Thursday 17 October 2019

DUP's Ian Paisley faces new questions about luxury family holiday 'funded by Maldives government minister'

Ian Paisley Jnr
Ian Paisley Jnr
A coral reef in the Maldives. PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

Lauren Harte

Ian Paisley is facing fresh claims that he had enjoyed three luxury trips to the Maldives - one of which was paid for by a former cabinet minister there.

The new evidence — obtained by BBC NI Spotlight’s Lyndsey Telford — comes six months after the programme first exposed Mr Paisley’s failure to declare a luxury family holiday to the Maldives, courtesy of the Indian Ocean nation’s government.

Last December it emerged that Mr Paisley, his wife and their two sons had received a full-board five-day trip in October and November 2016.

The holiday came eight months after the North Antrim representative visited the islands with two other MPs from an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to argue against sanctions being taken against the Maldives over alleged human rights abuses.

Mr Paisley previously denied that the holiday was paid for by authorities in the Maldives and that he was satisfied he did not need to declare the trip on the register of interests at Westminster.

The MP said he paid for part of the holiday himself, while the rest was covered by a long-term friend who was unconnected to his work.

He declined to reveal the identity of the friend who has now been named as the Maldives’ former fisheries minister, Dr Mohamed Shainee.

Spotlight’s evidence suggests that full board and transfers were provided complimentarily at the request of the Maldives government and facilitated by the Coco Bodu Hithi resort owner, Hussain Hilmy.

In a new statement to the programme, Mr Hilmy said the trip had been paid for by Dr Shainee, whose previous mandate involved building contacts with western politicians and inviting them to visit the Maldives.

Mr Hilmy had previously denied that the trip had been made at the Maldivian government’s request, but said that the resort owners, Sunland Hotels, now wanted to “set the record straight”.

In 2016, Dr Shainee requested from Mr Hilmy an ‘off-season’ rate for a private booking at one of Sunland Hotels’ resorts for one of his personal acquaintances, Mr Paisley and his family.

According to the statement, as Dr Shainee was an active cabinet member at the time, the stay was logged as a government request in Sunland’s internal records.

It also stated that Dr Shainee settled the payment for the Paisleys’ stay at Sunland’s head office.  

Dr Shainee has denied the claims against him.

READ MORE: Paisley urged to repay €7,000 flight bill

Gavin Millar QC, an expert on parliamentary rules, told Spotlight that Mr Paisley must explain his actions.

“If it’s correct that a government minister negotiated a rate at this resort for Mr Paisley and his family and subsequently paid the bill, that is unquestionably an example of a gift which would generate the obligation to register it and tell the public about it.

“Issues now arise for him to deal with about why he didn’t register it at the time and what was going on.

“He is a public servant and elected official.

“He has to produce some tangible evidence to show that what has been found is not correct and that the government didn’t pay for it.”

READ MORE: Paisley suspended over luxury family holidays

The programme also claimed that Mr Paisley enjoyed two other visits to the islands which were not registered with the authorities at Westminster. These included a two-night trip to Paradise Island resort in January 2016, just three weeks before his official trip on behalf of the government. 

It also obtained internal records showing that two years earlier, Mr Paisley had travelled to the Maldives for a luxury holiday with his wife and two children at one of the country’s most exclusive resorts.

According to Spotlight, the family stayed free of charge at the Kandolhu Island Resort in April 2014, which had recently opened following a multi-million pound refurbishment.

READ MORE: Paisley begs voters for forgiveness over free holidays worth €56,000

Social media posts made by Fiona Paisley appeared to back up the claims.

In April 2014, five days after the trip, Mrs Paisley reportedly tweeted: “No more holiday mode” complete with a palm tree emoji.

In 2015, she commented on posts on the Kandolhu Resort’s Facebook page, writing: “Take me back” and “Remembering that view ... bliss”.

Mr Paisley was previously suspended from the House of Commons for 30 sitting days for serious misconduct after he failed to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013.

He also narrowly avoided facing a by-election after Parliament’s first ever recall petition fell short of the number of constituent signatures required to oust him by around 450.

READ MORE: Ian Paisley retains North Antrim seat after first ever recall petition falls short of signatures required to unseat him

Mr Paisley has not responded to the new claims made in last night’s Spotlight.

A DUP spokesperson told the BBC: “Discipline is an internal party matter.

“We do not give a running commentary.

“All members are treated fairly and have a right to due process.”

Belfast Telegraph

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