The tax authority has removed a freeze on Jumhooree Party leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group accounts in yet another indication of a thaw in relations between the opposition and the government.
A senior government official told Minivan News that the Villa Group had submitted a plan to pay the US$90.4million claim within two years.
“The Villa Group initially denied that had to make any payments. But now Villa Shipping has agreed to pay the government. That’s why MIRA [Maldives Inland Revenue Authority] has removed the freeze,” they said.
MIRA froze the accounts of Villa Shipping and Trading in May after the Tourism Ministry annulled several agreements on properties leased for tourism development and claimed the company had failed to pay rents on some of the properties since 2006.
The 90.4million claim includes US$75.5million as a fine.
The opposition says the move was an act of reprisal after Gasim’s JP split from the ruling coalition and allied with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in an anti-government campaign.
Several opposition politicians including ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested and sentenced to jail shortly after the formation of the new alliance.
After months of street protests, historic anti-government marches, and mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June and preparations are now underway for talks.
Speaking to Haveeru today, Gasim maintained that his company did not owe any money to the state, but said he had no choice but to make the payment.
“We are having to do this this because our cases at the courts are still pending. We had no choice to do this until the court reaches a decision. If there is any justice in Maldives, I am sure I would not have to make the payment,” Gasim said.
The Villa conglomerate – which operates businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport and education – previously said the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.
The civil court had rejected a request for a stay order on paying the fine until the courts uphold the claim.
Villa Group says the claim has cost the company a US$80million loan. It had struggled to pay the salaries of some 5000 employees following the accounts freeze.
In mid-June, Gasim announced that he will retire from politics once his term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. The long-time presidential hopeful also said he will no longer contest in presidential elections. The government with opposition backing has now amended the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency, meaning Gasim will be ineligible for the 2018 presidential elections. He will be 66 then.
The JP is in disarray. Two senior party officials fled the country after they were charged with terrorism over a historic anti-government protest on May 1.