Opposition in Male questions antecedents of its promoters, Abhishek Verma and his wife Anca Verma, who are facing criminal charges.

New Delhi: An “invitation” to an Indian company to build an international airport in the Maldives has generated controversy, with the opposition in Male questioning antecedents of its promoters who are facing criminal charges.

A letter by Maldivian tourism minister Moosa Zameer inviting Olialia India Private Limited to submit a proposal under a 50-year ‘build, operate and transfer’ (BOT) model has gone viral on social media. The Indian company is backed by Anca Verma, the wife of controversial businessman Abhishek Verma.

The couple, who is facing serious charges such as violation of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and money laundering to broker arms deals, is currently out on bail. Regular hearings are on in connection with different cases in New Delhi, with the CBI recently appealing in the high court against the dismissal of the of its cases involving German defence company, Rheinmetall.

The ambitious plan, fronted by Anca, is to build a new airport with dual runways by dredging a lagoon. The company also said it has plans to set up a new resort in the Maldives. Investments by Indian companies in Maldives have come under stress in the past, with the government cancelling a contract with GMR to develop the existing international airport in Male.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has raised a red flag over the invitation letter to Anca Verma. “Given President Abdulla Yameen’s well-documented links to the criminal underworld, reports about his underhand deals with arms dealers and money launderers are disturbing, but not surprising,” Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, MDP’s international spokesman, told ThePrint.

Tourism minister Moosa did not respond to calls or messages sent by ThePrint.

Olialia India confirmed that it has been invited to set up a new airport in Maldives but said that Abhishek Verma had nothing to do with the project. “Mrs Anca Verma is the group chairperson of Olialia World and is driving the airport project in Maldives, Olialia Island project, as well as Olialia Air project in Europe. Mr Abhishek Verma is not involved in the above-mentioned projects in Maldives,” company spokesperson Ahmed Shareef said.

Sharing details, Shareef said that for the greenfield airport, a lagoon would be dredged to create a 500-hectare plot of land and it would have “helipads, two runways, latest 4D radars and avionics and duty-free” shops with a plan to make it compatible to the Airbus A380 aircraft.

“We do not have any cause for concern when dealing with the Maldives government as they are extremely transparent and their administration believes in single-window policy and clearances for foreign investors,” the spokesperson added.

The company said that its proposal would be evaluated and assessed by the Maldives government and they would decide whether further competitive bids are to be invited or straightaway award the contract to construct and operate the airport for 50 years or whether “concession could be granted to Olialia International Airport Maldives Private Limited”, an SPV that has been registered in Maldives.

 

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