The Attorney General’s office on Monday sought a court order to clear out the the Newport View restaurant from Malé’s eastern waterfront and recover more than MVR1 million (US$64,850) owed as unpaid rent and fines.
The 10,000 square feet area near the capital’s surf break was controversially leased to Strada Pvt Ltd in September 2016 to build a food outlet along with a platform to view the construction of the Sinamalé bridge.
Strada, which operates the Newport restaurant franchise, failed to pay monthly rent since December 1, the AG office said in a statement. Two cheques paid by Strada to the tax authority as rent for June and July 2018 also bounced, it noted.
A 30-day eviction notice was served after the lease agreement was cancelled on March 7. The agreement allowed termination if outstanding rent is not settled before the end of a month.
In a statement Monday, the ministry of national planning and infrastructure said Strada was continuing to operate the food outlet illegally and vowed to take measures to vacate the grounds.
In accordance with a plan, the eastern corner will be developed as “a green area” for public use, it added.
After being fenced off, Raalhugadu, the capital’s only surf point, reopened in August following the completion of the US$200 million bridge.
The delay in clearing out the area after the eviction notice expired last Thursday fuelled speculation about political interference.
Strada’s director Zahid Rameez was a member of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ executive council when the lease agreement was signed during the former administration. Following former president Abdulla Yameen’s heavy defeat in September’s election, Zahid reportedly handed over the company’s management to his wife.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Zahid alleged politically motivated targeting of his business interests.
He also defended the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s parliamentary group leader Mohamed Aslam after the lawmaker was accused of exerting undue influence on behalf of Strada.
The re-elected MP for Hithadhoo North – who is reportedly Zahid’s brother-in-law – denied the allegations on Friday.
“I don’t have any interest in Newport. I do not support the illicit enriching of any party or the illegal seizure of anyone’s assets,” tweeted Aslam, the leading contender to become the next speaker of parliament.
In March, three events – a Samsung phone launch, a caricature art exhibition, and a women’s day fair – that were to be hosted in Newport View were cancelled after public outrage over the death threats and longstanding corruption allegations.
In 2015, the anti-corruption watchdog probed an MVR3.7 million (US$240,00) catering deal awarded to Strada by the president’s office.
But the Prosecutor General’s office declined to prosecute a former presidential affairs minister after the Anti-Corruption Commission forwarded charges of abuse of power to unlawfully benefit a third party.
Strada’s Newport restaurant did not have the experience to cater for such an event, and the minister never checked if they had the capacity, the ACC found. Other employees of the president’s officer had complained to the ACC of the poor quality of the food, which they said did not live up to the price.