Ibrahim Waheed ‘Asward,’ managing director of Sangu TV, has asked the police to investigate alleged threats of arrest and physical violence amid a dispute with ruling party MP Abdulla Yameen over ownership of the private station.
Asward told the Maldives Independent that the lawmaker’s brother sent him a threatening text message Monday night after he refused to hand over his controlling shares in Cocona International, the station’s parent company.
The Progressive Party of Maldives’ MP for the Velidhoo constituency also filed a case with the police earlier this week alleging that Asward forged documents to seize a 99 percent stake in the company without his knowledge.
But Asward insists that the PPM MP handed over his shares voluntarily in December.
Yameen was not responding to the Maldives Independent at press time. His brother could not be reached for comment.
A police spokesman said both complaints are under investigation.
The pair previously worked together as senior journalists at the opposition-aligned Raajje TV before setting up Sangu after Yameen, who was elected to parliament on an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party ticket, defected to the PPM in January 2015.
According to Asward, Yameen signed documents handing over his 49 percent of shares in the presence of the company’s secretary.
The company secretary confirmed to the Maldives Independent that he was present when the share transfer took place.
“Even before then, he [Yameen] would at times say that because of the political pressures on him, he wants to step aside from the station,” Asward said.
In November, Yameen had appeared to take the side of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in an acrimonious leadership dispute between the PPM’s elected leader and his half-brother, the incumbent president. However, the MP later declared loyalty to his namesake, President Abdulla Yameen.
Asward said Yameen had asked for his shares back before he lodged his case with the police.
“He said that there was no longer much pressure on him politically now, so he wanted it back. He didn’t even mention anything about forged signatures then,” he said.
But Asward refused.
“Unofficially I found out that Yameen had run into some problems with some checks in the hands of a businessman and that he wanted to make a deal and sell off his shares to the businessman,” he alleged. “So I said no, I wouldn’t give the company’s shares to be sold off to some businessman. I told him if he has problems with businessmen he should solve it himself.”
Asward also claimed that Yameen warned him that he would “play dirty”.
“I said that’s fine by me. And then he filed this complaint with the police. But I was very calm, I thought the police would look into it, into forensic evidence and find that there was nothing wrong.
“But then [on Monday night], Yameen’s brother called me and asked for a meeting, so I went for a coffee with him along with a colleague at Sangu. He came and asked, ‘What have you done with the company?’ I said there was no problem, and that he wouldn’t know because he is not a board member.”
Yameen’s brother demanded that he give up his shares, according to Asward.
“I told him to let the police investigate it. He then threatened to have me arrested. I said that it seems unlikely that the police would arrest me just because someone says so. He told us, ‘Just wait and see. I will have you arrested tomorrow.’ He said that he was a policeman and made some calls and asked who the [investigating officers] are to show us that he had connections.
“He then said that if the police can’t do it, they would take the company from me by brute force. I told him then that I would file a complaint for threatening me. He was talking in profane language so my colleague told him to speak nicely, and he said to my colleague ‘I will have you disappeared from the system too.’
“I told him then that that was crossing the line and that I would file a complaint with the police.”
After the encounter with Yameen’s brother, Asward said he received a threatening text message from an unknown number late on Monday night.
A screenshot of the text message was shared with local media.
“You’ve forgotten what happened to you before, huh? We’ll take the TV from you, even if we have to squeeze you or tear you apart,” read the threat.
Asward had survived a near fatal attack in 2012.
The battle for control of Sangu TV comes amidst unprecedented threats to press freedom in the Maldives. The past year saw the forced closure of both newspaper Haveeru, also over a controversial ownership dispute, and online paper CNM as well as the conviction of two Raajje TV journalists.
In November 2015, the police meanwhile raided Sangu TV in connection with a “threatening video message” uploaded to YouTube and confiscated hard disks and broadcasting equipment, forcing the station to stop live transmission for three days.
The police returned three laptops and four hard disks last April.