The department of immigration has announced that John Seyfert, an American arrested a week ago on charges of not possessing a passport or valid visa, will be deported from the Maldives.
The 76 year-old US citizen is currently being held at an immigration detention facility in Hulhumalé.
Immigration officials told newspaper Mihaaru that they were working with the US Embassy in Sri Lanka, which is accredited to the Maldives, to obtain a new passport for Seyfert. Once his passport arrives in the Maldives, it is understood that Seyfert will be deported.
The US Embassy, in a media release on Friday, said it was “following Mr. Seyfert’s case closely” and noted that American diplomats met Seyfert on 18 and 19 January at the immigration centre where he is being held, in order to provide him with consular assistance.
“The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas,” the media release stated.
Sources close to Seyfert say his case, which has attracted press attention over the past week, is not a simple matter of a visa violation.
Seyfert, who has been living in the Maldives for the past seven years, says he and other members of his family invested over US$ 250,000 in a new Hulhumalé guesthouse, ‘Le Vieux Nice Inn’, but was defrauded by the guesthouse’s Maldivian owners.
The Maldivian owners, brothers Abdul Haseeb Mohamed and Abdul Mujeeb Mohamed, happen to be brothers-in-law of MP Riyaz Rasheed, the deputy parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives.
Seyfert’s lawyer – who was with him at the time of his arrest but who asked not to be named because of fears of reprisals – described the American’s arrest on January 16:
“At about 8pm on Monday, two police officers visited the flat [Seyfert] lived in Hulhumalé and asked him to accompany them to the police station.
“I [the lawyer] told the police that we had reported his passport stolen in 2014. The police said they had no evidence to prove this, and would check on it while holding Seyfert in detention.
“Then the police said that Seyfert had been writing defamatory comments about the government on Facebook and that it had come to the government’s attention.”
Seyfert says that he invested in Le Vieux Nice Inn, on the agreement that brothers Haseeb and Mujeeb would repay his money once the guesthouse started generating an income. Seyfert would then use this money to build himself a retirement home on land that the brothers owned in Fulidhoo, Vaavu Atoll.
Relations between Seyfert and the brothers started to go sour a few months after the American made the investment.
In a Facebook group run by Seyfert, entitled ‘John Questions-Answers’, Seyfert claims that the brothers were supposed to repay his investment within a year. But when Seyfert challenged Haseeb over the matter, Haseeb reportedly told him “I am not paying anyone”.
When Seyfert asked Haseeb if he had planned all along not to repay the money, Haseeb allegedly called him a “stupid old man”.
A lawyer for Haseeb and Mujeeb declined to comment to the Maldives Independent.
When contacted for comment, Mujeeb said: “I have no time for rumours… For your own safety, it would be wiser for you to obtain evidence and come to me.”
Seyfert took his case to the civil court, which in June 2016 ordered Haseeb to pay Seyfert US$ 42,000 – considerably less than the quarter of a million dollars Seyfert says he and his family invested.
Seyfert, who until his arrest last week stayed at a Hulumalé apartment rented by the brothers, also accuses them of stealing his passport.
Seyfert’s lawyer explained: “In November 2014, a bag containing documents, including Seyfert’s passport, was stolen from his room. Seyfert reported the theft to the police and told them that it must have been carried out by the brothers because nobody else had access to the room.
“Later, certificates that were in the bag at the time it was stolen were submitted by the brothers to the Hulhumalé magistrate court, during a dispute about unpaid rent by Seyfert.”
In his Facebook group, Seyfert accuses MP Riyaz Rasheed and his wife Shaheedha Mohamed, the brothers’ sister, of “silently manipulating and supporting criminal activity.”
In December he posted that “as of today I have 23 threats to kill me and 2 physical assaults, one with injury”.
Riyaz Rasheed was not available for comment.
His wife Shaheedha Mohamed, responding to Seyfert’s allegations, recently wrote on Facebook: “the whole of the Maldives will believe we have never wronged anyone.”