Villa Group ordered to pay US$100million in 30 days

Opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group has been ordered to pay the state US$100million within 30 days.

The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) today said Villa Group owed the state US$100million in rent and fines for several islands and lagoons leased to the company.

However, upon his return to Malé this afternoon Gasim brushed off the claim stating: “I don’t owe MIRA anything.”

The opposition has claimed the government is targeting Gasim’s businesses following his split with the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and subsequent alliance with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

State prosecutors last week claimed former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim had conspired with the Villa Group to harm senior state officials, according to documents in a pen drive confiscated from the retired Colonel’s home during a midnight raid on January 18.

Nazim is currently in police custody until a trial on illegal weapons possession concludes at the Criminal Court. The police found a pistol and three live bullets along with the pen drive during the controversial raid.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed is also in police custody amidst a surprise terrorism trial over the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Speaking to reporters at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Gasim said the international community was closely monitoring the government’s “unjust prosecution of opposition leaders.”

“The international community takes the prosecution of former President Mohamed Nasheed, retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim and current Defense Minister Moosa Ali Jaleel and other politically motivated prosecutions as a joke. They believe that political prisoners are being framed,” Gasim said.

Gasim had departed to Colombo on Wednesday to meet with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and a European Union (EU) delegation, ahead of a mass opposition protest scheduled for February 27.

“The Sri Lankan President expressed concern over the situation in Maldives and has promised that he would speak with the Prime Minister and send a senior Sri Lankan delegation to Maldives,” Gasim told reporters.

“My main reason for this trip was to prevent any economic sanctions against Maldives, if political prisoners are sentenced. If that happens people of this country will starve, and no good would come out of it.”

Fearing international economic sanctions if the current political crisis deepens, Gasim urged President Abdulla Yameen to withdraw charges against all political prisoners.

The PPM maintains it has no influence over Nasheed and Nazim’s trials, claiming the charges were initiated by the independent Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin and tried through independent courts.

However, pointing to a PPM majority in the People’s Majlis, Gasim implied the state’s independent institutions did as President Yameen instructed for fear of retaliation.

“The President might say that it’s not in his power to withdraw the charges against the political prisoners. It is true, but the fact is government has the majority of the Peoples Majlis therefore members of independent institutions will fear government retaliation if they do anything against them.”

The opposition leader’s absence at the mass February 27 rally left many supporters dissatisfied, but Gasim said he was “watching the protest from Sri Lanka.”

“The huge number of protesters shows that Maldivians despise a dictatorship. This shows that Maldivians want justice,” he said.

Asked if he fears arrest, Gasim said the police could only arrest him if he had committed any crime.

“I haven’t committed any crime. I have heard that government is framing people such as colonel Nazim. I have not committed any crime and won’t commit one even in the future.”

The Tourism Ministry in early February moved to seize several islands and lagoons granted to Villa Group in a settlement agreement, but was stalled following a Civil Court injunction. The High Court last week overturned the stay order, paving the way for state appropriation.

Related to this story

JP Leader Gasim meets Sri Lankan President Sirisena

10,000 protest in Malé, call for President Yameen’s resignation

Allegations of conspiracy with Nazim “deliberate fabrication,” says Gasim

High Court overturns stay order halting seizure of Villa properties

Gasim defiant as opposition sign agreement to defend Constitution


Allegations of conspiracy with Nazim “deliberate fabrication,” says Gasim

Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim has dismissed allegations that former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was conspiring with the business magnate’s Villa Group to harm senior government officials.

Speaking to reporters prior to departing for Colombo last night, Gasim dismissed the allegations as a “deliberate fabrication” intended to “frame” President Abdulla Yameen’s political opponents.

“We are talking about Colonel Nazim being framed and all of us Maldivian citizens know that what police are saying is self-contradictory,” he said.

At yesterday’s first hearing of Nazim’s trial on possession of weapons, State Prosecutor Adam Arif said documents on a pen drive confiscated from the then-defence minister’s apartment during a January 18 raid showed he was planning individual and joint operations, financed by the Villa group, to cause bodily harm to “senior honourable state officials.”

Gasim told reporters that Nazim was “not a madman to write a script and put it on a pen [drive],” adding that the government’s efforts to discredit Villa Group were regrettable.

“What this shows is that anyone who might contest the presidency is going to be framed,” Gasim said.

The Prosecutor General’s Office meanwhile withdrew charges against Nazim’s wife, Afaaf Abdul Majeed, after she was summoned to the first hearing of the weapons possession trial alongside the former defence minister yesterday.

Earlier this month, Gasim’s JP formed an alliance with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to “defend the constitution” from alleged breaches by the administration of President Abdulla Yameen.

Gasim departed with a delegation of JP and MDP leaders to Colombo last night to “inform foreign diplomats about the current political situation of Maldives.”

MDP MP Abdulla Shahid said foreign diplomats would be informed about the “violations of the constitution by this government,” adding that “the world sees the government for what it is.”

Both Gasim and Shahid told reporters that they would be back tonight ahead of a mass demonstration planned for tomorrow (February 27).

Meanwhile, the anti-government demonstrations continued on the streets of the capital last night with  protesters gathered at Malé’s main thoroughfare, Majeedhee Magu.

Protesters called for the immediate release of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Nazim.

Senior members of both JP and MDP as well as MPs spoke at the rally and repeated calls for President Yameen’s resignation.

Speaking to Minivan News at the protest, Ahmed Ali, 29, vowed to join the mass rally planned for February 27.

“If not, in a couple of years I am sure my children would ask me what I did when a democracy turned into a dictatorship,” he said.

Mohamed Yoosuf, 47, expressed his discontent with the criminal justice system and the law enforcement authorities.

“The judiciary is political. The police are doing politician’s bidding. Even the Prosecutor General is a puppet on a string,” he said.

“The country’s entire justice system has gone down in ruins with the current government. We need to improve it,”said Mauroof Hameed, 30.

The government, however, insists that it is not responsible for the charges against Nasheed and Nazim, stating the trials were initiated by an independent Prosecutor General and tried through independent courts.

Related to this story

High Court overturns stay order halting seizure of Villa properties

Civil Court orders halt to seizure of lands allocated to Gasim’s Villa company

Gasim defiant as opposition sign agreement to defend Constitution

MDP and JP reach agreement on defence of Constitution


Gasim denies claims he owed government US$100 million

Jumhoree Party (JP) leader and prominent businessman Gasim Ibrahim has rejected claims made by the tourism minister that he owes the government US$100 million (MVR 1.5 billion).

“Gasim Ibrahim does not owe them any money at all,” said the Maamigili MP while speaking at a street protest held last night. “So the Tourism Minister is clearly lying.”

Earlier this week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb had alleged that Gasim’s Villa Group owes the government the money as rent and fines for islands leased to his businesses.

The Civil Court last week ordered the Ministry of Tourism to halt all proceedings regarding the seizure of uninhabited islands and lagoons granted to Villa Hotels and Resorts Private Limited.

According to the order, though the government has said Villa can be compensated for the seizure of the islands and lagoons, the areas had been handed over due to the government’s previous inability to bear the burden of financial or monetary compensation.

“It saddens me to see that the government has forgotten that it is not child’s play to seize and take away someone’s land and property,” said Gasim at the rally held alongside opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last night (February 16) .

In addition, Gasim called for the minister’s immediate resignation as well as questioning Adeeb’s sudden rise to power.

“When a man who, three years ago, didn’t have enough money to even settle the bill for a cup of coffee with a friend suddenly becomes a millionaire, a billionaire, we know very well what is behind this change,” remarked Gasim.

The government had previously taken Villa Group-owned Kaadedhoo airport and other inhabited islands from Gasim, after he attempted to block its flagship special economic zone (SEZ) bill in the Majlis last year.

After boycotting the committee reviewing the legislation, Gasim warned that SEZs would facilitate massive corruption, threaten independence, and authorise a board formed by the president – and now chaired by Adeeb – “to sell off the entire country in the name of economic zones”.

Gasim’s Villa Group is one of the largest companies in the Maldives with the holding company Villa Shipping and Trading Pvt Ltd conglomerate operating businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport, and education.

Police cordoned off a large section of Malé for the protests last night – the sixth consecutive evening of protests by the MDP – JP coalition, which was formed last month in order to “defend the constitution” against alleged breaches by the government.

Leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has said the opposition alliance is a “waste of time”, and that the JP’s exit from the Progressive Coalition is no loss to the government.

Protesters last night again called for the immediate resignation of President Abdulla Yameen and several prominent ministers in his cabinet, claiming that the government had failed its election pledges, such as providing fishermen with MVR10,000 regardless of catch, and promising incentives for agricultural workers.

Also speaking at the rally, Malé City Councilor Mohamed Rasheed called upon islanders to flock to the capital Malé on February 27 for mass protests which are planned to last over 48 hours.

MDP leaders have suggested that the opposition rally to be held at the end of the month will see prominent defectors from government aligned parties join its coalition.

Related to this story

Opposition street demonstrations head into third consecutive night

Civil Court orders halt to seizure of lands allocated to Gasim’s Villa company

Nasheed pledges to defend Gasim from government attacks

Government takes back Kaadedhoo airport, uninhabited island from Gasim’s Villa Group


Leaked Grant Thorton report reveals beneficiaries of BML’s risky pre-2008 lending

Additional reporting by JJ Robinson

A leaked draft of a report into the Bank of Maldives’ (BML) lending practices prior to 2008 has identified those behind potentially destabilising breaches of both BML and Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) guidelines.

The asset recovery investigation by forensic accounting company Grant Thornton, drawing on the 2008 Attorney General’s report on BML, concludes that it would have been “impossible for the [BML] board to not have been influenced” in the granting of significant exposures in the form of credit to a select coterie of Gayoom-era affiliates.

The document reveals well-connected individuals bypassing BML rules regarding the handling of non-performing assets, with a number of large companies belonging to politically-active businessmen continuing to receive credit despite failing to satisfactorily meet previous repayment obligations.

“The large exposures that BML held, were in the main, due to members of the board or their relatives,” the report found.

“Due to the fact that the largest exposures of the bank were from Board members and/or their families, it would be unrealistic for the Board to provide any clear independent review of the banking facilities provided, and would in [our] view form conflict of interest issues for those Board Members involved,” it added.

The report names a number of individuals and business groups who benefitted from the state bank’s loan and overdraft facilities towards the end of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30 year tenure as head of state.

The government was handed a US$10million (MVR 154.2 million) invoice from Grant Thornton last year in what former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed told Minivan News was a penalty fee for stopping the investigation initiated under Gayoom’s successor Mohamed Nasheed.

Prior to the alleged request from the current government to halt the investigation, Grant Thornton had uncovered evidence of an alleged US$800 million oil trade involving former head of the State Trading Organisation (STO) and current presidential hopeful Abdulla Yameen. Shaheed alleged that the accounting firm was contracted to receive a percentage of any assets recovered as a result of its work.

The private parties named in Grant Thorton’s BML assessment include the Sun Group, Lily Group, Sultans of the Seas, VA Group, Afeef Group, Villa Group, Thasmeen Ali, VB Group, and Rainbow.

“Many of the above parties benefited from loans that were used to assist in purchasing leases for resorts, related tourism businesses etc, of which would not have been achieved without the connections held by certain individuals,” the report said.

The report also makes particular mention of the role of Ibrahim Gasim, both Finance Minister and non-executive BML board member at the time of the majority of cases documented within the Grant Thornton report.

Gasim, who is also standing as the Jumhoree Party (JP) presidential candidate in next month’s election, would have been responsible for the appointment of the majority of the BML board at this time.

Grant Thornton’s report revealed that Gasim’s Villa Group had been loaned MVR481,299,571 (US$37,601,520) as of October 31st 2008, representing 32.4 percent of the bank’s entire capital.

This represents one of a number of examples of such exposure featured in the report, despite the Bank’s acquiescence in 2006 to an MMA request to reduce any credit guaranteed to individual or related group borrowers to 30 percent of overall capital.

After repeated lobbying, the MMA increased this amount to 40 percent. Grant Thornton suggested that this extension request was due to the fact that a number of the groups mentioned in its report were already exceeding the original lower limit.

In rejecting one of BML’s requests for an increased credit exposure limit, the MMA wrote that “such concentration of credit is far in excess of the legal lending limits of the bank and it could seriously threaten the bank’s position, and the stability of the whole financial sector,” the leaked document stated.

Even with this increase, Sun Group is reported to have exceeded this limit after January 2008, with loans and overdraft facilities reaching  MVR 607,345,442 (US$46,879,400) as of 31 October 2008.

“This amounted to 40.8 percent of the Bank’s capital as at 31 October 2008,” the report observed.

Loans and overdraft facilities provided to Afeef Group totalled MVR 245,123,414 (US$19,150,266) as of October 31, 2008 – approximately 16.5 percent of BML’s total capital at the time.

Sun Group Chairman and majority shareholder Ahmed Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) meanwhile this week announced its decision to form a coalition the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), headed by former President Gayoom.

Alterations to BML’s internal loan approval mechanisms for board members in May 2007 resulted in the bypassing of the bank’s Credit Committee.

“This effectively meant that those Board Members that had applied for credit facilities were approving their own loans,” stated the draft report.

BML board members complicit in self-approving their own credit lines include Mohamed Ahmed Didi (Sultans Group shareholder), Ahmed Hamza (Director of the VA Group), and Gasim (Chairman of the Villa Group).

Director Mohamed Adil also features prominently, being cited in one particular example of a board meeting in which he approved the re-financing of the Sultan Group’s debt at the same time as being the group’s major director/shareholder.

BML’s recovery

In the intervening years, BML wrote off multiple toxic non-performing assets and returned to profitability, largely by outright ceasing to pay dividends to shareholders for almost five years.

The Bank’s board approved a MVR 50 million (US$3.23 million) interim dividend to shareholders in July 2013, the first since 2008.

“This marks the end of a painful and challenging journey that began in 2009 when the bank reported record level non-performing loans. However, in recent years Bank of Maldives has reported record level earnings and operating profit and the company returned to profit in 2012,” read a statement from BML.

BML’s former CEO Peter Horton, a UK banker appointed in February 2011 with extensive experience tackling distressed portfolios and problem lending across Africa as part of Barclay’s corporate turnaround team, resigned in August 2013 to head up Bermuda Commercial Bank.

“The profitability and dividend payment will be sustainable going forward,” said Horton in the bank’s July statement. “This is an interim dividend and at MVR 9.29 [a share] for the half year places us in a strong position to pay the highest full year dividend in the Bank’s recent history at year end”.

Download the leaked GT report


Maldives dominates Indian Ocean travel awards, host and sponsors among winners

The Maldives dominated this year’s Indian Ocean World Travel Awards (WTA) event, scooping a number of prizes during the ceremony hosted yesterday (May 12) at the country’s Paradise Island Resort and Spa – itself a winner on the night.

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture said the event, estimated to have cost around US$30,000 in shared expenditures for corporate sponsors and local authorities, will play a significant part in promoting the Maldives internationally this year.

Authorities have previously stated the ceremony would also provide a major boost to the reputation of the destination’s resorts for hosting events and conferences.

However, one senior local travel industry figure in attendance at yesterday’s ceremony told Minivan News that despite providing “great publicity”, concerns remained over the credibility of the WTA voting process – pointing to the high number of collaborators and sponsors receiving accolades.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said that without discrediting the night’s “worthy winners”, the announcement of certain accolades were met with “audible groans” by those in attendance during the ceremony.


According to the WTA website, the Maldives was awarded the accolades of the Indian Ocean’s leading beach, cruise and overall regional destination, beating competition from Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion Island and Seychelles.

However, the country lost out to Mauritius in the categories of the Indian Ocean’s leading dive and honeymoon destinations for the year.

Maldives-based properties including the Conrad Rangali Island resort, W Retreat and Spa, Gili Lankanfushi, Baros Maldives, Sun Island Resort and Spa and Ayada Maldives all claimed accolades across a number of categories.  These categories included the ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Green Resort 2013’ and the ‘Indian Ocean’s Most Romantic Resort 2013′.

The evening’s winners also included Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’, which was recognised as the ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Airport 2013’. The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) was also honoured as ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Tourist Board 2013’, while Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb was recognised as the ‘Indian Ocean’s Travel and Tourism Personality’, according to the WTA.

Other winners included the ceremony’s host venue, the Paradise Island Resort and Spa, which took several awards during the evening. Local operators including Atoll Paradise and Lets Go Maldives were also awarded. A new award in the category of ‘Outstanding services to the Tourist Industry, Indian Ocean’ was presented to Sri Lankan Airlines.

The WTA said in promotional material that Sri Lankan Airlines, Lets Go Maldives, the MMPRC and Jumhoree Party (JP) MP and presidential candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group – operator of Paradise Island Resort and Spa – had all collaborated in bringing the awards to the Maldives.

Positive headlines

A senior tourism industry source present during the event said that the WTA ceremony would no doubt generate much needed positive headlines for the Maldives as a destination.

However, the source raised concerns about the credibility of some of the winners during yesterday’s ceremony.

“The nominees who put the most [money] into it often seem to get awards. Yet guests hang their hat on the outcome of such things,” said the senior industry figure.

The same source alleged that while there were winners on the night who deserved their accolades, the decision to grant awards to numerous key collaborators and sponsors of the event raised questions over the ultimate credibility of the event.

“I believe whichever destination is chosen has to pay to host the awards. This is part and parcel of such an event. It needs sponsors like airlines to cover transportation of staff and organisers and a place for them to stay. I guess this is how it works in terms of the economics, but this also creates a problem of credibility when the same groups win,” the industry insider alleged.

“Some of the the winners last night were certainly warranted, others not so much. I think most will take the awards with a pinch of salt.”

The source claimed that one award winner, alleged to be facing severe financial difficulties and failing to make substantial payments to creditors, nonetheless managed to scoop the top award in its category.

WTA response

A spokesperson for the WTA, which is this year celebrating its 20th anniversary, rejected any allegations of wrongdoing in its voting system.

“We are a totally transparent organisation and, in the last 20 years of World Travel Awards, have been regarded with the highest integrity in the tourism and hospitality world, hence our longevity,” the spokesperson stated.

The organisation added that details of how its voting system worked were available on its website.  Minivan News was awaiting further response from organisation’s global business directors at the time of press.

Event hosting

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News that hosting the WTA regional event would send a signal around the world concerning the country’s ability to host events and conventions.

“Last night was very important for expanding event-based tourism in the country and we are proud to host the awards,” he said. “This is not about dollars and cents, the event is about goodwill. Through his network, WTA President Graham Cooke last night ensured efforts would continue to promote the Maldives.”

Maleeh said that the total expenditure behind hosting such an event, which was shared with several corporate partners, was “quite minimal”, focusing on areas such as the transportation of guests and printing promotional materials. By comparison he said the rewards for the industry such as international media coverage and global publicity would be significant.

Tourism authorities over the last year have looked to bounce back from the perceived negative impacts of political uncertainty in the Maldives back in 2012 – narrowly missing out on obtaining one million visitors to the country during the course of last year.

With a recent high-profile campaign by petition site potentially calling for a boycott of the country’s lucrative travel industry, Maleeh said events like the WTA award were an important means to leverage publicity.

He said that the event was especially important at a time when the country was officially celebrating 40 years since the inception of its tourism industry, helping authorities to overcome a limited promotional budget provided by parliament in the state budget.

Maleeh added that the success of hosting the WTA ceremony now paved the way for the country to host other high-profile events with a capacity of between 200 – 300 people in the future, as part of a planned expansion into meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) tourism.

With a number of the country’s exclusive island resorts offering convention facilities on site, Maleeh added that MICE would allow the Maldives to attract an entirely different segment of travellers – many likely to be first time visitors – to help generate word of mouth about the country.

“What we need to work on is more resorts to cater for this market, this will include trying to ensure that such events can be hosted beyond the Male’ area,” he said.

Maleeh claimed ahead of the WTA ceremony last month that the emergence of new regional airports around the country would open up a wider number of properties and businesses to potentially benefit from demand for MICE tourism.

He added that senior representatives from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) were also scheduled to travel to the Maldives in September for a special high-profile panel discussion.


President wanted “credit” for Maamigili Airport lease extension: former transport minister

Former Minister of Transport Dr Ahmed Shamheed has criticised his removal from cabinet last year following the decision to extend the lease of Maamigili Airport by 99 years.

Shamheed has claimed that he was dismissed by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik following the approval of the airport lease extension because the president wanted to take credit for the decision.  The lease was given at the time to the Chairman of Villa Group, Gasim Ibrahim.

Last month, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) began an investigation into the 99-year lease of the airport. According to the ACC President, Hassan Luthfee, the investigation is still ongoing.

Despite the investigation, President Waheed inaugurated Maamigili Airport last week (February 28).

Shamheed claimed that the decision to extend the airport lease had been made whilst former President Mohamed Nasheed had been in power, and that the decision was not one he had made on his own.

“It was the economic committee who had decided on the lease, I never decided on my own. It was initiated by the committee actually, that is how it started,” Shamheed alleged to Minivan News.

“It do not think it was the 99-year lease that was the problem, I heard from people close to him that he thought he should be the one making the decision. He thought he should take the credit for that.”

Shamheed was nominated to his former ministerial post by the government-aligned Jumhooree Party (JP) – of which Gasim is the party’s president.

Speaking back in November 2012, the former transport minister told local media that the documents to extend the airport lease for 99 years had been sent to the transport ministry by Nasheed’s government.

“The current government delayed the matter. The president government only endorsed the decision. It was decided by the NPC [National Planning Council] during the former government,” he was quoted as saying in local newspaper Haveeru.

President Waheed inaugurated Villa International Airport in Maamigili Island in south Ari Atoll on February 28.

Speaking at the ceremony, Waheed thanked Chairman of Villa Group, Gasim Ibrahim, before stating that he was greatly honoured to inaugurate the airport.

The main objective of making the airport an international airport was to improve the country’s transport system and the tourism industry, Waheed said during the ceremony.


Presidential prospect Gasim Ibrahim also backs drilling for oil

Leader of the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP), business tycoon MP Gasim Ibrahim, has vowed to find oil in the Maldives should he be elected president of the country later this year.

Gasim – who owns television station VTV and the Villa group of companies and resorts – has already announced that he would be contesting in 2013 presidential elections. The Presidential candidate is also a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), responsible for appointing a three-member panel of judges to oversee the criminal trial of fellow presidential candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Gasim is currently campaigning under the slogan ‘Tharaggee Gaimu’ (‘Development Guaranteed’).

Oil exploration has emerged as a key policy for several candidates aligned with the current government, including Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) presidential prospect, Abdulla Yameen.

Gasim unsuccessfully contested in the 2008 presidential elections finishing the race in fourth place with 15.2 percent of the total vote. He finished behind candidates including then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, eventual winner former President Mohamed Nasheed and political advisor of President Dr Mohamed Waheed, Dr Hassan Saeed.

Gasim announced his plans to try and uncover oil during a press briefing held Sunday (February 3), after concluding a trip to France to buy a new aircraft for his company, Villa Air.

Speaking to the media, he claimed there was evidence to suggest oil could be located in Maldives and that technology was now sufficient to make drilling for fuel financially viable.

The chairman of Villa Group added that previous oil expeditions ended in failure because of “lack of technology” at the time and it would still be impossible if Maldivians tried to dig for oil “eighties style”.

“I was the first one who brought the idea to the government. I even spoke of this during the 2008 presidential elections,” Gasim said.


Gasim, stressing the importance of seeking oil in the Maldives, said it was wrong to turn away from a blessing given by Allah.

He went on to dismiss claims made by former Deputy Leader and a PPM presidential prospect Umar Naseer, who has claimed that digging for oil could destroy the tourism sector and the country’s economy.

“It is very wrong to turn ourselves away from a blessing given by Allah. On the other hand, with current technological advancements, that oil can be extracted safely without causing any harm to tourism sector,” he said.

During a PPM Rally, Umar Naseer claimed that digging for oil is “too risky” and it would take one oil leak into the sea to ruin the Maldives.

Gasim further said that it was a “baseless and irrational” to suggest that drilling for oil could harm the tourism sector. He added that if the drilling process is carried out within proper standards and with international expertise, such risks are unlikely to take place.

“There will always be a way to get things done. When you know that you have to get the technology to do that. We don’t have to use the technology that was used 70-100 years ago to find oil in the world,” he said.

“The way I see it, it is something we should pursue. If I get to be the President, it would be the first thing my government would turn towards,” he added.

Tested and trusted

Speaking to Minivan News, Spokesperson for the Jumhoree Party Moosa Rameez said his party’s presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim was a “tested and trusted” candidate and that he was “100 percent sure” Gasim would be successful in seeking oil.

“Gasim Ibrahim is very experienced in the field of business. He is very familiar with almost all kinds of industries in the world including the oil industry. He was the first one who pledged to find oil in the country in 2008,” Rameez said.

With the announcement, Gasim becomes the second presidential hopeful who has expressed desires to search for oil within the country.

Earlier, PPM Parliamentary Group Leader and contender in the party’s presidential primary Abdulla Yameen also announced that he would attempt to seek oil in the country if he gets elected.

During a rally held to kick off his presidential primary campaign, Yameen proclaimed that “when the PPM comes to power” it will conduct oil exploration, attract foreign investment and create 26,000 tourism jobs.

“It is very possible oil might be found in the Maldives,” Yameen said at the time.

Referring to Yameen’s pledge, JP’s Spokesperson said that when Gasim first announced that he would drill for oil, it was Yameen’s supporters who “mocked him” and made a joke out of it.

“Now when [Yameen] claims oil can be found in the country, it shows that Gasim was telling the truth from the very beginning,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb – who is backing Yameen in the primaries – has told Minivan News that Maldives’ environmental image and commitments are no obstacles to developing of an oil industry.

Adheeb told Minivan News last month the Maldives was “a big nation, and places not in marine protected zones or tourism areas could be explored for oil, like in the less developed north.”

“Oil exploration is a term and [we] cannot conclude something with out the details. Regulations and more planning need to be done,” he said.

Previous oil exploration attempts in 1980 found the cost of retrieving the oil was too high compared to the US$20 (MVR 308) price per barrel at the time. However the present price of US$125 (MVR 1925) per barrel made further exploration feasible.

Yameen was not responding to calls at time of press.


Chris de Burgh to perform in Maldives

Singer-songwriter Chris de Burgh, famous for the 1986 love song ‘Lady in Red’, arrived in the Maldives on Wednesday for a performance in Sun Island Resort and a show in Male’ on the night of November 4.

Private broadcaster Villa TV – owned by Jumhooree Party Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim, chairman of the Villa Group, which also operates Sun Island – reported that the show in Male’ will take place at the Galolhu stadium and tickets are available for MVR750, 550 and 400 from the seated rows.

Tickets from rows without seats are available for MVR100, according to local event manager Think Association. Tickets are being sold from Le Cute, Sea House, Oxygen Cafe’, Symphony Restaurant and Pop Joy.


Villa sues government over revised rent for picnic island

Villa Shipping and Trading has sued the Tourism Ministry over an increase in rent for the picnic island Kaafu Kudafinolhu, reports Sun Online.

Under the lease agreement made in January 1998, annual rent for the first five years was set at US$1,500.

Villa’s team of lawyers, which includes former Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz, claim that the new government hiked the annual rent to US$47,840 in September 2009 without consulting the company as stipulated in the agreement.

State Attorney Mariyam Shunana however countered that the Tourism Ministry consulted Villa twice before revising the rent.

Judge Ali Rasheed Hussein adjourned yesterday’s hearing after providing the state ten days to respond to the claim.

The Villa Group of Companies is owned by Maamigii MP Gasim Ibrahim, former Finance Minister under the previous government before he resigned to contest the presidency. After joining the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party-led coalition for the presidential election run-off in October 2008, Gasim however resigned as Home Minister of the new administration after 21 days in office.