Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb had a contact saved in his now infamous gold iPhone as ‘Lord P’. The same gold iPhone that exposed how Adeeb and his mentor-tuned-boss turned-antagonist President Abdulla Yameen were not only involved in high-level corruption but also in wiping off anyone and everyone who did not fall in line — media, politicians, activists and even its own ministers; now has another story to tell: How the two cracked a deal with ‘Lord P’ to shroud the autocratic nature of the government with a well-crafted image of the Maldives’ economic development.
But it was not the first time when Yameen agreed to spend a fortune to negate the banana republic impression. Last summer, Yameen signed a lucrative deal with Cherie Blair- wife of former Prime Minister and Labour Party chief Tony Blair- after she was rejected by the first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed who had Amal Clooney by his side.
Cherie who was earlier ready to represent Nasheed calling his trial ‘an extraordinary farce’, then agreed to revive Yameen’s image for £ 210,000 (MVR 4,128,292).
Back In 2012 too, right after the coup that toppled Nasheed’s government, another Labour Party member, former Labour Cabinet Minister and former attorney general Baroness Scotland took £ 75,000 (MVR 1,457,366) to advise the then government on avoiding action by Commonwealth in a two-week work contract.
On August 12, 2015, a few days before Yameen got Cherie on board, Adeeb broke a deal ‘Lord P’, who is a professional lobbyist and political adviser, to revamp the image of Yameen’s regime.
‘Lord P’ is no one else but the man who has not only been a Member of Parliament (MP) for Hartlepool for Labour Party but also held a number of Cabinet positions under Prime Ministers Tony Blair.
The man who rebuilt the Labour Party as New Labour before its subsequent victory in the 1997 election.
‘Lord P’ is Peter Mandelson – The Prince of Darkness.
A report by Daily Mail says that 62-year-old Mandelson held meetings with Adeeb and Yameen to counsel the government on how to “rebuild its public image”.
The British Daily quoting a four-page memo says that Mandelson’s strategic advisory firm Global Counsel suggested the government to deal with the PR crisis by projecting “your vision for the country’s future”.
The memo was dated August 18, four days after the meeting took place between Adeeb and Mandelson at the resort of Gili Lankanfushi.
Headlined as ‘Next Steps’, the memo asking to set up a strategic communication to fix the international image of the Maldives as quoted by Daily Mail read:
The taskforce will benefit from start-up training and development from an external source. This is something we could guide you on as part of our current work with international investors in the Maldives
It also offered to lobby United Nations General Assembly and Commonwealth by “telling an effective story about the Maldives to international audiences”. The advisory firm also said that it would get confidence of the international investors “everywhere from New York and London to Berlin, Paris and Beijing”.
The Memo By Global Counsel
The discussion in Gili Lankanfushi was very useful in scoping out the next steps. What follows in this note assumes that the situation regarding Nasheed can be resolved amicably from the perspective of all relevant stakeholders. The Maldives is a young democracy and recognises it has further to go in order to create the institutions and space to enable democracy to flourish… Reforms to the penal code and judicial system, as well as strengthening the rule of law, are prerequisites to a healthy democracy, and the government is in the process of designing and implementing reforms in these areas that will deliver immediate benefits as well as building the foundations for a stronger democracy in the longer term.
The firm suggested that government can rebuild its image by giving an ‘accurate account’ of the government’s ‘accomplishments’ in the fields of economic stewardship, social reform and environmental protection.
It is unclear if the two went ahead with the big revival plan as Adeeb – in less than two months – was jailed for plotting to assassinate his boss Yameen.
On October 13, when Ying Staton, Global Counsel’s ‘Asia Director’ wrote to Adeeb to figure out when Mandelson and Yameen could speak on phone, he was already in middle of speed boat blast allegations and days ahead only led to his impeachment, arrest and sentencing.
Flamboyant Adeeb, one of the richest politicians, also seen as Yameen’s loyal, also got implicated in one of the country’s biggest corruption scandal with Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).
An audit report of MMPRC revealed that money as huge as USD 80 million received from leasing islands and resorts meant for the state was siphoned off to private accounts which benefited Adeeb, Yameen, his wife and other politicians.
And it also benefitted Cherie Blair. Omnia had billed Abdulla Ziyath, former managing director of the MMPRC for £ 210,000 (MVR 4,081,265) – the half amount of total fee charged by the firm for a six-month contract.
According to Maldives Independent, government also spent USD 19,293 (MVR 297,510) on visits of Omnia’s barrister Toby Cadman, between June and September.
My work is not yet complete. My work will be completed once the airport and the country is the preferred destination. When my work is done, I want to compare the difference between the services given in the Maldives and Singapore, Dubai – Yameen
Omnia, on the allegation of receiving the money from a company implicated in corruption, said that it terminated six-month contract early due to unpredictable domestic events and is no longer instructed by either the government or the MMPRC.
The whistleblower, Bank of Maldives former manager Gasim Abdul Kareem, who leaked the account details of Score of Flairs (S.O.F) Private Limited which facilitated the transaction between MMPRC and Omnia is now in jail on the charges of unauthorised disclosure customer information.
Adeeb was sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing USD 5,000,000 (MVR 76,850,000) from state coffers besides 15 year jail term for plotting to assassinate Yameen.
Government also hired Washington based lobbyist firm, Podesta Group in September for a sum of USD 300,000 (MVR 4,611,000) and London-based PR firm BTP Advisers in November.
Even after massive PR exercise Yameen is now isolated by his party men. Though, he is often witnessed talking about economic development and policies as ambitious as making the Maldives the next Singapore and Dubai. At an event in May this year, Yameen said:
My work is not yet complete. My work will be completed once the airport and the country is the preferred destination. When my work is done, I want to compare the difference between the services given in the Maldives and Singapore, Dubai
Battered by its international image, Yameen-led government even launched a programme ‘Visit Maldives Year 2016’ to promote tourism and also enhanced their budget but soon abandoned the ambitious 1.5 million tourist target this year alleging opposition of tarnishing the image of the country.
The government functioning on PR machinery of the west in a bid to revive the image of the country often blames opposition and its leader Nasheed for destroying country’s economy, ironically, calling them the agents of the west. Meanwhile, Nasheed continue to enjoy the support of international rights’ group, journalists and rival of the Labour Party, Conservative Party’s former leader and former Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Maldives- almost invisible on the world map, often ignored in world statistics for its tiny size in the vast Indian Ocean- has made it to the map, unfortunately for highest divorce rate!
Courtesy: The Telegraph
The Sunni Muslim island with just 3,45,023 population has the divorce rate of 10.97 per year per 1,000 inhabitants followed by Russia at the second spot with less than half the number of divorces as Maldives, according to a report by The Telegraph.
The number makes the Maldives enter the Guinness World Records, and according to United Nations, an average Maldivian woman has been divorced three times by the age of 30.
“The island of a thousand honeymoons. And … a thousand divorces,” writes journalist Shannon Sims calling it ‘the paradise where everyone is divorced’.
The reason, most arguably, points out to Islam, Sharia laws, stigma around sex, and sexuality of a woman.
Divorce- No Taboo!
J J Robbinson, the former editor of the Maldives Independent, in his first investigative account of the everyday lives of Maldivians, writes that the country has exploited Islamic sentiments for subordinating women in the country by criminalising pre-marital sex or extramarital sex leading to higher divorce rate. “Tourists on romantic resort getaways blissfully sun themselves on beaches a few hundred feet from ‘local’ islands where Maldivian women are routinely sentenced to 100 lashes for the crime of extramarital sex,” he writes.
He cites observations made by famous Islamic explorer Ibn Battuta where he argues that in the Maldivian culture where people do not fix dowry makes it easier for them to married.
“It is easy to marry in these islands because of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasures of society which the women offer,” Battuta wrote in the 14th century. “Most people do not even fix any dowry. When the ships put in, the crew marry; when they intend to leave, they divorce their wives. This is a kind of temporary marriage (muta). I have seen nowhere in the world women whose society was more pleasant.”
And for getting divorced, a man has to say ‘I divorce you’ three times under the triple talaq Islamic law. Women, though, has to go through a legal process but interestingly there is no stigma around getting divorced, unlike pre-marital sex. “I recall one recently married fisherman boasting that his new wife had been married six times; this, he explained with a sly wink, meant she was experienced. The figure was about average for a woman in her forties,” Robbinson writes.
Patriarchy, Like Everywhere, Rules The Marriage
Besides, the religious-cultural nexus to higher divorce rate, the much universal patriarchal mindset and the resulting sexual and domestic violence are also the reasons for the overwhelming trend.
Nearly 33 per cent women in the country are reportedly victims of sexual of physical violence and of them, nearly 20 per cent are perpetrated by their partners, and to most Maldivians it is quite acceptable or even desirable for a husband to beat his wife, or have physical or sexual supremacy.
A 29-year-old, who felt obliged to marry her boyfriend after having sex with him at the age of 15; who later became a victim of his violent nature, says as quoted by Maldives Independent,
Maldives may rank highest in the world for divorces, but at least the ease in getting a divorce ensures women or men do not stay in abusive or unhappy relationships
In December last year, the Maldives had a meltdown when a 35-year-old woman from Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo died after fighting a long battle in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Male. She was brutally raped by her husband.
Her death was followed by marches, social media activism but proved that a little has been changed since the government passed Domestic Violence Prevention Act in 2012.
Polygamy- Men’s Duty To Keep Women On Right Path
In March this year, during gender equality debate in the People’s Majlis, MP Ahmed Saleem held women responsible for infidelity and suggested that it was a man’s duty to keep them on right path.
Saleem said, ” Women drive men to mental illnesses and crime because of their infidelity. Women are fragile like glass. They can become anything if we do not know how to look after them. The prophet said if a women turns evil, she is worse than a lion… We try to guard them to reform our societies,” he continued giving example of a fellow MP who has three wives, “There is none better than Riyaz Rasheed. Look, he looks after three women to ensure that they do not stray from the right path. This is our duty.”
The PPM dominated 85-member Majlis, where there are just 5 women MPs, threw out the proposal for reserving quotas for women 36 votes that day.
Equal Pay For Equal Work, But Is It Enough?
Later in August, Social Committee of the Parliament passed the gender equality bill prohibiting gender discrimination in employment fields assuring equal pay for equal work but no effort was put in reforming social fabric of the fundamentals of Islamic ruling where death for infidelity, covert abortions to hide the “illegal” out-of-wedlock child & polygamy are rampant.
Former State Minister for Gender and Family, Haala Hameed speculates that more women entering workforce is also one of the reasons for higher divorce- as there is no basic childcare facility and working women are often seen negatively causing tension withing families leading to higher divorce rate.
One of the biggest developments in the country this year was the verdict of Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb who was found guilty of plotting President Abdulla Yameen’s assassination attempt on Thursday in a “closed door” trial.
The verdict got coverage in almost every major international newspapers and news agencies. While each of them chose to highlight the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation which had earlier said that it found “no conclusive evidence” of a bomb blast, here’s how differently they covered the verdict of Adeeb:
BBC quoted Adeeb’s second wife, Mariyam Nashwa as saying, “This was by no means a fair trial. The investigation was nowhere near complete. I think they closed the trial because they are afraid Adeeb might say something.”
It also added a point that Adeeb’s involvement in the blast was quickly rumoured because he was the first beneficiary of the President’s death as “under the Maldivian constitution, the vice-president succeeds the president if he dies, is incapacitated or resigns.” Read full report
The New York Times
New York Times said that Adeeb’s sentencing came “against the backdrop of what some see as a larger crackdown on dissent here, including a ban on protests, the introduction of a bill that would criminalize defamation, and the closing of the country’s most popular newspaper, Haveeru.”
It further mentioned that former prosecutor, Muhuthaz Muhsin “who refused to press charges against Mr. Adeeb, was also convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to 17 years” highlighting severe kind of crackdown on dissent. Read full report
The Associated Press
The Associated Press paid attention on Adeeb’s profiling by mentioning him as Yameen’s “once trusted protégé” and said he is the “fourth high profile politician” to be jailed on terrorism charges
It also reported that the court had barred Adeen and his lawyer from speaking on the fairness of the trial even though they were allowed little time to prepare their defense. Read full report
One of the largest international news agency AFP highlighted the point that the Maldives has been “rocked by political turmoil in recent years” and the verdicts mean “almost all of Mr Yameen’s key rivals are in jail or exiled from the Maldives.
They also quoted Adeeb’s lawyer as saying, “The Criminal Court has barred me from calling the trial unfair, but we have concerns and intend to launch an appeal immediately.” Read full report
Reuters highlighted the fact that the verdict of Adeeb “came a week after exiled former leader Mohamed Nasheed, now in exile in Britain, formed a united opposition group aimed at toppling Yameen” which also witnessed the participation of Adeeb’s representatives.
It further said that the Maldives “once seen as a future leader of the Indian Ocean atoll whose popularity as a tourist paradise is at odds with its deeply troubled politics”
It further added that the Maldives has a long history of being ruled by autocratic leaders. Read full report
The Indian Ocean archipelago, a paradise for tourists, overshadowed by its continuing political turmoil also has heart wrenching ground realities. Maldives, the same paradise island when opens the door to the regular people living in the congested capital Male, the inferno awaits.
In a report published by Vice from the first hand investigative account of the JJ Robinson, the first editor of Maldives’ first independent English language news service, spill the counter narrative of ruthless conditions in which Maldivians are surviving.
According to the JJ Robinson’s book ‘‘Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy’, Maldives which offers zero intrusion in the private affairs of its tourists, has drug abuse, Islamic radicalisation and violent crimes ladled out for its own citizens.
The capital city Male, which is also the political centre of the island, has more than more than half the population residing with banned alcohol and limited entertainment. However, a bottle of vodka, costing up to $140 USD in the black market and brown sugar heroin reaches ‘faster than a pizza’, Robinson writes in the book.
Islamic Nationalism, Sex Crimes And Divorces
The country’s constitution which mandates 100 per cent population to be Muslim is enforced by not only by the authorities but also due to the threat of social ostracism. “Tourists on romantic resort getaways blissfully sun themselves on beaches a few hundred feet from ‘local’ islands where Maldivian women are routinely sentenced to 100 lashes for the crime of extramarital sex,” he writes.
He also highlights the how the country exploiting Islamic nationalism and sentiments of defending Islam from other religions are paving way for inhuman practices like criminalisation of extramarital sex leading to higher divorce rate.
Citing the observation by the famous Islamic explorer Ibn Battuta, the book underlines the complex issue owing to conservative ideas and culture being adapted by the people. “It is easy to marry in these islands because of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasures of society which the women offer,” Battuta wrote in the 14th century.
“Most people do not even fix any dowry. When the ships put in, the crew marry; when they intend to leave, they divorce their wives. This is a kind of temporary marriage (muta). I have seen nowhere in the world women whose society was more pleasant.”
The weddings are done in few minutes by just exchanging rings and a token dowry while the divorce owes to patriarchal laws allowing mean to follow triple talaq Islamic law (I divorce you- three times), but a woman has to go through court proceedings. Interestingly, there’s no social taboo associated with a divorced woman. “I recall one recently married fisherman boasting that his new wife had been married six times; this, he explained with a sly wink, meant she was experienced. The figure was about average for a woman in her forties,” Robbinson writes.
Clothing Shops to Sex Shops
While, in normal societal terms, a woman is under pressure to wear headscarf also gets the liberty to wear rather revealing western cloths, easily available in clothing shops in the capital, however not for long.
“16-year-old girl who bought and actually wore one of these in 2013 was swiftly taken into custody under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act.” He explains how the girl was not only directed her how to dress but also involved her parents.
And, even when Male had a sex shop, the trouble was in the name ‘G-spot’. The Ministry of Economic Development kept insisting how the G stood for Girl eventually leading to a ruling by civil court alleging the name “inappropriate for viewing by women and children,” while Nizam, the owner of the shop kept defending that the G-Spot did not exist.
The Not So Curious Case of Covert Abortions
According to the report, Maldives has highest number of unprotected sex and high promiscuity. The problem becomes complex when stigma surrounding divorce is negligible but an out-of-wedlock child is a symbol of shame. “As long as the illusion of Islamic conservatism was maintained, as long as the boat wasn’t rocked, as long as nothing was stated, written down, admitted, or confessed to, as long as you weren’t caught—ordinary people could be surprisingly accepting,” Robinson states.
He also complies several incidents of barbaric abortions in which either a mother ends up throwing the foetus in a swimming pool, bushes or a bucket. These abortions are often covert because getting caught may lead to even death sentence.
“Abortion was an issue that should concern all Maldivians, the party (Adhaalath Party) declared, and people should be “very afraid” given the “rising popularity of fornication.
Afraid they were. Most often the mothers were caught, quickly confessing under police interrogation,” Robinson writes.
Amid the allegations of money laundering and terror financing against President Yameen, involvement of Cherie Blair, chairperson, Omnia Strategy, in the biggest corruption scandal has hit the headlines.
According to a revelation by The Daily Mail, Omnia strategy, signed a deal with the Yameen government to provide consultancy on “democratic consolidation”, has been paid more than £200,000 by a company allegedly involved in the biggest corruption scandal in the country.
The British daily, after investigating leaked invoices and bank records, found out that Omnia had billed Abdulla Ziyath, former managing director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) for £210,000 in August last year.
This amount of £210,000 was the half amount of total fee charged by the firm for a six-month contract that was signed with the government in mid-2015.
The payment, however, was made by a local textiles importer called MC Maldives Pvt Ltd. Its owner Abdulla Rafiu claimed that he wired the money on the request of Mohamed Allam Latheef ‘Moho,’ the owner of SOF Pvt Ltd, who was unable to make an international payment due to Eid holidays.
According to Rafiu, he wired the money from an account at the Bank of Ceylon branch in Malé to an HSBC account in London unaware of the fact that where the money was going. The money was deposited in his account by Latheef.
“When I found out I was very unhappy,” Rafiu told The Daily Mail.
Who is Abdulla Ziyath?
Abdul Ziyath, former managing director of the MMPRC, was arrested in connection with the President’s speedboat blast on September 28 along with former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb. Ziyath, now, faces charges of corruption for misappropriation of nearly US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion agency.
Who is Mohamed Allam Latheef?
Mohamed Allam Latheef, lead singer of a popular local band called Scores of Flair (SOF) is a close associate of Adeeb and among the five suspects wanted in connection with the boat blast.
An Interpol red notice issued for his arrest states that he is wanted for “threatening catastrophe, criminal property damage, use of dangerous weapons during an offence, trafficking, manufacture, sale, or possession of catastrophic agents or firearms, terrorism, and corruption.”
Maldives biggest corruption scandal
An audit report of the MMPRC has revealed that the company has siphoned off US$70 million into SOF’s bank account. The company also deposited millions of dollars of resort lease payments to SOF’s account on the signature of Ziyath. He also endorsed the cheques made out to MMPRC to SOF.
After the release of audit report, SOF said that it was a payment received for providing a brokerage service to the MMPRC and claimed that the funds were distributed to Yameen and his wife and other politicians as requested.
Yameen denied the reports of involvement in the corruption scandal and said that he will get back the stolen funds.
The Omnia angle
Omnia Strategy, the London and Washington-based consultancy, founded and chaired by Cherie Blair signed a deal to advise President Yameen’s government on “democracy consolidation”.
The consultancy charged the Abdulla Ziyath, former managing director of the MMPRC, on government’s behalf for £210,000 (half the total amount for 6-month of service). The MMPRC, which allegedly misappropriated US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion agency, siphoned off US$70 million into SOF’s bank account.
Of US$70 million, £210,000 was transferred to an HSBC account in London, apparently belonging to Omnia, via MC Maldives Pvt Ltd. owner Abdulla Rafiu.
The Daily Mail suggested that Omnia could become the subject of an anti-corruption investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office as well as the US government.
Omnia said that it terminated six-month contract early due to unpredictable domestic events and is no longer instructed by either the government or the MMPRC.
The Daily Mail also revealed that Omnia was hired to advice on “strategic diplomacy, media training, international media relations, and the management of international coverage” of jailed former President Mohamed Yameen and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.
The Maldives government also hired Washington based lobbyist firm, Podesta Group in September for a sum of US$300,000 and London-based PR firm BTP Advisers in November.
According to Maldives Independent, government spent MVR 297,510.88 (US$19,293.83) on visits of Omnia’s barrister Toby Cadman, between June and September.
Omnia was also pulled in to help government to submit a 110-page response to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention after it ruled Nasheed’s terrorism charges politically motivated and imprisonment illegal.