it been sought.

For now, however, as and when the entire issue blows over, there could be an internal inquiry into the entire affair within the Maldivian Government on the facts and circumstances leading to Seleznyov’s detention, and the diplomatic precautions that the nation would have to take in similar circumstances in the future. All of it with the full realisation that no two episodes of the kind are one and the same – in terms of facts and circumstances, politics and diplomacy.

N Sathiya Moorthy is a  Senior Fellow at the Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation in India.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Corruption, religious freedom, and judiciary biggest human rights problems in Maldives, say US report

The US State Department has described “charges of Supreme Court interference to subvert the presidential elections process,” as among the most significant human rights problems in the Maldives in its 2013 human rights report.

Also highlighted in the report were restrictions on religious freedom, and “corruption of officials in all branches of government”.

No instances of imprisonment on political grounds, unlawful deprivation of life, or disappearance were recorded, while progress was noted with regards to the passage of the anti-torture and right to information bills.

The report accused much of the judiciary of being unqualified and corrupt, and noted that its rulings during last year’s presidential elections had the effect of restricting the independence of the Elections Commission (EC).

The judiciary was described as “not independent and impartial and was subject to influence and corruption”.

It said that a number of judges were “known to base their rulings on cash rewards, and there were reports that lawyers occasionally built the cost of bribes into their fees” while the public generally distrusted the judiciary.

The report estimated that one in four judges have a criminal record, and that two carried convictions for sexual assault.

It was suggested that the outcomes of cases appear to be predetermined, such as the repeated intervention of Supreme Court in the presidential elections where the court directly accepted cases without allowing lower courts to hear them first.

The October annulment ruling and the 16-point guide to conducting elections was reported to have given both the court and political parties veto power over the EC, “curbing its independence and its ability to execute its mandate”.

The report also mentioned the alleged sex tapes of Judge Ali Hameed and his continued presence on the bench.

“Many judges, appointed for life, held only a certificate in sharia, not a law degree. Most magistrate judges could not interpret common law or sharia because they lacked adequate English or Arabic language skills,” read the report.


The report noted that security officials employed practices that fell under what it regarded as ‘torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment’.

While proper arrest procedures were found to be in place, the report noted that police did not fully implement them, particularly in dealing with protests. It was also noted that courts sometimes freed detainees “on the condition that they not participate in protests or political gatherings for a specified number of days”.

In regard to the cancelled October 19 presidential election, it was reported that “Police abdication of their responsibility prevented the elections from occurring”.

It was found that six cases of police brutality were sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office in 2013, but that five of these officers remained with the police – with one of them being promoted – and two cases later dismissed for lack of evidence.

Referring to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the report stated that two of three cases where police officers were alleged to have sexually harassed detainees in 2012 were also dropped for lack of evidence.

While the prisons were found to have ‘met most international standards’, it was also found that they were overcrowded.

Flogging, Rape, Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment

The controversial case of a 15-year-old victim of sexual abuse being sentenced 100 lashes was recorded, detailing the fact that her alleged abuser received no sentence at all. The girl’s sentence was annulled by the High Court following a government appeal due to domestic and international pressure.

The penal code does not classify rape as a separate offense, the report stated, while the PG’s Office lost almost all cases of forced sexual assault due to insufficient weight was given to the testimony of the victim.

Spousal rape is not considered a crime under the law, and according to the report difficulties remain in implementing the domestic violence act due to religious beliefs.

While the Ministry of Health and Gender was said to have received just five cases of sexual harassment, the report stated that various forms of harassment were accepted as the norm in government offices. The protracted removal CSC President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan was noted in the report.

While the law stipulates sentences of up to 25 years in prison for those convicted sexual offenses against children, the report said that “if a person is legally married to a minor under sharia, however, none of the offenses specified in the legislation are considered crimes”.

In 2012, a total of 47 underage marriages were registered at the court, of which 35 involved girls and 12 involved boys.

Civil and political rights

Common to human rights reports on the Maldives, restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in order to protect Islam was noted. Media self-censorship in issues related to Islam – for fear of harassment- and in issues relating to the judiciary were detailed.

One piece of legislation criticised through out the report was the the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act, which was said to be restricting freedom of expression and the press along with freedom of peaceful assembly itself.

The report said this law “effectively prohibits strikes by workers in the resort sector, the country’s largest money earner”.

With regards to privacy, the report stated that standards required for court permission to monitor mails and phone conversations was very low.

Discrimination and attacks against Raajje TV, in particular the attack on Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, were mentioned. As the case of the attack against Asward continued, no arrests were made regarding the attacks against journalist Ismail Hilath Rasheed in 2011 and 2012. Hilath’s blog continues to be blocked.

The government was found to have failed to enforce applicable laws with regards to workers rights, and the report criticised established mechanisms such as the employment tribunal as “cumbersome and complicated” which violators of employment law often ignore.

“According to the Labor Relations Authority (LRA), there were four strikes. In two cases the employer refused to work with the LRA as mediator and strike participants were fired. In two others, the LRA participated by phone but strike leaders and others who persisted with the strike were terminated,” the report said.

It stated that some undocumented migrant workers were subject to forced labor in the construction and tourism sectors, while domestic workers – especially migrant female domestic workers – were sometimes trapped in forced servitude.

Without any laws on refugee or asylum status, a family of four Palestinian refugees from Syria were housed in Hulhulé island without being rehoused upon UNHCR’s request until asylum was granted for them by Sweden.

Read the full report here.


Waheed’s “unprecedented” decision to stay “has endangered the Maldivian people’s right to elect a leader of their choice”: US

The US government has said it is deeply concerned by President Mohamed Waheed’s “unprecedented decision” to remain in power past the mandate of his presidency, which expired on November 10.

“This action has endangered the Maldivian people’s right to elect a leader of their choice,” stated the US Embassy in Colombo.

“The democratic process must be supported by quickly concluding a free, fair, transparent and inclusive runoff election that results in the prompt inauguration of the new president. In the lead up to the November 16 second round vote, it is important to avoid violence and for the police and military to show restraint and respect the human rights of all Maldivian citizens,” the US Embassy stated.

Cabinet ministers revealed yesterday that Waheed had arrived at the President’s Office late on Sunday evening prepared to resign and hand over power to the Speaker of Parliament, as stipulated by Article 124 of the constitution, but claimed to have convinced him otherwise. His Vice President, Waheed Deen, had resigned that morning.

Minivan News understands that defence chiefs arrived at the President’s Office prior to Waheed’s address to the nation, initially scheduled for 10:30pm on Sunday. The address was delayed an hour, before Waheed appeared and said he would resign on November 16, the date scheduled for the delayed run-off vote.

“Many Maldivians, international organisations and countries are pressuring me to resign and temporarily hand over the government to the People’s Majlis Speaker. On the other hand, even more citizens want me to stay on, to continue with administration of the country, to carry out my duty,” Waheed claimed.

After making the statement, Waheed and his wife were escorted off Male to the presidential retreat of Aarah, as violent protests erupted in the capital.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird slammed the Supreme Court’s “disappointing” decision to delay the run-off vote until after the expiry of the presidential term, which he said “undermines both the Maldives’ constitution and the people’s faith in elections.”

“The term of the current government has now expired without a newly elected government to replace it. This is the case despite two free and fair elections over the last two months,” Baird remarked.

Transparency Maldives echoed these concerns, stating it was “deeply concerned that the people of the Maldives have been denied the right to elect a President before the constitutional five-year term of the incumbent government expired on 11 November 2013.”

Transparency conducted the largest election observation with 400 observers across the country and at overseas polling booths, and praised the Elections Commission’s conduct of the revote on November 9 as peaceful, credible and “well-administered despite challenges.”

Terming the Maldive’s current situation a “constitutional crisis”, Transparency said it was “regrettable that political actors failed to find a democratically inclusive solution to the constitutional crisis that respects the spirit of the Constitution. The spirit of the Constitution reflects the basic democratic principle that state power must always lie with the people and their elected representatives.”


US invites Maldives delegation aboard USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier

Senior government officials were invited aboard a United States aircraft carrier on Wednesday (March 27) as it passed by the Maldives.

The visit was followed by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Maldives and the US government on Thursday to install a free border control system in the country.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen, were flown to the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier as part of an arrangement between the US embassy and Maldives Defence Ministry.

The visit was documented by the ministers, who posted photographs on social media site Twitter.


No “definitive answer” from US delegation over government’s failure to act on CoNI recommendations: MDP

The US delegation who visited the Maldives last week gave no “definitive answer” to political issues raised by former President Mohamed Nasheed, the party has said.

The delegation, consisting of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Moore, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Vikram Singh and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jane Zimmerman, met with the former president on Thursday (January 31).

According to local media, Nasheed informed the delegates that the present government had failed to act upon the recommendations made in the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report, claiming there had been a “lack of effort” to reform the judiciary.

However, MDP Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the US delegation were unable to answer the issues raised by Nasheed, and that their interest was focused on the implementation of free and fair elections later this year.

“The issue was a difficult question for them and we could not get a straight answer. Their purpose was to highlight the importance of implementing free and fair elections over here, but we wanted to find out how aligned they were with other issues,” Ghafoor added.

According to local media, the US delegation was set to meet various political parties and senior government officials to discuss the current political situation in the Maldives.

Issues including labour laws and the protection of worker’s rights were also a topic of discussion between Nasheed and the delegates, local media reported.

James R Moore is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs since September 2010, and previously the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Colombo from 2006 to 2009.

Jane B Zimmerman is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, responsible for South and Central Asia, the Western Hemisphere, and International Religious Freedom.

Vikram J Singh is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.

Singh also serves as the principal adviser to senior leadership within the Department of Defence for all policy matters pertaining to development and implementation of defence strategies and plans for the region.


Senior US officials to visit Maldives

Three US officials are to visit the Maldives and Sri Lanka next week amid concerns for the democracy of both countries.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Moore, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Vikram Singh and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jane Zimmerman will travel to both countries between January 26 to February 1.

In the Maldives, the high-profile delegation will “meet government officials and members of political parties to continue support for a way forward that respects Maldivian democratic institutions, the rule of law, and the will of the Maldivian people in the run up to this year’s presidential elections,” the US Embassy in Colombo said in a statement.

James R Moore is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs since September 2010, and previously the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Colombo from 2006 to 2009.

Jane B Zimmerman is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, responsible for South and Central Asia, the Western Hemisphere, and International Religious Freedom.

Vikram J Singh is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. Singh also serves as the principal adviser to senior leadership within the Department of Defence for all policy matters pertaining to development and implementation of defense strategies and plans for the region.


Obama nominates new ambassador to Maldives

Michelle J Sison has been nominated as the new Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. President Obama made the announcement as part of a series of administrative appointments that included the appointment of Brett McGurk as Ambassador to Iraq.

“Our nation will be greatly served by the talent and expertise these individuals bring to their new roles.  I am grateful they have agreed to serve in this Administration, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead,” said President Obama.

Sison, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor, is currently the Assistant Chief of Mission for Law Enforcement and Rule of Law Assistance in Iraq. She also served as US Ambassador to Lebanon between 2008 and 2010.

Sison will replace Patricia Butenis who has served in the same position since 2009.


US bank failed ‘to spot’ billions of Mexican drug money: Bloomberg

One of largest banks in the US, Wachovia Corporation, “admitted it didn’t do enough to spot illicit funds in handling $378.4 billion for Mexican-currency-exchange houses from 2004 to 2007,” reports Bloomberg writer Michael Smith.

USA and Europe’s biggest banks and financial institutions are handling money from the Mexican drug cartels which export hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines into the US, in a business generating US$39 billion a year.

Banks and institutions involved in handling the money include Bank of America, Wachovia Corporation (now owned by Wells Fargo & Co.), American Express Bank, Western Union, London-based HSBC Holdings Plc, and Mexican units of Banco Santander SA, Citigroup Inc. and HSBC.

“Since 2006, more than 22,000 people have been killed in drug-related battles that have raged mostly along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border that Mexico shares with the U.S.,” writes Smith. “In the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, 700 people had been murdered this year as of mid-June.”

Read more


Australia issues travel warning for the Maldives

The Australian government has issued a travel warning to Australians travelling to the Maldives, reports Miadhu.

The warning was first classified as level 3, meaning “high degree of caution.” It has now been downgraded to level 4, “exercise caution.”

Australia has warned its citizens to be careful of crime and civil unrest in the Maldives, and has suggested travellers to keep informed of the news about possible safety risks.

Australian citizens have also been warned to avoid public gatherings and demonstrations as they could turn violent.

Although the United States has not advised its citizens not to travel to the Maldives, the US embassy to the Maldives does warn its nationals not to engage in political activities in the Maldives.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, told Miadhu that such travel advisories will affect the tourism industry in the Maldives and added the Australian government had not consulted with the Maldivian government before issuing the warning.