Tourism Day, Missing Person, Oil Theft

Thursday, October 6

The Maldives and Bahrain exchanged four cooperation agreements during President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s state visit to the gulf kingdom, the first official visit by a Maldivian head of state.

Memoranda of Understanding were signed on political consultation, diplomatic training, youth and sports, and climate change.

In a joint press conference with his Bahrani counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid stressed the importance of ongoing discussions on a visa waiver agreement.

Prior to the signing ceremony, the president held a one-on-one meeting with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who later hosted a luncheon for the Maldives delegation.

Thursday, October 6

The State Trading Organisation commenced a fully-funded diploma in radiography course in collaboration with GE Healthcare. STO offered full scholarships with monthly pocket money to 25 students who enrolled in the inaugural course.

Wednesday, October 5

Prosecutors and defence lawyers sparred over new evidence submitted by the state 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. The island was leased for resort development at a discounted acquisition cost of US$2 million.

Last week, two former ministers and a state minister cast doubt on 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 defence witnesses contended. 

In early September, Ahmed Nareesh, deputy mayor of Malé, claimed to have handed over MVR15 million in cash to Naeem at Yameen’s behest, backing the defendant’s alibi of purchasing dollars. Nareesh claimed to have counted MVR15,420,000 in cash at Yameen’s private residence before taking it to Naeem in two bags. Yameen claims that Naeem had then deposited US$1 million into his bank account.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the prosecution sought to submit new pieces of evidence to disprove their testimony. Details of the documents were not disclosed. But objections from defence lawyers suggested that it included minutes of the cabinet subcommittee meeting with signatures of the former ministers. The prosecution also found attendance records of Nareesh when he worked in the military at the time of the transaction.

But new evidence should not be accepted at this stage of the trial, defence lawyers argued. Judge Ahmed Shakeel said he would rule on admissibility at the next hearing.

The charges against Yameen stem from a corruption scandal in which US$90 million was stolen through the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation during his administration.

Wednesday, October 5

The criminal court heard opening statements in the trial of the alleged murder of Filipino nurse Mary Grace by her husband Marvin Vargas with help from his Maldivian lover Haleemath Lamha.

All three worked as nurses at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in the capital. The man is accused of assaulting and strangling his wife to death in the couple’s residence in Malé after midnight on 19 October last year. The 24-year-old Maldivian woman was charged with aiding and abetting the murder.

Both defendants pleaded not guilty.

According to the prosecution, evidence would prove that only the defendants had both the motive and opportunity for murder. A drug called  succinylcholine used to induce paralysis was detected in a blood sample from the victim’s body. An empty bottle of succinylcholine along with a syringe and other controlled drugs were found in Lamha’s residence. Contrary to her denial, evidence also shows that Lamha had gone to the couple’s apartment shortly before the alleged murder, the prosecutor said.

Mary Grace’s death was initially reported by her husband as suicide by hanging. But suspicions of foul play prompted a police investigation and a postmortem determined head and neck injuries as the cause of death.

Witness testimony is due to begin at the next hearing on 16 October.

The Public Service Media corporation’s senior management denied allegations of corruption at the state broadcaster under their watch.

Last week, PSM’s former chief internal auditor Ahmed Fazeel told parliament’s state-owned enterprises committee that corruption cases involving MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) were covered up by the PSM management under both the previous and current administrations. The new board of directors failed to take action over 14 investigative reports submitted by the audit department, he alleged.

Summoned to the oversight committee, Ibrahim Hilmy, chairman of PSM, and Ali Khalid, managing director, blamed the previous management for the flagged cases. Hilmy denied receiving any of Fazeel’s reports.

According to Khalid, the auditor’s reports were largely based on 14 cases investigated by a separate committee that he had formed upon assuming office in late 2018. The cases were also shared with the Anti-Corruption Commission during his first week in charge, he said, stressing that all the alleged graft had occurred under the previous administration.

Earlier this year, PSM dissolved the audit department and decided to outsource auditing, a move Fazeel contended was part of a cover-up to protect a cabal of veteran senior officials behind corrupt deals.

But Hilmy and Khalid denied the allegations. The department failed to produce results and the board sought an expert opinion that supported the outsourcing decision, the chairman told MPs.

The managing director also defended renewing an agreement with a Sri Lankan company to relocate the radio antennae from Malé to Thilafushi with an MVR52 million (US$3.3 million) grant from Japan. According to Fazeel, the chosen company lacked technical expertise, relevant experience or financial capability and auditors could not find the company’s bid proposal after the project was awarded in 2017. The new MD’s decision caused a loss of MVR18 million, he alleged.

But Khalid said most of the construction work and installation of towers were complete when the contract period expired in mid-2018 and only MVR15 million was left when he took over PSM. The contract was renewed after the ACC did not object to spending more to complete the project, he said.

Customs seized 10kg of heroin from the luggage of a 48-year-old Pakistani man who arrived in the Maldives from Dubai. The estimated street value of the drugs was MVR12 million (US$778,210).

The transport ministry revoked the licenses of 98 vehicles that were either past registration age or registered illegally in the Malé zone. The new round of cancellations came after the licenses of two pickups and 48 cars were revoked in late September.

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

Tuesday, October 4

A 19-year-old man from Alif Alif Thoddoo died of dengue fever after undergoing treatment at the ADK hospital’s intensive care unit since late September.

On the previous day, an eight-year-old girl with dengue fever passed away at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

Cases of dengue have risen significantly compared to 2021, according to the Health Protection Agency. There were 268 cases in August and 229 cases in September, up from nine cases and eight cases respectively in the same period last year.

In August, doctors expressed concern with rising dengue cases as an infant was admitted at the IGMH’s intensive care unit. One child died from the mosquito-borne disease earlier this year.

Tuesday, October 4

The health ministry launched an ‘Electronic Immunisation Registry’ to serve as “a single digital platform to access, record and manage information related to vaccines given to children from any vaccination centre across the country.”

A national-level initiative for raising awareness on cyber security dubbed ‘Cybersafe Maldives’ was launched as part of plans to mark October as the National Cyber Security Awareness month.

Monday, October 3

The Maldives marked the golden jubilee of tourism to commemorate the opening of the first resort 50 years ago. Earlier this year, the president declared National Tourism Day to be observed as a public holiday on 3 October, the historic date when Kurumba Village opened on the Vihamanaafushi island near Malé.

At a ceremony held on the previous night, the president launched the ‘Maldives Tourism Awards‘ and presented awards to six recipients. In his remarks at the event, the president thanked the pioneers of the industry and spoke about his administration’s plans to expand tourism throughout the country with a nationwide speedboat ferry network as well as the development of international airports in the northernmost and southernmost atolls.

At a ‘Tourism Golden Year Gala Evening’ on Monday night, the president conferred ‘The President’s Tourism Gold Awards’ to 77 individuals, including the speaker of parliament, the vice president, and tourism industry leaders.

Monday, October 3

Terrorism charges were filed against 18 men who disrupted an International Yoga Day event on June 21.

Seven men charged with committing an act of terrorism could face 25 years in prison. Sheikhs Fazloon Mohamed and Adam Nishan, who were accused of inciting the mob that stormed the national stadium, were charged with encouraging an act of terrorism, an offence that carries a jail term of up to 15 years.

Seven men charged with aiding an act of terrorism – which carries imprisonment between 17 to 20 years – included former MP Mohamed Ismail, a leading organiser of opposition activities who was detained after the incident. Photos showed him taking out the flags used by the protesters from the Progressive Party of Maldives office. 

The PPM condemned the charges as “politically motivated” and alleged Indian intervention behind the decision to prosecute the chair of the opposition’s political activities committee.

The incident occurred after religious scholars condemned yoga as forbidden by Islam and called on the government to cancel the annual event. Ambassadors from six countries as well as the UN resident coordinator were in attendance at the event organised by the youth ministry in collaboration with the Indian High Commission in Malé. No one was seriously hurt. Riot police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the protesters.

One man was also charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and three others were charged with attempted battery. Charges of obstructing a law enforcement officer were raised against 14 of the suspects.

One man was charged with “possession of a document that insinuates support for a terrorist organisation.”

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After a one-month trial period free of charge, the Raajje Transport Link– a subsidiary of the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company – started charging MVR7 (US$0.4) for its minibus service in Malé.

A QR code issued for tickets purchased online through the RTL app or website can be scanned on the bus. A paper ticket can also be bought for cash but the exact amount must be put into a box as bus attendants will not offer change.

MTCC plans to introduce a smart payment card in October in partnership the Bank of Maldives for Visa and Mastercard customers. A dedicated RTL travel card that can be topped up online will be introduced later this year, MTCC said.

The service remains free for the elderly, disabled persons, children under the age of three, and students in uniform.

The air-conditioned 20- to 22-seater RTL buses cover the main thoroughfares on three routes from 5:45 a.m. to 12:15 a.m.

Foreign Secretary of India Vinay Mohan Kwatra concluded an official visit on the invitation of his Maldivian counterpart. During the trip, the foreign secretary met with the president and the speaker of parliament and held discussions with the defence minister, finance minister and economic development minister.

Kwatra oversaw the exchange of an agreement for the EXIM bank of India to extend a US$100 million Line of Credit “for the purpose of facilitating the numerous ongoing infrastructure projects” and handed over a sea vessel procured for the Maldives Correctional Service under an Indian Grant Assistance scheme signed in March 2019. He also handed over 24 utility vehicles to the Maldives National Defence Force and visited the site of the ongoing Greater Malé Connectivity Project to witness progress on the Thilamalé bridge.

Sunday, October 2

The decomposed body of 27-year-old Mohamed Azhan, who went missing on 18 September, was found in thick vines and trees near the Hulhumalé beachfront area designated for a water theme park.

The police searched the area for the second time after CCTV footage showed Azhan going to the beach by the skate park and returning to Nirolhu Magu. The area was first searched on 26 September after the police learned that Azhan had gone to a nearby guesthouse on the morning that he went missing.

The body will be sent overseas for a postmortem, the police said. His phone has been recovered and there is no evidence that he was murdered, according to the police.

Azhan’s girlfriend told local media that he suffered from schizophrenia but was not under medication at the time. He also talked of committing suicide before he disappeared, according to the 29-year-old woman.

Sunday, October 2

The Friday mosque in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi was vandalised while undergoing renovation and repair work.

According to Mayor Mohamed Athif, water was split over newly laid cement after it was left to dry overnight. The floor was also scratched and damaged.

Census takers were unable to gather information from more than 900 households and businesses in the Malé region when fieldwork ended last week, the Maldives Bureau of Statistics revealed, noting efforts to make contact through phone calls and urging people who have not participated in the census to either call the 1423 hotline or submit an online form.

A crew member of a capsized Indian vessel who was rescued at sea was pronounced dead on arrival at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Malé. The boat capsized 30 nautical miles east of Kaafu Kaashidhoo en route from Tuticorin. The other six crew members were taken onboard a coastguard ship and brought to Malé. The missing 59-year-old man was found around 5:25pm on Saturday by the coastguard’s Hakuraa speedboat.

The Maldives Ports Limited lost MVR8 million (US$518,800) in an oil theft racket that started in 2018, MPL managing director Shahid Ali told the press. The implicated staff have since been fired and investigations by the police and the anti-graft watchdog are ongoing.

The fraud was exposed in 2020 when MPL noticed that fuel consumption remained high despite a significant reduction in operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Port staff are suspected of colluding with Fuel Supply Maldives staff to siphon off a portion of diesel intended for delivery to MPL for its operations in the Malé commercial harbour.

“Without delivering the volume agreed for delivery, the leftover in the Fuel Supply employees’ bowser is taken and sold outside,” Shahid explained, adding that changes have been made to receipt documentation and logging to avoid a recurrence.

A subsidiary of the State Trading Organisation, Fuel Supply Maldives is also a state-owned company.

Diesel worth MVR28.3 million sold from FSM to MPL was lost between 2018 and 2020, according to a special audit report released on Thursday. The diesel was supplied for MPL generators, tug boats and cranes. Invalid information from forged request forms were recorded in the MPL accounting system, the audit found.

Saturday, October 1

Between 31% to 41% of recipients of flats under government housing schemes do not regularly pay rent, Housing Minister Mohamed Aslam was quoted as saying at a ceremony held to hand over 384 apartments built in Hulhumalé for staff of the Maldives Airports Company Ltd.

Saturday, October 1

A telethon to raise funds for victims of flooding in Pakistan raised more than MVR1 million (US$64,850) in less than 12 hours.

Fund boxes were kept in seven locations in the Greater Malé region as well as other islands across the country.

The Maldives set a new free-diving world record with the most number of people holding their breath underwater at the same time.

Organised by Freedive Maldives, more than 455 people took part in the event across the Maldives to celebrate the golden jubilee of tourism. The record-breaking event dubbed ‘Neyvaa 2′ was held at 12 resorts simultaneously. Judges from the Guinness Book of World Records observed the attempt for the most people performing static apnea simultaneously.

The president and first lady participated in the event at Crossroads Maldives along with Herbert Nitsch, the free-diving world record champion known as “the deepest man on earth.”