The High Court has ruled that the Maldives’ oldest newspaper Haveeru is not the sole property of its owner Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain, who has managed the local daily for more than 32 years.
In an unexpected verdict delivered yesterday, the appellate court ruled that Abdulla Farooq Hassan, Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa and Mohamed Naeem have an equal share in Haveeru as the four are founding members of the Haveeru News Agency, a body founded in 1983 to operate the daily newspaper.
Zahir’s lawyers, however, say the Haveeru News Agency was set up to disseminate news and operate the daily, but had no claim to the newspaper’s assets and printing press.
The High Court ruling clears the way for the pair to sue Zahir – chancellor of the Islamic University of Maldives and former education minister – at the civil court to claim a share of Haveeru’s profits for the past 35 years.
A source close to Zahir told The Maldives Independent that the court case was “politically motivated.”
Haveeru was established in 1979, and has the highest circulation of any local newspaper. It became the first media outlet to launch an online version in 1997.
During former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year rule, Haveeru was decidedly pro-government. It has become increasingly independent in its coverage since 2008.
Farooq and Moosa had appealed a civil court verdict in Zahir’s favour.
Zahir had maintained throughout the appeal hearings that the 1983 agreement to establish Haveeru News Agency was a memorandum of understanding between the founder members and that he was the sole shareholder of the local daily since 1979.
Following a dispute among the four founding members, the newspaper was once again re-registered to operate under Zahir’s name in 1985.
Haveeru developed throughout the past 32 years with his investments, Zahir said, but acknowledged that Farooq and Moosa were part of the Haveeru team at the local daily’s inception.
The other three shareholders had not put up any capital in the venture, he said. Zahir had submitted documents to prove that he had invested in Haveeru with loans.
The three-judge High Court panel ruled that despite Haveeru’s re-registration in 1985, the agreement of 1983 is valid to this day.
Judges Abdulla Didi, Abdul Rauf and Ali Sameer also referred to a 1980 sent from the home ministry to Moosa, which addressed him as the “owner of Haveeru.”
Moosa was acknowledged as the newspaper’s owner in a list of persons honoured for public service from 1972 to 1992, the judges said.
“The agreement signed on March 31, 1983 has not been annulled and therefore the agreement is present to date and valid. Furthermore, upon analysing the evidence and statements, the court concludes Dr Zahir has violated the agreement, and rules that Haveeru News Agency was formed under the aforementioned agreement and the properties brought under and run by the agency are the property of the founder members.”
Correction: This article previously said Zahir had said he was the sole owner since 1985. This is incorrect. Zahir maintains he is the sole owner since 1979. It was also amended to add the following comment: Zahir’s lawyers, however, say the Haveeru News Agency was a body set up to disseminate news and operate the daily, but had no claim to the newspaper’s assets and printing press.