Ian Paisley luxury Maldives holiday paid for by ‘mystery friend’

Ian Paisley is tonight mired in yet more controversy after the revelation that he took another luxury holiday to an Asian country after advocating on behalf of its regime.

The trip, which the DUP MP said he partially paid for, was part-funded by a mystery friend who Mr Paisley declined to identify.

Ian Paisley said the holiday did not need to be declared in the House of Commons register of members' interests

Ian Paisley said the holiday did not need to be declared in the House of Commons register of members' interests

The holiday for the entire Paisley family was not registered in the House of Commons register of members’ interests.

The revelations in a BBC Spotlight programme broadcast on Tuesday night come just a fortnight after the North Antrim MP returned from the longest ever suspension from the House of Commons.

That suspension of 30 sitting days came after it was revealed that he took luxury holidays from the Sri Lankan government and then advocated on behalf of a regime which was facing allegations of war crimes.

Mr Paisley told Spotlight that he did not need to declare the foreign holiday and that the trip had not been paid for by the Maldivian government.

The North Antrim MP said he had paid for part of his Maldives holiday but refused to tell BBC Spotlight who had paid for the rest of the trip

The North Antrim MP said he had paid for part of his Maldives holiday but refused to tell BBC Spotlight who had paid for the rest of the trip

The MP, his wife and his two sons stayed full-board for five days in October and November 2016 at a luxury resort on one of the coral islands in the Indian Ocean famed for sandy beaches and blue lagoons.

Gavin Millar QC, a legal expert on parliamentary rules, told Spotlight that the Nolan principles on standards in public life placed an onus on Mr Paisley to be transparent about why he has not registered the trip.

Mr Millar said: “MPs should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

“Now his decision in this case was not to register the benefit, after the trip in late 2016, and he has an obligation to give reasons for that decision.

“My judgment in this instance given the issues that have been raised is that unless he can come up with some wider public interest argument for not saying more, he should be saying significantly more about any considerations that are relevant to the motive of that source in paying that money.”

Mr Paisley told Spotlight in a statement: “I have responded in clear and categoric terms to your questions.

“For the record, the government of the Maldives did not organise or pay for my family vacation in 2016, which I do not intend to go into with you. I’m satisfied the vacation did not have to be recorded on the register.”

Spotlight said that it had evidence which included an image which appears to be from the resort’s internal records and which suggests that full board and transfers were provided complimentarily at the request of Mr Yameen’s government.

Spotlight said the evidence suggested that was facilitated by the resort owner, Hussain Hilmy, a former minister in the Maldives government.

Mr Paisley said there was no link between the government of the Maldives and his holiday.

Spotlight said that last week the MP had told it that he had discussed the holiday in the Maldives with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone during her investigation into his Sri Lanka holidays.

He claimed that it was on foot of that interaction that he was content that there was no need to register his holiday to the Maldives.

However, the BBC said that after it contacted Ms Stone’s office Mr Paisley contacted Spotlight to clarify that he had not in fact spoken to the commissioner about the matter and that he had instead spoken to the parliamentary registrar, an administrative member of the Commons staff.

It is the sole responsibility of an MP to register any declarable interests.

Mr Paisley told Spotlight he had evidence which “categorically disproves that the trip was connected to the government”. Mr Paisley provided an email from Ahmed Shiaan, who was the Maldivian Ambassador to the UK in 2016, in which he said the holiday had not been paid for by the government of the Maldives.

A second email, from the resort’s commercial operating officer, Andrew Ashmore, said that invoices for the Paisleys’ stay had been settled and paid for privately. He did not say who had paid the bills.

Four years ago, Mr Paisley emerged as the UK’s most expensive MP, claiming £232,000 from taxpayers’ money for running his office, travel and accommodation.

He said they were “unavoidable costs that an MP incurs whilst running a busy constituency office and commuting to Parliament” and that “none of this money goes to the MP”. Ian Paisley’s trip to the Maldives came eight months after he was part of a controversial parliamentary visit to the idyllic islands.

At that point the Maldives government, headed by President Abdulla Yameen, was being criticised by organisations including the United Nations and the Commonwealth for human rights abuses.

The Indian Ocean group of islands is also one of the world’s most notorious regimes for restricting religious freedom – something on which the DUP is outspoken.

Beach idyll where regime jails religious converts

Ian Paisley’s trip to the Maldives came eight months after he was part of a controversial parliamentary visit to the idyllic islands.

At that point the Maldives government, headed by President Abdulla Yameen, was being criticised by organisations including the United Nations and the Commonwealth for human rights abuses.

The Indian Ocean group of islands is also one of the world’s most notorious regimes for restricting religious freedom – something on which the DUP is outspoken.

Only one faith, Sunni Islam, can be practised publicly and Maldivians suspected of converting to Christianity from Islam have been imprisoned.

The DUP man was part of a delegation of MPs which travelled to the Maldives in February 2016.

The £5,000 bill for the trip was paid for by the controversial Maldives government.

A subsequent report in The Independent questioned the MPs’ decision to make what it described as the “luxury trip” with business-class flights and nights at a salubrious resort, during which they defended the Maldives government.

Mr Paisley, who spoke out against economic sanctions, told a press conference in the country: “If people are suggesting we are having our strings pulled by others, they don’t know very much about me or my colleagues.”

With the other two MPs, he also visited the prison where opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed had been held, and described the conditions as quite luxurious.

Mr Paisley had previously travelled to the Maldives for three days in May 2013 “to meet the president and vice president to discuss human rights” and other matters, with the £2,400 cost of the trip paid for by the Maldives government.

Both trips were properly registered in the Commons.