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'Haveeru' is the property of Dr Zahir: Supreme Court

Mariyath Mohamed
03 March 2024, MVT 15:48
Haveeru Newspaper, displayed outside its old office complex.
Mariyath Mohamed
03 March 2024, MVT 15:48

Supreme Court has ruled today to uphold Civil Court's 2014 verdict that Abdulla Farooq Hassan and Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa do not hold any shares in 'Haveeru' News and Loamaafaanu Print, and that no part of its profits need to be given to these two individuals, and has revoked the earlier High Court ruling in the case.

The case was initially submitted by Rasheed Moosa and Farooq claiming that the longest running newspaper 'Haveeru and publishing house and related businesses were being run under the company 'Haveeru News Agency', established under an agreement made on March 31, 1983 in which 'Haveeru' Chairman Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain, Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa, Abdulla Farooq and Mohamed Naeem are equal shareholders. The case claimed that as per this agreement, the property and profits of 'Haveeru' must be equally distributed amongst the four.

In 2014, the Civil Court ruled in the case in favour of Dr Zahir. In 2019, High Court revoked the Civil Court ruling. Subsequently, Dr Zahir submitted the case to the Supreme Court, however the court did not accept the case.

In 2021, the decision was appealed in Supreme Court, and the court decided to review the case again. The apex court at the time released an interim order directing that no action be taken in relation to the High Court ruling.

With Judge Aisha Shujoon presiding, and Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain and Judge Dr Mohamed Ibrahim on the bench, the Supreme Court ruled today to revoke the High Court verdict and uphold the Civil Court ruling.

One of the key points in the case was whether 'Haveeru' and its property was transferred to 'Haveeru News Agency' which was formed later. Supreme Court stated that High Court's ruling had not even taken into account whether or not 'Haveeru News Agency' owned any property. Supreme Court further said that although Rasheed Moosa had at a time been a management figure at 'Haveeru', this is not reason to make him the owner.

Referring to an earlier verdict of the apex court, the verdict further said there is no legal basis to consider 'Haveeru News Agency' as having been formed under the agreement. It said that a legal entity will come into existence upon fulfillment of legal procedures, and that since the 'Haveeru News Agency' registered under the agreement had been made without even including Dr Zahir, and under the names of the plaintiffs alone, it is considered that it is not the 'Haveeru News Agency' referred to in the case or the 'Agreement to establish Haveeru News Agency'.

The ruling said that it is a memorandum of understanding and is not legally binding.

Civil Court verdict

The 2014 Civil Court verdict reads that the agreement submitted by Farooq and Rasheed Moosa is in essence in a manner not possible to be complied with and is not legally binding.

"While one of the basic fundamentals of a contract is consideration, when we examine the March 31, 1983 agreement submitted by the plaintiff, the agreement does not include any obligation on the part of the parties, nor does it define the shares that will be granted for the transaction, and makes it clear there is no consideration exchanged in this agreement," the verdict reads.

The Civil Court ruled that the agreement concerned the formation of 'Haveeru News Agency' and that evidence presented to court prove that prior to the formation of said agreement, and even after that, Dr Zahir remains the owner of 'Haveeru'. The court also ruled it proven in trial that none other than Dr Zahir had invested in the development of 'Haveeru' and 'Loamaafaanu Print'.

The verdict also noted that while loans have been taken from government and financial institutes for the running of 'Haveeru' and 'Loamaafaanu Print' at different times, all these have been taken with Dr Zahir taking responsibility, and that neither Farooq nor Rasheed Moosa had had any role or share in these transactions to any level.

The verdict further pointed out that it has been proved to court that no complaints nor claims had been made by either claimants in the intervening time since 1983 till that particular case regarding the protection of any rights they believed they were entitled to with respect to Haveeru and Loamaafaanu Print.

As such, the Court ruled there was no legal standing to accept the plaintiffs held any shares in Haveeru or Loamaafaanu Print, and that as such, the Court had no grounds to order the defendant to provide any portion of the profits of the entities to the plaintiffs.

Ownership of Haveeru

Farooq, Rasheed Moosa and Naeem claimed they held shares at 'Haveeru' in a case they submitted based on their say that 'Haveeru' is a property of 'Haveeru News Agency' formed in 1983. However, 'Haveeru' is a newspaper that was being released under Dr Zahir's ownership since four years before that. Additionally, although Dr Zahir had signed the agreement with these three individuals to form 'Haveeru News Agency', the agency was registered at the Information Department of the time without even including Dr Zahir.

Dr Zahir and Haveeru maintained in court that the ownership of 'Haveeru' had not at any time been transferred to 'Haveeru News Agency'. It was further asserted that no such agreements would have been lodged at any court at any time.

All expenditure for the development of Haveeru has always been borne by Dr Zahir, through his own funds, through loans taken in his name, and against his personal property. 'Haveeru' has firmly maintained during court proceedings that there has never been any outside involvement in these proceedings.

'Haveeru Media Group' is a company in which Dr Zahir's three children hold shares. All property of 'Haveeru' has later been transferred, and since 2013, 'Haveeru' has been run under this company.

On 31 March 2017, 'Haveeru' News, in operation for 37 years by then, had been halted following an interim order released to the effect.

'Haveeru' was the daily newspaper that was in circulation for the longest duration in the Maldives. The first issue of 'Haveeru' was published on January 1, 1979, marking the start of decades of circulation to an ever increasing reader base. Later, Haveeru Online was also introduced, offering readers immediate access to news updates.

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