The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favour of Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group, saying the government had unlawfully revoked agreements for three islands and two lagoons.
In 2015, the government annulled lease agreements for Thaa Elaa, Raa Maanenfushi, Gaaf Dhaal Gazeera, Kaafu Maadhiggarufalhu and Kaafu Bolidhuffarufalhu.
Villa Group firms went to the civil court, which ruled that the government’s seizure of the properties was illegal.
But Villa was dealt a blow in 2017, when the High Court overturned that decision and the tax authority sought to recover MVR 2.9 billion (USD$188 million) it said Villa owed as unpaid rent and fines for the properties.
Wednesday’s apex court ruling could lead to the unfreezing of Villa’s assets and accounts. A MIRA official told the Maldives Independent it would act accordingly when the ruling was officially received.
Villa group on Thursday said the chairman would discuss with the board possible legal action for the losses caused by the seizure of the properties.
The group’s company secretary, Ibrahim Rasheed, said MIRA should not keep their accounts frozen after the ruling.
Villa lawyers believe the group does not owe any money to the state as the “lawsuits have become baseless” following the Supreme Court ruling.
“We believe that Villa no longer requires to pay any money to MIRA or the state and the companies’ accounts which were frozen after the High Court ruling must now be unblocked,” said one lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous.
“That is because the Supreme Court has overturned the High Court ruling, so the lawsuits against Villa are now unfounded.”
Villa previously said the claim had brought it to the brink of bankruptcy.
The Supreme Court ruling represents a respite for Villa, which has experienced several setbacks since the JP split with the ruling coalition and allied itself with the opposition alliance.
It axed staff in the months following the seizure of the properties. The government took over Kaadehdhoo airport, which was operated by Villa, and downgraded it to domestic status.
His son Siyad Gasim, Villa’s managing director, is in detention and facing trial on charges of bribing Supreme Court justices.