Tree Lawsuit, Blackmail Suspects, PSM Corruption

Thursday, September 29

In the face of public criticism over cutting down decades-old trees for the Ameenee Magu redevelopment, including large trees with full canopies on the Malé thoroughfare, the president’s office spokesman told the press that it was necessary to remove the trees to upgrade underground water and sewage pipes as well as cable networks, which were entangled with roots.

The Road Development Corporation previously said that the uprooted trees will be replanted on the Kudagiri picnic island. 

New trees will be planted where possible and ‘tree pits’ will be placed throughout the new tar road upon completion, RDC assured. 

Speaker Mohamed Nasheed meanwhile engaged legal counsel to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the removal of the trees, citing irreparable damage to the environment.

It was reported later last week that the MVR84 million (US$5.4 million) ‘streetscaping’ project was approved before work plans were finalised. The final design of a proposed stormwater drainage system was not submitted, according to a leaked environment assessment report.

Thursday, September 29

The education ministry contracted Ameen Construction to build the new Arabiyya School and an annex for the Jamaluddin School for MVR168 million (US$10.8 million) in 420 days.

As part of events to commemorate the golden jubilee of tourism, the president and vice president handed out Appreciation Awards to “individuals who have made significant contributions to the tourism industry” and “prominent tourism industry professionals who had excelled over the previous 50 years”.

UK institute Nekton’s historic research expedition – which aims to “undertake the first systematic survey and sampling of the Maldives from the surface to 1000 metre depths” –  mapped a deep sea mountain in the Maldives south known as Satho Rahaa. The summit was found to be at a depth of 300 metres.

After declaring that the opposition’s ‘India Out’ campaign is on halt in the interest of avoiding unrest due to a presidential decree that banned the activities, former president Abdulla Yameen reiterated criticism over the alleged presence of Indian soldiers in the Maldives.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Dhaalu Kudahuvadhoo – the first since he was awarded the opposition presidential ticket – Yameen alleged that India was dictating both foreign and domestic policy for the current administration. “The ambassador in the Indian embassy is more powerful here than the president and army chief,” he contended.

Wednesday, September 28

The ADK hospital briefed the press about surgeries performed on a 34-year-old construction worker who was critically injured after a three-foot metal rod fell through an air shaft and penetrated his face. The corrugated metal rod reached through to his pelvic bone but miraculously did not cause life-threatening damages to any internal organs. After “extensive repair and reconstruction” by a team of specialist doctors, he is expected to make a full recovery.

Photo from Mihaaru

Wednesday, September 28

Tuesday, September 27

The human rights watchdog launched an inquiry into the custodial death of a 40-year-old man in Maafushi prison. Mohamed Nasheed, from Meemu Muli island, passed away on 15 September while he was detained for trial.

At the time, opposition parties blamed alleged torture and negligence by prison officers for the untimely death. Nasheed was denied prompt medical treatment after he complained of difficulty breathing, it was alleged. According to the Maldives Correctional Service, the detainee died after he was taken to the prison’s medical centre due to difficulty breathing. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Tuesday, September 27

The Maldives marked National Day, which is observed annually to celebrate the victory of Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu in 1573 to end Portuguese occupation. 

The president and first lady participated in a commemorative flag hoisting ceremony at the ancestral home of the national hero on Utheemu island in the northernmost atoll.

Former president Abdulla Yameen extended National Day greetings “amid the sorrow of dark and frightening days”.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih officially launched the Raajje Transport Link (RTL) ferry service in zone one, which covers the three northernmost atolls with 13 speedboats operating daily to 41 islands in Haa Alif, Haa Dhaal and Shaviyani atolls.

The ferry service will restore the “lost wealth and progress” of outer islands, the president declared at a ceremony on Dhidhdhoo island, announcing that the RTL network would be expanded to the southern atolls next year.

The president travelled from Utheemu to Dhidhdhoo on an RTL ferry.

flagship policy of the current administration, the ‘Integrated National Public Ferry Network’ groups atolls into six zones. Routes are designed for a commuter link to connect nearby islands, a non-commuter link for longer trips to domestic airports and business hubs, and a highway link to connect regional hubs.

According to RTL, “each vessel has 48 reclinable airline style seats, designated seating for wheelchair passengers, and securable mechanism for medical stretchers”. Customers can book and pay for tickets on the RTL website or app. 

Monday, September 26

The transport ministry revoked the licenses of 50 vehicles – two pickups and 48 cars – that were either past registration age or registered illegally in the Malé zone.

The ministry has been under fire over the failure to resolve the longstanding problem of multiple cars fraudulently registered under the same garage.

Monday, September 26

The police appealed for public assistance in locating two men suspected of scamming large sums of money.

Speaker Mohamed Nasheed departed to Sri Lanka on behalf of the Climate Vulnerable Forum – a global partnership of 55 countries disproportionately affected by climate change – to “coordinate international relief efforts for Sri Lanka.”

Upon request by both the prosecution and some defence lawyers, the criminal court decided to hold closed-door hearings in the terrorism trial of three key suspects in the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August 2014 and the murder of blogger Yameen Rasheed in April 2017.

The defendants, 30-year-old Ismail Abdul Raheem, 39-year-old Ahmed Ismail – alleged leader of the ‘Buru’ gang in Malé – and 40-year-old Ahmed Muaz – an alleged gangster known as ‘Gatu Mua’ who was behind a machete attack on Rilwan’s workplace – were arrested in late June following a breakthrough in investigations by the presidential commission on deaths and disappearances. 

Abdul Raheem was charged with two counts of aiding an act of terrorism; Ahmed Ismail was charged with planning an act of terrorism and aiding an terrorism; and Muaz was charged with planning an act of terrorism.

Corruption cases involving MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) at the Public Service Media corporation were covered up by the management under both the previous and current administrations, the state broadcaster’s former chief internal auditor told parliament’s state-owned enterprises oversight committee.

The PSM board – which was reconstituted after the change of government in November 2018 – failed to take action over 14 investigative reports submitted by the audit department, Ahmed Fazeel told lawmakers.

Earlier this year, PSM dissolved the audit department and decided to outsource auditing, a move Fazeel alleged was intended to cover up what he had found. The corporation’s board denies his allegations.

The largest case of alleged graft involved an MVR44 million project to relocate the radio antennae from Malé to Thilafushi, which was awarded in 2017 to a Sri Lankan company that lacked technical experience or financial capability. Auditors could not find the company’s bid proposal after the project was awarded.

The project stalled due to lack of finances. A year after the contract expired, PSM’s new managing director Ali Khalid renewed the agreement shortly after assuming office, which caused a loss of MVR18 million, according to Fazeel.

Other issues flagged in procurement practices included awarding projects to shell companies and small companies that only bid for PSM work. In some cases, projects were awarded to the bidder that came last in the evaluation.

A “gang” of senior management veterans across all departments plans and arranges the corrupt deals, Fazeel alleged.

The state is owed MVR203 million (US$13 million) in fines imposed for damages to the environment between 2017 and 2021, according to information shared by the Environment Protection Agency.

Fines worth MVR367 million were imposed in 32 cases over the past four years. Violations included harming protected species, dumping waste into the sea, and carrying out projects in violation of environment impact assessment reports. The bulk of the unpaid fines were owed by vessels that ran aground on reefs.

Sunday, September 25

The government proposed amendments to the newly enacted Evidence Act to address concerns of journalists over provisions that allow courts to compel disclosure of sources.

The constitution guarantees the right to protect sources of information but the new law introduced exceptions in cases involving acts of terrorism or offences related to national security. 

The amendments would more clearly specify the offences, determine factors that must be considered by a judge and limit the power to order disclosure to the High Court.

The International Federation of Journalists and its affiliate, the Maldives Journalists Association, welcomed the proposed changes but opposed the exception for offences related to national security, “as there is a possibility of misusing the term in the absence of a law defining national security offences in the Maldives.”

Sunday, September 25

Abdul Raheem Abdulla, leader of the People’s National Congress, denied rifts within the opposition coalition over an alternative candidate to field in 2023 if former president Abdulla Yameen is convicted and barred from contesting.

Amid media speculation about internal divisions, Mohamed Saeed and Ahmed Thoriq threw barbs at each other in the parliament floor earlier this month, the first time Progressive Party of Maldives MPs clashed publicly. The lawmakers are said to be in rival factions that support different presidential candidates. Last week, Ahmed Musthafa, Yameen’s former chief of staff at the presidential residence, tweeted about “vultures and foxes” waiting to see if the “king of the jungle” would be arrested.

Three men were arrested on suspicion of using videos of men engaging in homosexual relations for blackmail. They threatened victims, demanded large sums of money and posted some of the videos online, according to the police.

Two other suspects were released by the criminal court, which decided there was no reason to keep them in custody.

The court approved remand detention for Hamdhoon Abdulla, 37, Mohamed Mihad Mustahfa, 24, and Maumoon Moosa, 41.

The men are believed to have leaked secretly filmed sex tapes of several Maldivian men with a Bangladeshi man. The 25-year-old migrant worker, M. D. Alamgiri, was sentenced to seven months in prison in late August for “unlawful intercourse.”

On Thursday, Alamgiri was sentenced to an additional two years and nine months on 40 counts of producing pornography.

The scandal broke in late June with leaked videos of lawyer Nazim Sattar, former MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed and a police officer.

Nazim, younger brother of former president Mohamed Nasheed, was found guilty and placed under house arrest earlier this month. The police officer was sentenced to one year and 28 days in prison last week.

The criminal court concluded hearing witness testimony in former president Abdulla Yameen’s bribery and money laundering trial.

The opposition leader is accused of accepting and laundering a US$1 million bribe from former lawmaker Yousuf Naeem in September 2015 in exchange for the no-bid lease of Vaavu Aarah for resort development at a discounted acquisition cost of US$2 million.

But Yameen denies the charges and insists that Naeem had deposited US$1 million into his bank account in a legitimate currency exchange transaction.

Backing the defendant’s alibi, other defence witnesses previously testified about arranging the dollar purchase, counting MVR15,420,000 in cash at Yameen’s home and handing it over to Naeem. 

Naeem, former MP for Fulidhoo, is also on trial as a co-defendant on a charge of bribery. 

At Sunday’s hearing, two former ministers and a state minister cast doubt on the legitimacy of a key piece of evidence: the minutes of a meeting of a cabinet subcommittee where the president authorised the transfer of Aarah from the agriculture ministry to the tourism ministry to lease the island for resort development. The document submitted by the prosecution was invalid because it lacked the signature of ministers on the committee, the witnesses contended.

The charges stem from a corruption scandal in which US$90 million was stolen through the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation during Yameen’s administration. The bulk of the embezzled funds was resort acquisition fees, which were siphoned off through a private company and allegedly used for bribes and political purposes.

Mohamed Azhan, 27, who went missing on 18 September, was last seen near the Redbull football pitch in Hulhumalé, the police revealed.

Taxi drivers who took Azhan to a Hiya flat and back to the the guesthouse where he was staying before he disappeared on Sunday have been found, according to the police, who have also established that he had not flown overseas or to another atoll.

Analysis of CCTV footage is continuing, the police said, urging anyone with information about Azhan to call the 3322111 hotline.

According to his sister, Azhan’s last contact was a message to his girlfriend on Sunday morning. He has not been heard from since leaving home that day.

The employment tribunal ordered the JA Manafaru resort to reinstate 29 employees who were sacked in September 2020. The local staff from the neighbouring Hoarafushi island in Haa Alif atoll were part of 60 workers who were let go after pay cuts imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But their dismissals were not procedurally fair, the tribunal ruled, according to the law firm who represented the resort workers. JA Manafaru was ordered to reinstate them with full backpay.

A man charged with drug trafficking over a gram of MDMA allegedly found in his pocket was found not guilty over discrepancies in the chain of custody, the second acquittal in the past two weeks over the police’s failure to show the chain of custody from the crime scene to the laboratory.

Doubts were raised because the date and time that one police officer was said to have taken custody of the drugs had been changed twice without explanation. The judge cited a High Court precedent that established that a defendant cannot be tied to the drugs if the chain of custody is broken or questionable.

Saturday, September 24

The Maldives National Party led by MP Mohamed Nazim – a former defence minister and retired colonel – concluded its first national convention and approved its general policies.

The MP for Dhagethi declared his intention to contest in a primary to seek the party’s presidential ticket for 2023.

Saturday, September 24

A man was injured after a dinghy collided with a speedboat near the Hulhumalé harbour entrance. The man on the dinghy was thrown overboard and the speedboat ran over him. He was rescued by divers from a coastguard harbour craft and taken to the hospital.