A key opposition party leader’s resorts were raided by police and customs under a court warrant last night, reported local media.
Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim is currently in Germany after fleeing the Maldives on medical leave while serving a three-year jail term after being convicted of bribery.
Sun Island Resort was searched under the suspicion that it was illegally in possession of alcohol released by customs to Royal Island and Spa. The warrant permitted a search through documents, physical stocks of alcohol and pork, computer systems and storage devices.
Other resorts in the Villa group that were raided were Royal Island Resort & Spa, Paradise Island Resort, Holiday Island Resort & Spa and Fun Island Resort & Spa. There are no details about these additional raids.
Judge Ali Ibrahim gave authorities 18 hours to search the resorts under the warrant issued last night.
The search was a shock, Villa group general manager Qaizar Naseem told Mihaaru during last night’s raid. He said four customs officials, two police officers and an employee of the Maldives tax authority MIRA had searched the resorts.
“This is a very low act being done to cause harm to the chairman of this company, Gasim Ibrahim, by the government. Our company has done nothing against the law,” Qaizar said.
“When police and customs raided our resorts, tourists were very concerned. Our employees are facing psychological trauma,” he continued.
He said he plans to sue MIRA officials for taking part in the operation, saying that the court warrant would not have given the tax authority permission to get access to the resort. However, MIRA denies that officials took part in the operation.
The revenue authority sued Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Shipping group for the recovery of unpaid taxes and fines worth MVR75 million (US$4.8 million) earlier this month.
Two former presidents have condemned the raid on Gasim’s resorts. The president’s half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said the government was hypocritical in its claims to uphold justice.
“While Maldives has 127 tourist resort, 14 tourist hotel, 450 tourist guest house, 130 tourist safari, what kind of act is it to raid five resorts belonging to one person? And then you’ll say everything is done with justice!” tweeted Gayoom.
“Scaring tourists by sending police alleging [illicit] alcohol for political reasons is a blow to the entire tourism industry. I condemn this!” tweeted exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.
The main opposition MDP also condemned the raid in a press statement.
Customs denied specifically targeting Gasim’s resorts to Avas, saying it was procedural to do routine check-ups to ensure alcohol released by customs to a resort is not illegally taken to another one. He also said Gasim’s Villa group resorts weren’t the only ones being raided, and that last night’s operation was conducted on an intelligence report about alcohol being redistributed.
“We’re not conducting this operation to target one person, we are doing the follow-ups needed after receiving a report. After the operation is completed we will publicise how many resorts we searched, and other details,” the customs official said.