Maldives govt grants temporary liquor license to Villa resorts

Government late Monday granted a temporary liquor and pork license to the embattled Villa Group in a bid to address concerns over the impact on the fragile tourism industry following a crackdown on its resorts.

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.

Government had later suspended the liquor license issued to Royal Island Resort for a period of six months citing "multiple violations."

Tourism ministry late Monday announced its decision to grant a 14 day temporary license to the Villa Group which it said was taken after discussions with stakeholders of the tourism industry.

The statement said the decision was taken as the government wishes to ensure that the services available to tourists in the country's resorts continue without any disruptions.

However, the ministry was quick to assert that a permanent solution to the dispute would only arrive once the company clears its arrears with the tax authorities.

Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) had the day before defended the customs led crackdown saying that the Villa Group owed over USD23 million in unpaid taxes.

The tourism ministry further said the government has continued to give huge emphasis on protecting and maintaining the image of the country as a premier holiday destination while also boosting investor confidence.

Maldives customs service meanwhile has downplayed concerns over the adverse effects on the country's fragile tourism industry over the crackdown.
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.