Alcohol and pork: Paradise’s biggest problem?

  • Authorities raided Villa Groups five resort on Wednesday, over allegations of illegal alcohol and pork
  • It denies any wrongdoing, says what they did is allowed by the law
  • Villa Group's founder is Qasim Ibrahim, leader of JP, this government's former coalition partner

K. Male' | Aishath Shaany | 21-January-2018 | Sunday 19:58 | Shaaknee | Report | 2,498

Paradise Island Resort -- Photo by: Google

The biggest story out of Maldives currently is that of the government’s fight over pork and liquor. Everyone has an opinion about, and every media organization is covering it.

Authorities began raiding five resorts belonging to opposition leader Qasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group last week, and have continued the raids every day since. The operation is being conducted by the Maldives Customs Service, with the assistance of the Maldives Police Service (MPS).

Villa Group is accused of distributing liquor and pork released to one of its resorts, to other resorts, as the license to bring pork and alcohol to four of the resorts was cancelled last year. Customs had said that ‘action was taken against Villa under Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA)’s enforcement policy as they had failed to pay the required taxes’. Villa Group has since been using the license for Royal Island Resort, created under a company named Travel and Trade, to obtain alcohol and pork for all five properties.

According to Customs, liquor and pork are imported and distributed under strict laws by the Ministry of Economic Development, and anything violating this is a crime. Hence, according Customs, Villa Group distributing alcohol and pork to other resorts is illegal.

However, Villa Group maintains that it has not done anything unlawful, with its attorneys saying that companies that receive alcohol from Customs are also allowed to distribute to other companies which have liquor licenses. They also noted that the search warrant granted by the Criminal Court did not authorize them to confiscate properties.

Customs on Sunday released a statement refuting the allegations against it, and claiming that the items were seized as per the court order and criminal procedure laws.

They also revoked the license issued to Royal Island Resort over the allegations on Sunday.

While Villa Group is accused of distributing liquor and pork released to one of its resorts to other resorts, this is something that is allowed in the law, and practiced in other resorts as well.

Thousands to be forced out of jobs

While the tourism industry generates the most job opportunities in the country, Villa Group has over 3,000 employees working in its resorts.

There have been protests over the matter, by the opposition as well as Qasim Ibrahim’s constituents. The citizens of Maamigilli island of Alifu Dhaalu atoll called for authorities to stop the continued harassment of their representatives; Qasim was sentenced to over three years in jail over bribery allegations in August 2017, over comments he had made at an opposition gathering which was broadcasted live.

Villa’s employees have also begun protesting over the resort raids, on the resorts, which will have negative impacts on tourism.

But, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Authorities must have known that people were not going to sit idly by, waiting to be unemployed, because, that IS the end result right? Shutting down the company, forcing thousands to lose their means of income.

Deal breaker for potential visitors?

Tourism plays a vital role in the Maldives, especially in earning foreign exchange revenues, and is the largest economic industry here.

Known for its natural beauty, its white sandy beaches and blue ocean attracts millions of tourists from all over the world. The climate is also ideal for guests, with just two distinct seasons; dry season and wet season.

But, in addition to these, there is another major reason that the archipelago is one of the most popular vacation spots in the world; its safety.

However, following news of officers raiding five resorts in one night, including two of the biggest ones in the whole country, will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the industry.

The resorts were reportedly packed to full occupancy at the time of the raid, and as seen in photos and videos from the resorts, a number of Customs and Police officers had arrived in the resorts to conduct the search operation, and not just once but a number of times.

Customs denied upsetting any guests at the resort in the raid, saying that they had not conducted any searches in the areas where they stayed at.

How can the Customs know if their actions upset an individual or not?

At a time when countries such as the United States are issuing travel advisories on Maldives, warning travelers of things such as terrorist attacks, could this not end up being a deal breaker to some of the potential visitors?

The Association of Travel Agents have said that this will have a negative impact on resorts and the safari industry, while the Maldives Association for Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) said ‘this is not a good message to tourists’.

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