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Villa Group to sue customs, police officials after raids



A leading resort firm in the Maldives is suing customs and police officials involved in recent raids, following the suspension of an alcohol import license and the confiscation of alcohol from one of its resorts.

The alcohol at Fun Island resort, owned by opposition Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, was confiscated on Saturday night following raids at five of his properties.

The license to import alcohol to his Royal Island resort was also revoked on Sunday over allegations the property was unlawfully transferring alcohol and pork to other resorts.

In a statement on Tuesday, Villa Group, which operates the properties, said “it is an obligation of the group to seek legal action against those involved in the atrocity”.

“Customs provided false information to obtain a search warrant from the Criminal Court and violated the warrant by confiscating the group’s property in an act similar to looting, punishable by Maldivian laws,” it read.

The properties had valid permits to import alcohol and “authorities had not cancelled or suspended the permits when the customs’ investigative team raided Fun Island resort and seized the group’s property”, the group said.

The group had previously filed a case at the Criminal Court under the criminal procedures law, which allows individuals and companies to seek recovery of property seized unlawfully.

A list naming 44 individuals – 37 customs officers and seven police officers involved in the raids – was also revealed with the statement and sent to the National Integrity Commission.

Customs and police issued statements on Tuesday night condemning the public disclosure of names of individual officers.

Customs denied providing false information to obtain a search warrant and said a complaint had been filed with the police.

In a similar statement, the police said a serious investigation was underway as it “sees this act as an attempt to obstruct, intimidate and influence the duties of officers”.

According to the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority, Villa Group owes US$5.1million in taxes. The Finance Ministry also put out a statement on Tuesday about the money owed by the group.

It said the group owes a total of MVR 2.9 billion which is 13.3 percent of the estimated income to the state in 2018.

Villa Shipping and Trading owes MVR 78.6 million as GST and Green Tax and MVR 291.4 million as rent and fines for resorts from March last year to 21 January, the statement read.

Azima Shukoor, legal affairs minister at the President’s Office, also said Villa Group owes this money from properties leased by the state since 2007.

But Gasim, who is currently in Germany after fleeing the Maldives on medical leave while serving a three-year jail term for bribery, accused Azima of lying.

In a retort to Villa Group’s former lawyer, Gasim tweeted that “he was saddened because Azima was repeatedly lying when she knows the truth”.