Ian Paisley was last night facing fresh questions about his foreign travel after it was alleged that he had on two further occasions travelled to luxurious Indian Ocean resorts.
Last year the DUP MP was given the longest House of Commons suspension in parliamentary history after the revelation that he received two expensive holidays to Sri Lanka paid for by the Sri Lankan regime.
Mr Paisley did not declare the gifts and then went on to advocate for the Sri Lankan government.
Then last December BBC Spotlight revealed that the North Antrim MP had taken a luxury holiday to the Maldives – in October and November 2016 – after advocating on behalf of the Maldivian 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.
Last night BBC Spotlight reported that the owner of that Maldivian resort, Hussain Hilmy, a former minister in the Maldives government, had withdrawn his initial denial that the trip was paid for by a government figure.
Mr Hilmy’s company, Sunland Hotels, said it wanted to “set the record straight” and named Dr Mohamed Shainee, the Maldives’ former fisheries and tourism minister, as the individual who had paid for that visit, something which Dr Shainee denied.
The company said that the visit had been by “a personal acquaintance of Mr Shainee, Ian Paisley and his family” and that the Maldivian minister “settled the payment for Ian Paisley’s stay, at the head office”.
Spotlight said that two other sources had independently told it that Dr Shainee had paid for Mr Paisley’s stay but Dr Shainee denied that.
He told Spotlight: “I have not organised any of those trips...how can I be paying for something I don’t know [about]?”
Gavin Millar QC told Spotlight: “If it’s correct, in light of everything we know about his [Mr Paisley’s] 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.”
The senior lawyer said that it was “no longer good enough” for the MP to just say that an unidentified friend paid for his family holiday and that he instead “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.”
Last night Spotlight alleged that Mr Paisley had visited the Maldives on two other occasions in 2014 and January 2016, with the latter of the trips coming three weeks before Mr Paisley spoke out publicly on behalf of the Maldivian government. On that occasion he stayed at Paradise Island resort.
Spotlight said that in 2014 the MP, his wife and his two sons stayed at Kandolhu, one of the Maldives’ most exclusive resorts. The BBC said that the politician and his family had stayed in an exceptionally expensive and luxurious location where rooms are typically about $1,500 a night.
Mr Paisley’s wife Fiona had subsequently commented on social media to say: “Remembering that view...bliss!!!”
Spotlight showed what it said was an image from within the resort’s booking system, passed to it by a source, showing the names of the Paisley family and that they had paid only $280 for extras, with the hotel rooms “complementary”.
The Kandolhu resort told the BBC that it had not hosted any guests at the request of the government but declined to say who paid for the Paisleys’ stay.
If the two additional holidays to the Maldives were entirely private affairs and were not paid for by a third party, Mr Paisley may not have needed to register them with Parliament. However, Gavin Millar QC said he believed that the wider circumstances meant that Mr Paisley had a duty to explain openly what had transpired.
The BBC said that Mr Paisley had declined to answer any questions around his trips to the Maldives and last night Mr Paisley did not respond to a News Letter request for comment.