MPs accused of defending former Maldives dictator during luxury trip

Sir David Amess,  Ian Paisley and Mark Menzies accused of 'manipulating facts' to celebrate Maumoon Abdul Gayoom

Simon Usborne
Friday 19 February 2016 23:26
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, former president of the Maldives
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, former president of the Maldives

Three British MPs have been accused of “deliberately manipulating the facts” and defending the former dictator of the Maldives during a luxury parliamentary trip funded by the regime to the Indian Ocean islands.

Sir David Amess insisted that the Maldives government, which faces international pressure over alleged corruption and humans rights abuses, “unfortunately has been portrayed in a rather unfair fashion”.

Speaking in the capital Malé on Thursday, the Tory MP celebrated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives with an iron fist for 30 years before its first democratic elections in 2008.

“I applaud former president Gayoom in bringing democracy to the Maldives,” the member for Southend West said during a trip wholly paid for by the Maldives Foreign Ministry, which is led by Mr Gayoom’s daughter.

Sir David, who is chair of the All-Party British-Maldives Parliamentary Group, was accompanied by fellow group member Ian Paisley MP of the Democratic Unionist Party. Mark Menzies, a Conservative MP who is not a member of the group, also attended.

The Independent understands that the trip included business-class flights, and nights at a luxury resort. The Jen Hotel in Malé confirmed the men had stayed there.

Ian Paisley Jr, Sir David Amess and Mark Menzies of the All Party British-Maldives Parliamentary Group in the Maldives last Sunday

In the press conference, Sir David also questioned the plight of Mohamed Nasheed, the former democracy activist who won the 2008 elections before resigning during an alleged coup in 2012.

Mr Nasheed lost disputed elections the following year to Abdulla Yameen, the current President and Mr Gayoom’s half-brother, and was imprisoned last year after a “terror” trial condemned by David Cameron and the UN.

Sir David revealed he had received a government tour of Mr Nasheed’s prison cell – which is empty while he receives treatment in the UK for a back condition he blames on torture he sustained under Mr Gayoom’s regime. “Where he’s being held was quite luxurious, really,” Sir David said.

Mr Nasheed’s opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) accused the delegation of “manipulating facts” and failing to address a range of concerns that the party raised at a meeting before the press conference, including declining democracy and human rights.

“The MDP is worried over deliberate omission of these concerns,” a statement read. “The party has come to understand that the government of Maldives sponsored the whole visit, and is, therefore, worried that the [delegation] may find it difficult to state anything detrimental to their sponsors.”

A spokesman for Amnesty International said: “The international community should push authorities to improve the rights situation – not turn a blind eye.”

Neither MP responded to questions about the ethics of their trip. All three members strongly denied in the press conference that their objectivity was challenged. “If people are suggesting we are having our strings pulled by others, they don’t know very much about me or my colleagues,” Mr Paisley said.

A 2010 BBC investigation claimed that Sir David had broken Commons rules by failing to declare previous luxury trips. He denied any wrongdoing, blaming administrative errors. Sir David still has a month to declare his current trip. There is no suggestion that he attempted to conceal the source of funding.

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