Charges remain pending in case against RIX, PG says seeking more evidence

Milandhoo MP Ali Riza. (Photo/Parliament)

Prosecutor General’s Office states that the delay in prosecution in the human trafficking case against RIX Pvt Ltd – the company contracted to develop the island of B. Bodufinolhu as a resort - is because of ongoing efforts to find additional evidence.

Police concluded its investigation into the case and requested the Prosecutor General’s Office for criminal charges against three officials from RIX – including the company’s managing director, Milandhoo MP Ali Riza, in December 2020. However, the Prosecutor General’s Office has yet to make a decision regarding pressing charges.

Prosecutor General’s Office spokesperson, Public Prosecutor Ahmed Shafeeu told Sun on Sunday that the delay is resulting from efforts to seek additional evidence in the case.

RIX employed some 200 migrant workers in Bodufinolhu, some of whom staged a violent strike over months of unpaid wages in July 2020; in which property was damaged, local workers were held hostage, and several police officers who went to intervene were injured. 19 workers were arrested in connection to the case. The suspects were later released into the custody of Maldives Immigration.

At the wake of the violence in Bodufinolhu, police launched an investigation into RIX on suspicion of “exploitation and forced labor of migrant workers, facilitating human trafficking, failure to pay fees and payments entitled to the State on behalf of the migrant workers and violation of the rights of migrant workers”.

The workers said they had not been paid their wages in months, and resorted to violence after they were threatened with deportation and injury in the hands of criminal gangs if they raised the issue of their unpaid wages.

MP Riza has admitted to failing to pay workers four months of wages, which he said was due to financial constraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

RIX, meanwhile, said the company was unable to pay the wages because it was owed payments by the resort’s developer Seal Maldives – a claim which Seal Maldives denies.

Seal Maldives’ legal representative, Advocacy Chambers said that it is the responsibility of the contractor to pay wages to its employees, and that while the contract between Seal Maldives and RIX Maldives stipulates paying the contractor at the rate of MVR 7,000, the company has paid well over MVR 21 million to RIX.

RIX is suspected of using fraud to recruit a large number of migrant workers from overseas which suggests human trafficking.

The company is suspected of seeking migrant workers believed to be victims of human trafficking from Maldivian islands, taking them under the company’s employment, transporting them between islands, exploiting the vulnerability and dire constraints of migrant workers, and forcing them to labor and withholding their wages over a long period of time.

The company is also suspected of coercing and intimidating the workers who ask for their wages, dismissing them, and sending them back to the greater Male’ region.