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Raajje TV in court over libel lawsuit

Yazeed Mohamed, the commissioner general of taxation, sued Raajje TV over a July 30 article accusing him of tax fraud



Lawyers representing the tax commissioner and the opposition-aligned television station, Raajje TV, met Sunday at the civil court in an attempt to resolve a dispute over libel charges.

Yazeed Mohamed, the commissioner general of taxation, sued Raajje TV over a July 30 article accusing him of tax fraud.

The article claimed Yazeed had rented out a luxury flat he owned to a foreigner, but had failed to pay business profit tax on the lease.

The flat at the Rehendhi complex was given by the government at a discounted price last year. At the time, the government had said the flats to judges and heads of independent institutions were given to “ensure integrity of independent institutions.”

“It is not clear how the state commissioner of taxation, who is in charge of issuing heavy fines and sanctions on people who refuse to pay taxes and those do not submit tax statements, continue doing business without registering,” wrote Azmoon Ahmed.

Yazeed has dismissed the claim.

If lawyers are unable to reach a settlement, the case will be tried at the civil court. Raajje TV will not face a criminal inquiry since the article was published before a new law criminalizing defamation came into force.

If found guilty, the station will be fined MVR5000 (US$324).

Azmoon, the reporter who leveled fraud allegations against Yazeed, claims he was threatened by two men with a knife for his criticism of Yazeed and President Abdulla Yameen. The men had also warned him against writing about the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali, Azmoon told Maldives Independent.

Raajje TV has come under increasing pressure for their critical coverage. Three journalists are on trial on charges of obstructing police officers, while another is being prosecuted on charges of assaulting a policeman.

No one has been convicted over the near-fatal beating of former Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed in February 2013, while those responsible for arson attack that destroyed the station’s office in October, too, remain unpunished.