The bank accounts of Villa Shipping and Trading, a subsidiary of opposition Jumhoory Party leader Qasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group, have been frozen.
This development comes amidst an impending motion of no confidence against parliamentary speaker Abdulla Maseeh initiated by opposition political parties including Jumhoory Party. Notably, Qasim Ibrahim had predicted two days prior that a misfortune seemed imminent upon his company.
He had said that “the accounts might be frozen over Villa’s USD 100 million case”, referring to the five islands that were leased to Villa for which the company has been ordered to pay USD 100 million as lease and penalty fees. Qasim had also expressed concern that such a development might halt the salaries of Villa’s workforce which numbers around 5,000.
A senior official of Villa stated late Wednesday that the frozen accounts were brought to their attention after Immigration services for the company suddenly stopped. The company had contacted Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) which officially informed Villa Shipping via email at 9:30 p.m. that the company’s bank accounts have been frozen.
The official noted that Villa Shipping’s accounts have been frozen amidst the issue of Thaa atoll Elaa island which was awarded to Villa for resort development before the government took back the island. The Civil Court had ruled in favour of Villa after the first lawsuit last year. However, the High Court had overturned the lower court’s verdict on Tuesday after the state filed an appeal.
MIRA has informed Villa Shipping that it has an unpaid balance of USD 18 million in Elaa’s lease, penalty and interest. The amount comprises of USD 3.7 million as Elaa's land rent, USD 14.6 million as penalty and USD 226,351 as interest.
According to MIRA, the frozen accounts will be released after Villa settles the full amount due or comes to an agreement with the state regarding the payments.
However, Villa Shipping’s official claimed that the company was not informed of any payments owed after the High Court overturned the Civil Court’s verdict. The company has also not been granted a period of time to settle the payment.
“We found out about this payment out of the blue.”
In its verdict last year, the Civil Court had stated that the “Amended and Restated Lease Agreement” between Villa and the Ministry of Tourism had been terminated based on the annulment of the settlement agreement which was signed on December 12, 2013. The court declared that other contracts cannot be acted upon based on a settlement agreement’s status and, thus, the government’s decision to take back the island was null.
However, the High Court overturned the Civil Court’s verdict on Tuesday, ruling in favour of the state.