A Maldivian government minister paid for a luxury holiday taken by Ian Paisley and his family, it is alleged.
The company that owns the resort in the Maldives where the family stayed said Mohamed Shainee requested the accommodation and settled the payment.
It came eight months after North Antrim MP Mr Paisley visited the country and lobbied on its government’s behalf.
He did not declare details of the 2016 holiday to Parliament authorities, the BBC’s Spotlight revealed last December.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician said at the time that he paid for part of the trip and that a “long-term friend” who was unconnected to his work paid for the other part.
Spotlight has since obtained evidence that Mr Shainee, who was a Maldives cabinet minister at the time of the holiday, was the so-called mystery friend.
‘Obligation to tell the public’
Last year, Mr Paisley was suspended from Parliament for 30 sitting days after he failed to declare two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.
He apologised in the House of Commons, admitted “deep personal embarrassment” and claimed he had made a “genuine mistake”.
Gavin Millar QC, an expert on parliamentary law and the Nolan principles that govern public life, told Spotlight that Mr Paisley had appeared to breach parliamentary rules with his Maldives holiday.
“If it’s correct, in light of everything we know about his dealings with the government, that a government minister negotiated a rate at this holiday resort for Mr Paisley and his family and then subsequently paid the bill for the accommodation, that is unquestionably an example of a gift which would generate the obligation to register it and tell the public about it,” he said.
“Issues now arise for him to deal with about why he didn’t register it at the time and what was going on.”
Mr Paisley did not respond to Spotlight’s allegations, while Mr Shainee has denied arranging or paying for the holiday.
‘Private stay for Paisleys’
The allegation was based on a statement provided to Spotlight by Hussain Hilmy, through the Coco Bodu Hithi resort’s parent company Sunland Hotels.
He is a director of the company.
The statement read: “In 2016, Mohamed Shainee requested Sunland Hotels co-owner Hussain Hilmy for a rate at one of the company’s resorts.
“The co-owner Mr Hilmy was informed the booking was for a private stay for a personal acquaintance of Mr Shainee, Ian Paisley and his family.
“Shainee settled the payment for Ian Paisley’s stay at the head office.”
The barrister Mr Millar said there was an onus on Mr Paisley to explain the circumstances surrounding the holiday.
“He has to produce some tangible evidence to show that what you’ve found is not correct and the government minister didn’t pay for it,” he added.
Another ‘complimentary’ stay
Spotlight has also revealed evidence of another holiday to the Maldives taken by the MP, his wife and two sons, which also appears to have been free of charge.
The holiday to the Kandolhu Island Resort, which was just under a week long, took place in April 2014 – a year after Mr Paisley visited the Maldives on an official trip, which was funded by the Maldivian government.
Mr Paisley did not register the stay at Kandolhu, which was described in internal records from the resort shown to Spotlight as “complimentary”.
MPs are required under parliamentary rules to register any overseas travel for which they have not paid themselves and that could be seen to be connected to their work.
There was no evidence to suggest the Paisley family’s holiday to Kandolhu in April 2014 was connected to the MP’s work.
However, Mr Millar said given Mr Paisley’s dealings with the Maldivian government it was up to him to disclose the circumstances around it.
“I think a reasonable person would say in those circumstances to accept a complimentary holiday after you’ve had official dealings, recent official dealings with the government of that country, raises an inference that the holiday and the gift that’s represented by the holiday was connected with your work as an MP,” he said.
“Given what… we now know about his history of dealing with the Maldives government and his visits to the Maldives, and what you have uncovered including the evidence that it was complimentary, it seems a little unlikely that it was a coincidence.
“That being the case he either has to give an account of it that shows it was in the language of the code unrelated to his activities as an MP or the assumption has to be he should have registered it.”
‘Can’t sit on his hands’
Spotlight identified a second further trip taken by Mr Paisley to the Maldives just three weeks before he visited the country as part of an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) with two other MPs.
It is not known whether or not Mr Paisley paid for that trip.
The APPG trip in February 2016 was controversial because Mr Paisley and his colleagues lobbied on the Maldivian government’s behalf, even though the regime faced widespread international condemnation at the time for its corruption and human rights abuses.
Mr Millar added that the parliamentary code of conduct required MPs to be transparent.
“The code and the guidance requires you to be as transparent as possible… and explain the circumstances surrounding the trip and show that it wasn’t related to your work as an MP,” he said.
“So again he can’t sit on his hands and just say: ‘I’m not telling you what was going on there.’
“He now has to explain that.”