Major breakthrough in MiG deal investigation

=The Island Special Report precipitates reopening of probe in Ukraine
= Key witness gives statement to Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office



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By C.A. Chandraprema


Following The Island’s three part Special Report on ‘The Rajapaksa Govt.’s controversial MiG deal’ in mid-May this year, we reliably learn that the Ukrainian authorities have reopened their investigation into this transaction which took place in 2006 between the Sri Lanka Air Force and the Ukrainian state owned enterprise UKRINMASH. The Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID) has said it contacted the Ukrainian Justice Ministry through the Sri Lankan Justice Ministry and the Ukrainian authorities informed Sri Lanka by letter dated 24 June 2016 that no contract had been signed between the Sri Lankan Air Force and UKRIMNASH and that UKRINMASH had not signed any contract with Bellimissa Holdings either. The FCID has also reported the following facts:


1. The 2006 contract for the supply of four MiG-27s and overhaul of four other MiG aircraft was signed in two different places with UKRINMASH and the financier Bellimissa Holdings signing the contract at the official residence of Udayanga Weeratunga, the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Russia, and the contracts being thereafter brought to Colombo by Weeratunga to be signed by the Air Force Commander.


2. Weeratunga brought the 2006 MiG contract to Sri Lanka in quadruplicate after it had been signed by the representatives of UKRINMASH and Bellimissa Holdings in Russia. Upon the Air Force Commander placing his signature on it, he had left one copy with the Air Force and had taken away the other three copies saying that they had to be given to UKRINMASH and Bellimissa Holdings.


3. The original contract No: SLAF/2006/07/AIR for the supply of four MiG-27 aircraft and the overhaul of four other MiG aircraft was in the possession of the Air Force until 4 June 2009, when it was taken into the custody of now retired Air Vice Marshall Jayanath Kumarasiri to be produced as evidence in another case and that it had been in the possession of this officer until 12 September 2014 when he retired but that there is no evidence to show that it was handed over to the clerks in his department when he retired, and that the original copy is now missing.


4. The FCID also said that the signature of UKRINMASH Director D. A. Peregudov in the contract appears different to his signature in other correspondence with the Air Force. The embassy official in Russia who witnessed the signatures on the 2006 MiG contract has also told the FCID that he did not know the persons who signed on behalf of UKRINMASH and Bellimissa Holdings and there appeared to be a difference between the signature of D. A. Peregudov that in the contract and his earlier correspondence with the government of Sri Lanka.


Based on the letter received from the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office stating that UKRINMASH had not signed any contracts with the Sri Lanka Air Force or Belimissa Holdings, and the above facts which came to light in the course of the investigation, the FCID reported that 2006 contract bearing No: SLAF/2006/07/AIR for the supply of four MiG-27 aircraft and the overhaul of four other MiG aircraft was a forgery, which Udayanga Weeratunga had presented to the Air Force Commander and obtained his signature on it through misrepresentation. On this basis, the FCID held that Weeratunga had committed the offences of forgery, cheating and the use of forged documents coming under Sections 454, 457, 400 and 459 of the Penal Code and also the dishonest misappropriation of public property through the falsification of documents which comes under Section 5 of the Offences Against Public Property Act No: 12 of 1982.


However, back in 2006 when questions were first raised about the MiG deal by two English newspapers, what was called into question was the difference in the prices paid for MiG aircraft in 2000 and 2006 and the fact that in 2006, the purchase money including the transport costs had been paid to a third party and not directly to the supplier. As we pointed out in our Special Report on this matter back in May this year, both these can be quite adequately and satisfactorily explained by perusing the documentation pertaining to the transaction. Back in 2006, nobody was even remotely suggesting that this entire contract was a forgery and that Udayanga Weeratunga had produced a forged document and defrauded the Sri Lankan state of the money paid for the MiG aircraft. However, that is the direction in which the FCID investigation went after the Ukrainian authorities had written to Sri Lanka on 24 June 2016 stating that there was no contract between UKRINMASH and the Sri Lankan Air Force and no contract between UKRINMASH and the financier of the transaction Bellimissa Holdings either.


Such an assertion was quite bizarre given the fact that UKRINMASH had had many dealings with Sri Lanka since the early 1990s, and four MiGs belonging to the SL Air Force had been fully overhauled in Ukraine in 2006 under the direct observation of SL Air Force officers who had been stationed in the UKRINMASH premises for the purpose and four additional MiG 27s had been bought and delivered and all the aircraft had been very effectively used in the war and were still in the possession of the Sri Lanka Air Force. Following our Special Report in mid-May, the Ukrainian authorities have taken steps to reopen their investigation into the case of the missing contract documents. The Prosecutor General’s Office in Ukraine has now obtained a statement from Gennadii Studenikin the then Deputy Director of UKRINMASH, who had signed the 2006 MiG contract with Sri Lanka on behalf of D. A. Peregudov, Director of UKRINMASH.


Studenikin, who gave his statement over a period of three days has told the investigating officer Y. D. Kovalchuk that the agreement among the Sri Lanka Air Force, UNRINMASH and Bellimissa Holdings bearing number SLAF/2006/07/AIR signed on 26 July 2006 was a genuine agreement, and that he had signed it on behalf of UKRINMASH at the residence of the Sri Lankan ambassador to Russia. He also stated that the agreement had been signed by other employees of UKRINMASH as witnesses and that an officer of the Sri Lankan embassy had certified their signatures. Studenikin has also confirmed that he visited Sri Lanka with a team from UKRINMASH and negotiated the contract with Air Force officers over a period of two days. He has stated that he met many officers of the Sri Lanka Air Force including the Air Force Commander when they visited Ukraine and several rounds of discussions about this contract took place in Ukraine as well. He has also referred to the ‘letter of guarantee’ dated 9 June 2006 written by Air Force Commander Donald Perera to UKRINMASH Director D. A. Peregudov guaranteeing that the contract for the supply of four MiG-27s and the overhaul of four other MiG aircraft would be signed before 30 June 2006 and requested them to begin the overhaul of the planes without waiting for the contract to be signed in view of the possibility of the resumption of war in Sri Lanka. Studenikin has further told the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office that he was involved in work relating to this contract over a period of about three years.


We learn that the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office will be interviewing the other employees of UKRINMASH who had anything to do with this contract in the coming days. The statement given by Gennadii Studenikin to the effect that there was in fact a contract between UKRINMASH and the Sri Lanka Air Force which he had negotiated and signed himself, will have a major impact on the FCID’s present line of investigation into the MiG deal on the basis that there was no contract and that forged documents had been used to defraud the Sri Lankan state of millions of US Dollars.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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