Maldives Customs Service on Thursday declared that the unprecedented raids it launched on all five resorts of Jumhoory Party leader Qasim Ibrahim late Wednesday was not a targeted attack on any individual company, while the joint opposition called foul.
Customs in conjunction with the police raided Paradise Island Resort, Sun Island Resort, Royal Island Resort, Holiday Island Resort and Fun Island Resort on Wednesday night, which are all operated under Villa Hotels, a subsidiary of Qasim Ibrahim’s conglomerate Villa Group. The warrant issued for Sun Island stated that the reason for the raid was to gather evidence for an allegation that alcoholic beverages, which were released by Customs’ bonded warehouse under the name of Royal Island’s management, had been illegally taken to the other resorts as well.
Responding to inquiries about the raid, Customs’ commissioner general Ibrahim Shareef declared that he could not disclose details yet as the investigation is still in progress. However, he stated that Customs always monitored whether alcoholic beverages and pork products, which are issued by Customs' bonded warehouse, were illegally taken to other destinations. He said that Customs take the necessary actions if transfers were not reported to their portal within 72 hours.
In response to an inquiry whether Customs had carried out similar operations in other resorts before, Shareef admitted that the raids on Villa Hotels’ resorts were the first since he assumed office. However, he revealed that Customs had conducted raids on safaris under his watch.
“If it’s a resort, we try to conduct [raids] such that the impact on tourism would be as minimal as possible,” he added.
While Customs maintained that the raids were not a targeted attack on Qasim Ibrahim’s resorts, Villa Hotel’s group general manager Gaisar Naseem declared late on Wednesday night that the company had not committed any illegal acts. He accused the government of orchestrating the raids, calling them politically motivated to harass Qasim Ibrahim who is one of the leaders of the opposition coalition.
The raids also sparked outrage from the joint opposition, who called the raids a ploy to intimidate Qasim Ibrahim. They warned that such actions would ultimately come back to President Abdulla Yameen.
In a tweet, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom raised the question why, out of 127 resorts, 14 hotels, 450 guest houses and 130 safari cruises currently in operation in the Maldives, only five resorts belonging to a certain individual were suddenly raided.
“But still [the government] would say everything is done justly,” he said, slamming the administration.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed also condemned the development in a tweet, warning that politically motivated raids under the guise of searching for illegally transferred alcohol would frighten tourists and negatively impact the whole tourism industry.
Furthermore, main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) released a statement claiming the raids were unlawful. Echoing Gaisar Naseem’s stance that the operation was politically motivated to intimidate Qasim Ibrahim, MDP proclaimed that jailing of politicians who criticize President Yameen, harassing their families and seizing their assets were unacceptable.
MDP went on to claim that the unprecedented raids on five resorts during the peak tourist season of the Maldives indicated that Yameen would not hesitate to trample the nation’s economy, and its achievements and progress in the tourism sector. The party also accused the president of manipulating state institutions for short-term political gains without any regards for private businesses.
Qasim Ibrahim’s deputy in Jumhoory Party, Abdulla Riyaz, also slammed the raids, claiming that it was Yameen’s personal vendetta against the opposition leader. Warning that such acts would result in nothing but hatred from citizens, Riyaz declared that the opposition would ultimately beat Yameen’s regime.
Qasim Ibrahim, who was recently convicted to three years in jail over bribery charges, is currently in Germany under political asylum. Meanwhile, Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) has filed lawsuits seeking a staggering amount of money as unpaid taxes and other fees from various firms of Qasim Ibrahim. It had initially sued five of Qasim’s companies claiming a total of MVR 2.5 billion owed to the state, the cases of which are already underway at court. MIRA had again sued a company of Qasim for another MVR 75 million.