Apartment Scam, Opposition Alliance, Hulhumalé Masterplan

Friday, May 12

A group of Ukulhas residents continued to protest against the alleged sale of alcohol from a safari vessel docked at the island’s harbour.

On Thursday morning, protesters blocked the island council’s entrance with a small boat. The council was accused of authorising the safari boat to anchor at the harbour. According to the council president, the ‘Z Cruiser’ requested permission to dock for repairs and the council approved entry on the condition that it submits to a search in the presence of police. But the safari operator refused to allow a search and the council issued a notice to depart, council president Shaukath Ibrahim told Dhauru. Police officers have since searched the boat and informed the council that there was no liquor onboard and that the vessel was too badly damaged to sail.

A court order has been sought to legally compel the safari to leave, the council said in a statement on Thursday night.

Photo from Facebook

Friday, May 12

Thursday, May 11

The government reduced the monthly rent for the Hiya social housing flats from MVR8,500 (US$551) to MVR6,300 (inclusive of an MVR1,000 maintenance fee) for the next seven years. The 25-year payment period was extended by two years.

The relief came after pleas and protests by the tenants union since a grace period ended in April last year. Rent was deferred for six months as the previous administration’s Chinese-funded 7,000-unit project in Hulhumalé did not include finishing work such as doors and floor tiles. 

The rent was reduced to allow tenants to repay loans taken to complete the interior work, Urbanco managing director Ahmed Athif said at a press conference held at the president’s office to announce the decision.

Urbanco found that Hiya tenants were spending MVR2,200 per month on average for loan repayment, The finishing work cost MVR130,000 on average.

An association representing Hiya tenants met the president in March to discuss options for rent reduction.

According to Urbanco, the initial rent calculated for the Hiya flats exceeded MVR10,000 a month, which included the construction cost, the price of the land, project management and administrative expenses. But the government subsidised rent at a rate of MVR555,000 per apartment.

Urbanco, the state-owned developer of Hulhumalé and other manmade islands near the capital, took on a debt of US$400 million for the Hiya project, which was awarded to the China State Construction Engineering Corporation in 2017.

Thursday, May 11

A new opposition alliance formed against the government’s alleged forfeiture of Maldivian territorial waters submitted a no-confidence motion against Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath. The legal team led by Riffath failed to serve the best interests of the country in the maritime boundary dispute with Mauritius, they contended.

The alliance includes lawmakers from the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives-People’s National Congress coalition as well as the Maldives National Party, the Jumhooree Party and Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s anti-government faction within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.

No-confidence motions will soon be filed against Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Saleem told reporters at a joint press conference. Asked repeatedly for details, Saleem refused to say how many lawmakers have signed the AG’s no-confidence motion. A minimum of 10 signatures is required for submission.

The alliance lacks the numbers for impeachment as the MDP has a supermajority of 68 MPs in the 87-member house. Nasheed’s faction of the MDP reportedly has only 13 or 15 MPs. With 28 or 30 MPs, the opposition falls far short of the 43-vote simple majority.

The MDP condemned the “irresponsible” no-confidence motion against Riffath and threatened to take disciplinary action against the renegade Nasheed loyalists working with the PPM. The party accused the opposition of seeking to incite hatred and destabilise the country with the pretext of the territory dispute.

Despite claims by the Serbian president, the Maldives has not withdrawn recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, the president’s spokesman, Miuvaan Mohamed, said at his weekly press briefing.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s claim that the Maldives was among nine countries that no longer recognise Kosovo’s independence came after Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid’s two-day official visit to Serbia earlier in the week, during which he called on Vucic and signed several bilateral agreements.

The Maldives recognised Kosovo’s independence in 2009. Serbia considers the country part of its territory.

Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim’s Villa Shipping and Trading bought two plots of land from Thilafushi for more than MVR228 million (US$14.7 million). The civil court registered the transfer of ownership of a 392,212 square feet plot and 156,693 square feet plot from Urbanco, the state-owned developer of the artificial island near Malé.

Urbanco announced the sale of 57 plots from Thilafushi in February. The company plans to reclaim 150 hectares of land from the Thilafushi lagoon in a bid to alleviate the high cost and shortage of land for industrial use. The land reclamation, which began in March, is part of plans to develop an industrial hub “and to streamline all industrial activities in the Greater Malé region to Thilafushi.” 

Wednesday, May 10

The government is considering a major change to the Hulhumalé masterplan to reclaim land from the phase two western lagoon and award plots of land to native residents of Malé, potentially scrapping plans to develop a yacht marina and cruise terminal, multiple media outlets reported.

The revelation prompted concern as the majority of local safari vessels are anchored in the lagoon. Malé Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu disputed the government-owned Hulhumalé developer Urbanco’s ownership of the lagoon, which he insisted was part of the city council’s jurisdiction. Any modification of the masterplan should also follow best practices and consultation with the council, he said.

Asked about the reclamation plans at his weekly press briefing, Miuvaan Mohamed, the president’s spokesman, confirmed that discussions were underway but declined to reveal further details. The government will “do what’s necessary” to resolve the densely-packed capital’s housing crisis, he said, questioning whether critics opposed providing housing to Malé residents. Contrary to media reports, there is enough space in the Greater Malé region to award plots as pledged by the president, Miuvaan insisted. Newly-reclaimed land would be allocated for additional housing, he added. 

Title deeds for 4,000 flats and 5,000 plots of land will be handed over to successful applicants by the end of June, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih assured in February, announcing an increase in the number of plots to be awarded to native residents of Malé from the manmade islands of Hulhumalé, Gulhifalhu and Giraavaru. A total of 20,697 and 15,164 applications were submitted respectively for the flats and plots.

The controversial plans to award plots of lands exclusively to registered residents of Malé sparked fierce debates on social media last year. Critics argued that migrants to the capital – including about 1,400 people from other islands who are on a special municipal registry (dhaftharu) and thousands of non-native residents of Malé – cannot be excluded from government housing schemes.

Reclamation zone according to Dhauru

Wednesday, May 10

Colonel Abdulla Ibrahim, the commanding officer of the presidential guards, was not at fault when the president’s motorcade was forced to turn back by opposition protesters in March, the Maldives National Defence Force said after critical media coverage of the colonel’s promotion to brigadier general this week. Contrary to reports, Abdulla Ibrahim had not been suspended after the incident but temporarily relieved of duty to ensure an independent inquiry, which cleared him of any negligence, the MNDF stressed.

The president’s motorcade was blocked outside the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives office in Malé’s ring road on the night of 20 March, forcing the military bodyguards to turn the cars back and take a different route. Videos shared on social media showed armed soldiers and police officers trying unsuccessfully to disperse screaming and flag-waving protesters to clear a path.

Tuesday, May 9

A Maldivian man was sentenced to seven years in prison in Sri Lanka after pleading guilty to the possession of 1,925 ecstasy pills.

Zidan Ibrahim was arrested during a drug raid of an apartment in the Dehiwala Nedimala area of Colombo in May 2018. The street value of the pills was estimated to be Rs10 million (US$31,700). Along with another Maldivian suspect, Zidan was accused of importing the drugs through courier from Holland and selling it to customers in Colombo and overseas.

Tuesday, May 9

The president appointed former television host Safa Shafeeq as a member of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission, a seven-member oversight and regulatory body for TV and radio stations.

Shafeeq’s nomination was approved by parliament to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Ahmed Gais in January.

Gais, who resigned to join President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s primary campaign, was later appointed deputy managing director of the Housing Development Corporation (now Urbanco).

Monday, May 8

A police investigation is underway into the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl by several men on a southern island. The gender ministry has reportedly taken the victim under state care and 19 different men are suspected in the case.

Monday, May 8

The Supreme Court concluded hearings in former president Abdulla Yameen’s appeal against pre-trial rulings in his bribery and money laundering case over the lease of Raa Fuggiri island. 

The opposition leader’s lawyers challenged the legality of several decisions by Judge Ahmed Nadheem, including the acceptance of former vice president Ahmed Adeeb as a defence witness, contending that his testimony would be prejudiced due to his animosity towards Yameen. The judge also rejected a motion from the defence to seek key documents from the state.

The Supreme Court was petitioned after the High Court upheld the lower court’s rulings. A three-judge panel at the Supreme Court expected to deliver a judgment next Monday (15 May). The Fuggiri trial is on hold until the apex court rules on the appeal.

In late December, Yameen was convicted in a separate trial involving the no-bid lease of Vaavu Aarah. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The High Court is due to hear an appeal of the guilty verdict. 

Both cases stemmed from a corruption scandal in which US$90 million was stolen during the former president’s administration. In the Fuggiri case, Yameen is accused of accepting a US$1.1 million bribe to lease the island for resort development. The Sun Construction and Sun Investment companies of resort tycoon Ahmed Siyam as well as businessman Ahmed Riza were charged as co-defendants.  

The High Court also rejected appeals filed by Sun and Riza over the criminal court judge’s rulings on pre-trial motions.

The president inaugurated the six-day ‘Faruma International Youth Art Festival 2023,’ the first-ever international art festival hosted in the Maldives.

Organised by the youth ministry in association with the local artists’ community, the festival featured the work of 80 artists and artisans from eight countries.

Sunday, May 7

A travel ban was imposed on a local businessmen suspected in the fraudulent sale of luxury apartments from the K-Park Residence, a Korean-style 110-apartment complex under construction in Hulhumalé. 

Hassan Mamdhuh, a minority shareholder of the K-Park developer Hanbo Company, is accused of taking large sums as payments from several buyers after forging the signature of managing director Shihu Jin, a Chinese national who owns a 95% stake in the company. Both Hanbo and the state-owned Urbanco asked the police to investigate the alleged fraud last week.

On Sunday, the police asked victims of the scam to inform its economic crimes department.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mamdhuh denied any wrongdoing and accused Jin of trying to flee with money paid for the unfinished flats.

According to an investigative report by Dhauru, Mamdhuh registered four companies to sell apartments and collect payments without Jin’s knowledge. He forged Jin’s signature to draft fake board resolutions, open bank accounts and submit tax returns. At the time, Jin was unable to return to Maldives due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. The value of identified transactions was reported to exceed MVR100 million (US$6.5 million). In some cases, the same apartment was sold to multiple buyers and discounted rates were offered to sell below market prices.

Mamdhuh’s alleged accomplices, Jaishan Saeed and a Korean national named Soon Soo Kim, have also been barred from leaving the country. Abdul Nafiu Mohamed, a development officer at Urbanco whose job involved evaluating investment proposals submitted to the state-owned developer of Hulhumalé, was suspended on Thursday over suspected involvement in the scam.

Sunday, May 7

Saturday, May 6

On the second anniversary of the attempt to assassinate Speaker Mohamed Nasheed in May 2021, MP Eva Abdulla and other close allies of the former president accused President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of impeding justice.

Nasheed narrowly survived after the bomb attack caused life-threatening injuries.

The plotters behind the attack have not been found “because that’s what President Solih wants,” Eva, the deputy speaker of parliament, alleged as others criticised the security breach and lack of progress in identifying the financiers.

A prime suspect, Adhuham Ahmed Rasheed, 26, who confessed to detonating the IED, was sentenced to 23 years in jail in December 2021.

The trial of seven other men charged in connection with the bomb blast is ongoing at the criminal court. According to the schedule announced by Judge Sofwath Habeeb, a verdict would be delivered on 31 August.

In March, Abbas Faiz, the president’s special envoy for monitoring the investigation and prosecution, expressed concern over delays. “The Maldives judicial authorities have not given me an acceptable reason for this delay,” Faiz, a former Amnesty International official, tweeted after a meeting with the criminal court’s registrar.

Saturday, May 6

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and First Lady Fazna Ahmed attended the coronation of King Charles III in England.

On Friday (5 May), the first couple also attended a reception hosted by the new king and queen at Buckingham Palace.