Saudi royals wish to keep Faafu atoll “deal” under wraps: PPM lawmaker

PPM parliamentary majority leader MP Ahmed Nihan (L) with President Yameen (R-2) and First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim (L-2) at the unveiling of PPM's new headquarters. FILE PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/MIHAARU

PPM parliamentary majority leader MP Ahmed Nihan (L) with President Yameen (R-2) and First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim (L-2) at the unveiling of PPM’s new headquarters. FILE PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/MIHAARU

An audio file was leaked late Thursday featuring the parliamentary majority group leader of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Ahmed Nihan telling an unknown group that the royal family of Saudi Arabia prefer to keep secret their mega project in Faafu atoll of the Maldives and that they wish to own parts of the atoll.

The audio file, which was leaked on social media, is the first instance of a PPM member revealing details of the contentious Faafu atoll development project.

The lawmaker of Villimale constituency stated that the royal family member looking to invest in Faafu atoll is Saudi’s deputy crown prince and Minister of Defence Mohamed bin Salman Al Saud. However, Prince Mohamed had earlier objected to the Constitution which allowed the Maldives to lease lands for a period of 99 years, according to MP Nihan.

Speaking of the amendment to the Constitution which allows foreign parties to own land in the Maldives, MP Nihan disclosed that the royal family does not wish the Constitution to mention their names as the owners of the lands bought.

The lawmaker went on to say that there are several foreign parties wishing to own land in the Maldives.

“There are dirtier [deals] out there. But we’re not giving our lands to all and sundry.”

MP Nihan also said that the government had looked to sell parts of Faafu atoll via the Special Economic Zone Act. Ultimately, the state had lobbied an amendment to the Constitution as lands could only be sold off via the latter.

In his talk, the lawmaker revealed that the Saudi family plans to reclaim the uninhabited island of Himithi in Faafu atoll for the mega project which amounts to USD 16 billion. They have already paid the acquisition fee to the Maldives’ government.

MP Nihan also stated that 70 percent of the reclaimed land would become the property of the Saudi royal family while the Maldives receives the remaining 30 percent. Speculating that the purchased lands would be used to develop holiday homes for the royal family, MP Nihan commented, “This is not a new thing. It happens in every country.”

The audio file further revealed that the Saudi crown prince first expressed interest in investing in the Maldives during his visit in 2012 and that he had worked to make an investment in 2013 during another visit with the current King Salman bin Abdulaziz. However, the venture was put off due to the Constitution of the Maldives.

“The design is very proper, very planned. This investment poses no damages to Maldivians from a religious perspective,” said Nihan.

MP Nihan is yet to make a comment since the audio file was released.

Meanwhile, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had earlier refuted rumours of selling Faafu atoll and stated that the Saudi government will conduct a mega project of MVR 10 billion in the atoll instead. Assuring the public that there was no cause for concern, he had declared that it will be the largest development project to date in the Maldives and promised that details will be officially disclosed after discussions are over and finalised.

The Embassy of Saudi Arabia in the Maldives had also denied that the Saudi government plans to buy any lands or atolls of the island nation. The consulate also proclaimed that the kingdom has not planned to invest in such a project.

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