MPs warn minister over sports suspension

One of the two seized containers. – KUNA

KUWAIT: In a major development, Finance Minister Anas Al-Saleh yesterday issued a decision sending the director of the customs department Khaled Al-Saif into retirement following a controversy over two containers that left Shuwaikh Port without being searched, and which were later found to contain liquor. The minister’s decision came after a number of MPs strongly condemned the incident and called for a parliamentary investigation, while other lawmakers called for the sacking of customs chief.

Before the retirement decision was announced, Islamist opposition MP Mohammad Hayef said that dismissing the customs head was the least the minister should do regarding the two containers. He said that allowing the containers to leave unchecked from the port constituted a security risk to the country, because the nature of the shipment was unknown and could have included some dangerous materials. Social media activists also wondered why the owner of the shipment was not identified or arrested.

The interior ministry said the two containers were later found in Amghara and were full of liquor. Police identified five suspects, all of whom are Indian nationals, and the main suspect was nabbed as he attempted to leave the country on Saturday. His accomplice was also detained in the country, while another was apprehended in the UAE. Two other suspects managed to flee to India, the ministry statement said. Interrogations with the suspects disclosed that they had previously smuggled in another container, and alcohol and firecrackers were found inside it, the statement added.

Meanwhile, the sports crisis returned to the National Assembly yesterday after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) bluntly rejected a Kuwait government request to temporarily lift a 14-month suspension in return for a pledge to amend Kuwaiti sports legislation within two months. Several MPs led by Islamist opposition lawmaker Waleed Al-Tabtabaei threatened to grill Minister of Information and Youth Sheikh Salman Al-Humoud Al-Sabah if the suspension is not lifted.
MP Abdulwahab Al-Babtain said the Assembly’s sports and youth committee will hold a lengthy meeting with the minister today to review the situation and how to act after the IOC’s letter. The IOC, FIFA and several international sports federations suspended Kuwait from international sports in Oct 2015 over the government’s alleged interference in sports and for violating the Olympic Charter.

Following the election of the new Assembly, it was agreed that the government will pledge to amend the controversial legislation within two months and then request the IOC to lift the suspension immediately. The IOC turned down in a letter dated Dec 31 to Sheikh Salman the Kuwaiti request to lift the suspension temporarily, saying that it will not be in a position to reconsider Kuwait’s situation unless Kuwait has taken three important steps:

Firstly, it should finalize the revision of sports laws and make them fully compatible with the Olympic Charter. Secondly, to reinstate with immediate effect all bodies of the Kuwait Olympic Committee and sports federations and clubs that were dissolved by the sports authority a few months ago and which are recognized by international sports organizations. Thirdly, to withdraw with immediate effect all pending legal actions initiated by Kuwait against IOC and international federations.

Babtain considered this as a roadmap from IOC to resolve the sports crisis, while Tabtabaei called on the minister to respond positively to the three demands of the IOC. Tabtabaei said he will wait until January 11, the ultimatum given by the Asian Football Federation to Kuwait, and if no steps are taken, he will file to grill the minister. The lawmaker said that the number of MPs needed to support a no-confidence motion against the minister is available. If this is true, such a vote will automatically dismiss the minister. MP Safa Al-Hashem said on her Twitter account that the minister is required to reinstate the dissolved sports bodies, withdraw all court cases and then step down.

Separately, the court of cassation yesterday accepted a request by the government to freeze the application of a verdict by the lower and appeals courts that ordered the government to return the revoked citizenship of media owner Ahmad Jabr Al-Shimmari and his children. Shimmari, the owner of Al-Youm television and Alam Al-Youm newspaper, both shut by the government, won orders from the criminal court that his citizenship should be reinstated two years after it was revoked. The ruling was supported by the appeals court which ordered that the citizenship should be returned immediately. As the case went to the cassation court, the last stage of the lawsuit, the government asked the court to suspend implementing the decision until its ruling on the case.

By B Izzak