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Photos leaked of president’s ‘castle’ on island retreat

The public was unaware when the three-storey house was built.



Photos of a three-storey house built on the presidential retreat island Aarah have been leaked online by lawmaker Ahmed Mahloof.

The opposition coalition spokesman described it as “a palace built by [President Abdulla] Yameen in Aarah thinking for sure that he could forcibly stay in power for life by surrounding himself with police and soldiers and getting the courts to deliver haram verdicts.”

The photos have drawn outrage and criticism on social media as the public was unaware the house was built.

The outgoing president reportedly spent weekends and public holidays on the Aarah island near the capital.

“If there is a nice place in Aarah it must be a military building. Can’t the next president use it? President Yameen isn’t going to depart with that ‘house’! Shouldn’t today’s youth be more aware than this in talking politics?” the president’s spokesman, Ibrahim Muaz Ali, responded after media reports of the leaked photos.

The island was developed as a presidential retreat during the 30-year reign of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The first couple resides in the statehouse Hilaaleege in Malé. After assuming office in November 13, Yameen first lived in his private residence Dhoovehi in the Galolhu ward of the capital.

After the pro-government majority in parliament approved legal changes making it mandatory for the state to cover expenses of his private residence, MVR 1.9 million (US$123,200) was reportedly spent every month on Dhoovehi, which was renovated to improve security.

In May 2016, Yameen swapped the house for a larger plot of land near Malé’s eastern waterfront and moved to Hilaaleege backtracking on a campaign pledge to continue living at his private home.

Construction of a high-rise building is ongoing at the Nooafaru plot.

During the past five years, the official presidential residence, Muleeaage, was used for meetings and official functions as well as campaign activities headed by the first lady.

This story was updated with the response from the president’s spokesman.