Police investigate exploitation of Fushidhigga island

Maldives Police Service are investigating the provision of tourism services on ADh. Fushidhhigga island without the required licenses and permits.

While a case over the ownership of Fushidhigga is ongoing in court, police and officials from Tourism Ministry inspected the island on Saturday after reports that the island was being used for financial gain was brought to light.

Following the reports, police and a team from Tourism Ministry went to the island. The team arrived at the island and inspected the property without a court order as the island is under state care, revealed the police.

After their inspection, police said they identified that tourism services were being provided on the island illegally, and said that the island is now being cleared following the revelation . The island is currently under police custody on the request of Tourism Ministry, said the police. They further said that several documents relevant to the case have been taken into police custody.

"When the police arrived at the island, two expatriates were present on the island. Neither had any official documentation. One of them has been reported to immigration as a migrant worker who fled from his employer, and the second person is in the country illegally too", said the police.

Fushidhigga was sold to two different companies by the former government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom. While the same island was sold under two different names to two different companies, a case is currently ongoing in court over the island's ownership. The Supreme Court has previously ordered not to carry out any transactions involving the island, or make use of the island in any way until the case is concluded.

However, an individual to whom the island was leased to a number of year ago named Ahmed Khaleel has been using the island for financial gain for the past year or so by providing services to tourists.

Ahmed Khaleel has been generating income from the island by stationing two expat workers on the island to serve visiting tourists. The island has been used as a picnic island / resort for the past year, with US$ 10 being charged for every visitor. The island offered food and accommodation arrangements, and all additional services offered on the island were also chargeable.

Under a CSR project in 2011, Khaleel proposed to develop a resort on the island. Although his proposal was approved by the government at the time, the government later refused to make any binding agreements on the arrangement.

Therefore, a civil lawsuit was filed by Khaleel, which ended in his favor. The state appealed the case in High Court which ruled in favor of the state, and the ruling was maintained by the Supreme Court.

According to available data, it is likely that Khaleel made over US$ 1 million over the year through Fushidhigga island. Tourism Ministry previously said they were not aware that such activities were being carried out in the island for the past year.

The two parties claiming Fushidhigga ownership are local company HMH and a foreign company named Maldiviana.

Fushidhigga was first sold to HMH for US$ 3 million, out of which US$ 1.5 million have been paid to the government by the company. The island was sold to HMH as "Raiydhiggaa" island.

The same island was later sold to a foreign company named Maldiviana as "Fushidhigga" for US$ 600,000 . The amount was paid to the government in full by Maldiviana.

While Maldiviana claims the transaction between the company and the government is valid, they said all required payments were made to the government. Maldiviana further claims that the island was sold to another company after the island was sold to them.

Currently, not even the government is able to identify the real owners of the island. Tourism Ministry has stated that the case will be handled in a way that is beneficial to the country's citizens. The ministry will research the issue with the assistance of the Attorney General's Office and other state entities, assured minister Ali Waheed.

According to Tourism Ministry statistics, 140 islands are currently being developed as resorts. While work on 70 islands have been halted for various reasons, it is now questionable if the tourism ministry can properly monitor and maintain the islands. Minister Waheed has hinted that the islands are likely to be monitored by island councils through decentralization.