MP Riza faces possible jail time over human trafficking charges

MP for Milandhoo constituency Ali Riza | photo: Adhadhu

Malé, Maldives – Human trafficking charges have been raised against MP of Milandhoo constituency, Ali Riza, and others in connection to the issues that led to an unrest in Bodufinolhu island of Baa atoll in July 2020.

The Prosecutor General’s Office informed that RIX Maldives, contracted to develop a resort in Baa atoll, is being charged with trafficking expatriate workers as laborers, who were brought through a scheme. Along with this, RIX Maldives was also accused of mistreating the expatriate laborers, moving them from one island to the other and taking advantage of them.

The PG Office also revealed that they were forced to work in the Bodufinolhu development project, which is against the law and they were stripped from their rights to salary and allowances for an extended period of time, which in turn provoked the unrest.

Furthermore, the laborers are to have been forced to work without pay, threatening those who sought their due wages and fired and forced to remain at work on the island. The exploited laborers were treated poorly by RIX Maldives, until they created unrest in Bodufinolhu island during July 2020.

The charges were forwarded to the Criminal Court on August 4. Riza, native to Milandhoo island in Shaviyani atoll, is being charged with human trafficking, which carries a prison sentence of 10 years. He was charged for trafficking the expatriates since 2015, under the sponsorship of RIX Maldives.

Further, under Section 530 of the Penal Code of Maldives, he was charged with obstruction of justice for getting in the way of law enforcement officers when they attempted to search his office, under a court order.

Alongside MP Riza, Hassan Umar native to Maafaru island in Noonu atoll and Nasrullah Usman native to Milandhoo are also being charged under the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, as accomplices. The offense carries a prison sentence of seven years. The two were charged for aiding MP Riza. RIX Maldives had blamed Seal Maldives for their failure to pay workers for months, which was denied by the company who said that RIX Maldives was paid more than owed.

Due to the long-drawn-out issue of unpaid wages, expatriate workers in the development project had been protesting peacefully for months before things escalated and they took a group of 13 Maldivians workers on the island hostage, having damaged property after securing the island.

On July 24, the Labor Relations Authority ordered RIX Maldives to pay pending salaries for 179 expatriate workers stationed at Bodufinolhu. Under the agreement made with Seal Maldives and RIX, the latter is responsible for paying the workers their due salaries as well as food and accommodation, alongside ensuring the settlement of fees to the government in relation to the workers.