Qasim Run, ‘Boring’ Maldives, Drowning Tourists

Friday, March 17

The second annual Maldives Sports Awards were handed out at a gala event in Malé. Along with Lifetime Achievement Awards and Sports Icon Awards, more than 100 awards were presented in 18 different sports.

The president presented Special Recognition Awards to 16 individuals, including Nigeria’s Youth and Sports Minister Sunday Akin Dare.

Friday, March 17

The criminal court ordered the release of Hussain Juman, an Avas video journalist arrested while covering the opposition’s nightly protests on Thursday night.

video of the incident shows the police shove him to the ground and throw his phone away.

The Maldives Journalists Association condemned the arrest and called on the authorities to ensure the security of journalists covering street protests. “The union is deeply concerned that journalists covering the protests are constantly being harassed, tortured by the police,” it added, noting that eight violations of media rights have occurred so far this year.

Thursday, March 16

The candidacy of former president Abdulla Yameen is likely to be accepted despite the opposition leader’s 11-year imprisonment on bribery and money laundering charges, Elections Commission chief Fuwad Thowfeek told Sun, citing a precedent of the courts allowing a disqualified lawmaker to contest before the conclusion of an appeals process.

Yameen’s guilty verdict was appealed before the High Court in February. But the court instructed lawyers to make corrections to some documents. The revised appeal was filed on Wednesday. The legal team has expressed confidence that the conviction would be overturned this month. But it is unclear if the court could reach a judgment before the deadline to file candidacy papers on 3 August. The presidential election is scheduled for 9 September. Alternately, a Supreme Court ruling could be sought on whether Yameen’s name could be put on the ballot before a final judgment on the appeal.

Since Yameen’s conviction on 25 December, the opposition Progressive Congress Coalition has been adamant that he remains the presidential candidate. Citing an unnamed source, Dhauru reported on Wednesday that Yameen had torn up a note from the leadership asking for advice on how to proceed if he is eventually barred from running. But Yameen rejected the possibility of fielding an alternative candidate, according to the source, who also accused the former president of refusing to fund the party’s activities despite claiming that more than MVR100 million (US$6.4 million) in his personal bank accounts were campaign donations. The Progressive Party of Maldives’ Secretary General later dismissed the Dhauru report as entirely false.

On Monday, Yameen’s legal team filed a separate appeal against the criminal court’s order to pay US$3.4 million that was allegedly laundered. A separate US$5 million fine was also imposed in December.

Thursday, March 16

The Capital Market Development Authority urged people who lost money in unlicensed investment schemes to submit complaints before 30 March. Any scheme that involves financial securities must be registered with the CMDA, it noted.

Last week, former MP Alhan Fahmy‘s King’s Forex Trading was revealed to have collected MVR98 million (US$6.3 million) from 1,864 investors. But MVR65 million has not been paid back, the police informed the media after an investigation into the alleged Ponzi scheme and money laundering operation.  

The company is accused of illegally setting up an investment scheme and collecting funds with the promise of high returns from forex trading. Most of the money was used for cryptocurrency transactions and the rest was transferred to the personal bank accounts of the company’s shareholders and spent, according to the police. 

A payout of MVR39 million in profits was made to earlier investors with funds from new investors – the defining feature of Ponzi schemes. Discussions are ongoing with the Prosecutor General’s office to press separate charges for each complaint filed by new investors who lost money, the police said.

Customers reported 1,360 cases in which more than MVR33 million (US$2.1 million) was lost from their accounts in unauthorised transactions last year, the Bank of Maldives revealed.

Starting with scam calls in 2014, tactics have evolved to phishing text messages used to steal internet or mobile banking login details, a public relations official told state media. Over the past week, there was a surge in cases where customers made payments for online purchases from local sellers that did not deliver their items, the official noted.

The bank introduced new measures recently to protect customers from fraud, including email notifications for any new logins on internet banking, and push notifications on the mobile app for all transactions.

The Anti-Corruption Commission sought money laundering charges against former army chief Moosa Ali Jaleel over a corruption scandal in which US$90 million was stolen during the previous administration.

Jaleel, a retired major general, is among the beneficiaries of funds embezzlement from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, the bulk of which was resort acquisition fees that were siphoned off through a private company and used for bribes and political purposes.

According to the anti-graft watchdog, MVR1 million (US$64,850) was deposited to Jaleel’s bank account at the behest of then-vice president Ahmed Adeeb.

Jaleel denies any wrongdoing.

The ACC asked the Prosecutor General’s office to press money laundering charges and instructed the MMPRC to recover the funds.

In late February, the ACC also sought bribery and money laundering charges against Major Naveen Zubair, who is alleged to have been paid US$100,000 from the stolen MMPRC funds.

Naveen was suspended in 2019 after the money transfer was discovered. But the suspension was later lifted and he remains in the military. Of cases involving 338 beneficiaries of stolen money, investigation has concluded in 38 cases.

According to the ACC’s 2022 annual report released on Tuesday, the PG office decided to file charges in only five out of 49 cases forwarded last year.

A research paper released by the ACC in February identified the lack of a comprehensive asset recovery law as a challenge to tackling illicit enrichment and seizing ill-gotten gains.

The Housing Development Corporation denied media reports about an employee selling a plot of land for MVR1 million (US$64,850). The incident in question involved an employee defrauding a customer with the pretext of a land sale and depositing money into a personal bank account, the HDC explained. The employee was promptly suspended after an investigation, it added, assuring that land cannot be sold without a public announcement and registration at the bid portal.

In an unrelated case, an HDC employee was sacked for stealing money paid as rent at an office counter. The employee was found to have provided a receipt and taken the money without reconciling. The theft was discovered after discrepancies were noted through internal controls. The employee’s actions were also recorded on security camera. The incident was falsely reported in the media as a theft from the company’s safe, according to the HDC.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Maldives Journalists Association, called on the government to scrap proposed legal changes that could restrict foreign and freelance journalists from monitoring September’s presidential election. According to amendments submitted to the elections law, only journalists working for registered media outlets or broadcasters would be licensed to enter polling stations. The IFJ urged the government “to consult with journalists and other media stakeholders when drafting legislation, and calls on the government to revise or reject the existing proposal to ensure journalists are not restricted.” 

Echoing the call, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged lawmakers to “reject or revise the proposed amendment in consultation with civil society groups and journalists and do everything in their power to ensure that the press can freely and safely report on the upcoming presidential election in September.”

Addressing the concerns, the president’s office spokesman told the press that the Elections Commission would allow foreign correspondents to observe voting.

Cases of diarrhoea and the common cold spiked in February, according to the Health Protection Agency, which reported a higher incidence compared to last year or pre-pandemic levels.

Wednesday, March 15

The police sought Interpol assistance to investigate the case of a local man who used fake telegraphic transfers (TTs) to purchase goods worth at least US$80,000 from foreign businesses.

Hussain Shifau, 37, was arrested on 28 February. Most of his online purchases were made from new businesses formed between 2019 and 2022, according to the police, which asked Interpol to help identify other suspected victims.

Wednesday, March 15

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party and Maldives Labour and Social Democratic Party were dissolved after failing to reach the minimum membership threshold of 3,000 people within three months.

Neither party informed the Elections Commission about persons who would be liable for any outstanding debt. According to the political parties law, the DRP and MLSDP’s leaders at the time when the debt was incurred would have to bear responsibility.

Tuesday, March 14

The Jumhooree Party’s council decided to contest September’s presidential election with leader Qasim Ibrahim as the presumptive candidate, rejecting President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s invitation to remain in the Maldivian Democratic Party-led coalition.

The highly-anticipated decision deals a blow to President Solih’s re-election hopes. The ability to maintain a coalition and win the support of other parties was the key plank of his campaign to secure the MDP’s ticket.

As advised by the party’s national congress in late February, the council decided to form a JP-led coalition.

President’s Office Minister Ahmed Sameer cast the sole dissenting vote in the show of hands. Transport Minister Aishath Nahula – a JP deputy leader and one of Qasim’s four wives – voted with the majority. Sameer later announced his resignation from the party.

During Wednesday’s sitting of parliament, some MDP MPs called for the resignation of JP’s political appointees, including ministers and bosses of state-owned companies. Hitting back, Qasim argued that they should remain in their posts as the 2018 coalition agreement was valid until the end of President Solih’s five-year term in November. If not, the president himself should resign, the MP for Maamigili declared.

But it would be “difficult to move forward if there are two presidential candidates in the government,” president’s office spokesman Miuvaan Mohamed told the press.

Hailed as the “kingmaker”, Qasim’s endorsement was pivotal in previous presidential elections.

But unlike 2008 and 2013, Qasim’s third run could prove successful because the two main parties are weakened, a JP MP suggested. The opposition lacks a candidate with former president Abdulla Yameen in jail and the MDP remains divided with Speaker Mohamed Nasheed refusing to endorse the incumbent.

Nasheed is expected to back Qasim. In the wake of the JP council’s decision, Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla floated the idea of a joint parliamentary group with MDP MPs in Nasheed’s faction.

With 22,993 members, the JP is the third largest party after the MDP and main opposition Progressive Party of Maldives.

Leaders of the Adhaalath Party – which along with resort magnate Ahmed ‘Sun’ Siyam’s Maldives Development Alliance has endorsed the president – expressed confidence in the president’s chances without the JP. Solih could win in the first round with 51.2% of the vote, Home Minister Sheikh Imran Abdulla predicted.

Asked about a possible coalition with the JP, PPM MP Ahmed Shiyam told the press that the opposition was open to an alliance if there was a shared understanding on its nationalistic principles and concerns over alleged Indian influence and military presence. Speaking at a rally on Wednesday night, Abdul Raheem Abdulla declared that the “PPM would never get behind any other party” and reiterated that Yameen remains the opposition coalition’s presidential candidate.

Tuesday, March 14

On the sidelines of the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting in London, the Maldives and Ghana signed an agreement on mutual visa exemption and an MoU for political consultation between the respective foreign ministries.

Two non-binding resolutions submitted by Maldviain Democratic Party MPs in Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s faction – which now functions as a de facto opposition group – were rejected by the pro-government majority in parliament.

A resolution by Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla calling on the government to restructure foreign debt was voted out 32-23 whilst a resolution by Central Hithadhoo MP Ahmed Rasheed recommending privatisation of the Addu City’s airport and seaport was defeated 34-18.

In contrast, government-sponsored legislation on occupational health and safety was accepted with 57 votes in favour and sent to committee for further review.

The rejected resolutions were among several proposed by Nasheed’s faction on the grounds that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration was straying from the MDP’s manifesto and founding principles.

On Tuesday night, MPs in Nasheed’s faction held their first meeting as a separate parliamentary group.

Majority Leader Mohamed Aslam – who leads the MDP’s supermajority 66-member parliamentary group – slammed the formation of an independent group as contrary to the MDP’s statutes and parliamentary rules. “You can’t form a separate parliamentary group while you are in the party,” he told Dhauru.

After four tourists died in drowning accidents in two weeks, the tourism ministry reissued a circular from April 2022 reminding tourist establishments to “be vigilant and take precautionary measures especially in relation to swimming, snorkelling, diving and other water-based activities.”

Resorts, guesthouses, hotels and safari vessels were advised to conduct safety briefings and regular training and awareness sessions for staff.

On Monday morning, a 46-year-old British man drowned while diving at the popular Hammerhead Shark Point near Rasdhoo. A day later, a 65-year-old British man drowned near Rashdoo. On 7 March, a tourist drowned while out snorkelling at the Adaaran Meedhupparu resort in Raa Atoll. A 62-year-old German tourist was found dead in the lagoon of Kuramathi resort in Alif Alif Atoll on 5 March.

Monday, March 13

Sri Lankan Tourism Minister Harin Fernando apologised for unfavourably comparing the Maldives and Sri Lanka as tourist destinations.

“I know lots of people go to the Maldives…the Maldives just has the beach. I’m not criticising…but if you stay there for five days, you get fed up of it. That’s it, you’re just on an island, you’re caught up in one place. But in Sri Lanka, it’s not like that. There’s something for everyone.” he said during the recently concluded ITB Berlin fair in Germany.

The remarks sparked a backlash from both Sri Lankans and Maldivians on social media. Fernando’s counterpart, Tourism Minister Dr Abdulla Mausoom, pointed out that the Maldives has won the title of World’s Leading Destination for the past three years and attracts many repeat visitors, including some who tourists have visited 50 times. Others observed that several tourists visit both countries on dual or multi-destination packages.

“My statement made in Berlin regarding the beautiful Maldive islands has been taken out of context and been misrepresented on social media. I wish to clarify that we work together with our neighbor on tourism and would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused,” Fernando tweeted.

Monday, March 13

Customs seized 120 grams of cannabis from a postal package that arrived from the United States. The estimated street value of the drugs was MVR96,000 (US$6,225). The package was opened after suspicions were aroused during an X-ray scan.

In a separate case, customs officers found 520 grams of mephedrone from a package that arrived from the United Kingdom.

The High Court upheld an order by the Information Commissioner’s office for the infrastructure ministry to comply with a right to information request for details about the controversial Ameenee Magu road project in Malé.

Ahmed Afrah, an environmental advocate, filed the request in August, but the ministry refused to disclose detailed designs and a copy of the agreement signed with the Road Development Corporation. After considering the reasons cited for keeping the information confidential, the Information Commissioner’s office ordered the ministry in November to comply with the request. But the ministry challenged the order at the High Court.

The Malé City Council launched a project to install ‘Smart City Lights’ donated by the Yunan province in China. The lights have free WiFi, a digital LED screen, speaker system, security camera and environmental sensors to detect changes in the weather. The first ten poles were erected on Malé’s ring road.

Sunday, March 12

A four-year-old child died after falling from the fifth floor of a residence in Malé. On the following night, a 32-year-old Maldivian woman died after falling from a building near the Henveiru cemetery. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Sunday, March 12

At a press conference after announcing his intention to run for president, former attorney general Dr Mohamed Munavar denied rumours that he was contesting at the behest of Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, insisting that he would not ally with any political leaders or become another candidate’s running mate.

Speculation of a deal with Nasheed was fuelled after Munavvar was pictured with the former president as the latter travelled to Addu City during the Maldivian Democratic Party’s presidential primary campaign in January. But Munavvar said he happened to be on the same flight as Nasheed by coincidence as he flew to his native island.

The multi-party system in the Maldives has nearly failed and all parties were in need of serious reform, he suggested. Munnavar also heavily criticised the government for allegedly coming under outsized Indian influence and for allowing interference in domestic affairs.

Photo by Abdulla Abeedh.

First Lady Fazna Ahmed praised a performance by Maldivian dance group Dionysiac at the ITB Berlin fair that drew harsh criticism as videos went viral on social media. The performance was slammed for ostensibly not reflecting Maldivian heritage despite the traditional dress and song. The entanglement of male and female dancers was also criticised as inappropriate.

The first couple observed the dance performance during their visit to the Maldives stand.

Saturday, March 11

Ibrahim Shaaz won the Maldivian Democratic Party’s primary to contest on behalf of the ruling party for the vacant Guraidhoo parliament seat. Shaaz secured the MDP ticket with 53% (311 votes) against three other contenders. The turnout was 75% of the MDP’s 844 members in the constituency.

The MDP has never won the constituency in Kaafu Atoll, which encompasses the islands of Guraidhoo, Maafushi and Gulhi. The voting age population in the last parliamentary election was 3,130.

Three-term Guraidhoo MP Ibrahim Riza passed away in late February after battling cancer. The by-election is scheduled for 15 April.

Shaaz will face off against Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Hussain Riza – brother of the deceased lawmaker – and Maldives National Party candidate Ali Areef, a former Dhivehi teacher. On Wednesday, the Elections Commission assigned ballot numbers for the candidates.

Saturday, March 11