FM denies knowledge of Lankan’s legal status in US

Jaliya sans diplomatic immunity ‘held up’ overseas for nearly a year



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Ministry denied any knowledge of Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Washington Jaliya Wickramasooriya’s efforts to return home from the US since late last year.

"We are not privy to Mr. Wickramasooriya’s current status as per the US legal system," Senior Director General (Legal), C.A.H.M. Wijeratne said. Wijeratne said so in response to the following query: "Would it be possible to know the status of Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Washington Jaliya Wickramasooriya following GoSL decision to deprive him of diplomatic immunity?

Is he now in the custody of the US legal system?

The Island raised the issue with the Foreign Ministry in accordance with the Right to Information (RTI) Law enacted by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in Feb 2017.

According to documents submitted to the Fort Magistrate Court in respect of a case involving Wickramasooriya in alleged embezzlement of funds in 2013, the political appointee was granted permission to seek medical treatment overseas. Wickramasooriya was to return before Sept 25, 2017.

Having assured Shavindra Fernando, PC, the counsel for Wickramasooriya on Oct 6, 2017 that his client’s diplomatic immunities hadn’t been waived with regard to his actions as the Ambassador to the US, the GoSL waived off such immunities on Oct 23, 2017 immediately after receiving a diplomatic note from the US embassy in Colombo.

Interestingly, the diplomatic note dated Oct 23, 2017 received from the US embassy has been included in the list of documents submitted to the court. Having informed the Foreign Ministry of Wickramasooriya being under probe for the misappropriation, theft and embezzlement of public funds and laundering such funds, the US embassy sought denial of diplomatic immunity to him. On the basis of US law enforcement authorities assertion, the US embassy alleged Wickramasooriya had ‘falsely inflated the sales price’ of the Sri Lankan embassy by approximately USD 332,000.

Wickramasooriya’s case is now pending in the United States District Court for the District of Colombia.

According to the US embassy Wickramasooriya had violated US money laundering and wire fraud laws by laundering these funds via shell companies.

The US Attorney’s Office has warned Wickramasooriya’s counsel there that the Sri Lankan would be arrested at the airport if he tried to leave. The warning has been given on Nov 22, 2017

Responding to The Island queries, PC Shavendra Fernando explained that the Supreme Court had been moved against the Court of Appeal decision not to hear the case pertaining to denial of diplomatic immunity to Wickramasooriya on the basis it was done on a presidential directive.

Fernando said that while the Fort Magistrate court had been repeatedly told Wickramasooriya violated bail conditions by not returning as directed, the government created the conditions for his continued ‘detention’ in the US by waiving his diplomatic immunity.

In a letter dated Sept 27, 2017, addressed to Foreign Minister Tilak Marapona, Fernando asserted that the ongoing US effort was meant to compel Wickramasooriya to make ‘certain statements, including matters pertaining to the last phase of the war which could be totally damaging and detrimental to Sri Lanka."

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