Maldives customs downplays tourism impact over resort raids

Maldives customs service on Sunday downplayed concerns over the adverse effects on the country's fragile tourism industry over the crackdown on the resorts operated under the Villa Group.

Customs along with the police had raided five resorts of the group owned opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim on Wednesday, which included Fun Island Resort, Sun Island Resort, Paradise Island Resort, Holiday Island Resort and Royal Island Resort.

Authorities later claimed that four of the five resorts searched under the operation had an illegally acquired stock of pork and alcohol.

According to the authorities, the country's inland revenue authority had temporarily revoked the alcohol license of the four resorts over failure to pay taxes. However, the Villa Group had illegally diverted pork and alcohol from its sole license in Royal Island Resort to its sister properties.

Customs have informed the company that the liquor license issued to Royal Island Resort has now been suspended for a period of six months over multiple violations.

The latest move by the customs service comes less than a day after it seized and took away the alcohol stock at Fun Island Resort late Saturday.

The tourism industry meanwhile, has expressed deep concern over the raids warning the government the adverse effects on the archipelago's economy.

Customs however, in a statement late Sunday denied using force in the operation insisting that it had only searched the storage areas in the resorts, away from the common tourist areas and rooms. The statement also said it had carried out the operation within its legal mandate and urged against "politically motivated" attempts to destroy the image of the institution.

"Customs did not in any way use force in the operations. We had also seized items that are suspected of being brought in illegally to the resort," the statement read.

The Villa Group remains adamant that it had not done anything illegal.

The opposition had called for protests claiming that the raids were politically motivated 'targeting' of a key opposition figure.

Gasim was convicted of bribery in August last year months after he inked a landmark pact with former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed and religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla to work against the government.

The business tycoon was granted medical leave to travel to Singapore where he had undergone a minor heart surgery in September before travelling to Germany.

Despite his leave expiring in late September, the former lawmaker had not returned claiming that no airline would allow him on board an air craft due to his ailing condition.