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Almanac case: Colombo HC acquits and discharges BR et al

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Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa charged with misappropriation of state funds to the tune of Rs.29.4 million rupees for printing 100,000 almanacs with a portrait of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was exonerated of all charges by the High Court yesterday. Rajapaksa leaving court. Pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja.

By A.J.A. Abeynayake

Colombo High Court yesterday acquitted and released Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and former Director General of the Divineguma Development Department Kithsiri Ranawaka from the 2015 almanacs distribution case; they were accused of misappropriating public funds to the tune of Rs. 29.4 million.

Announcing the verdict, Colombo High Court Judge Damith Thotawatte said that the evidence presented by the prosecution in the case had failed to prove the allegations against the accused.

The judge said: “According to the testimony of Dilan Kaluarachchi of the Divineguma Department who testified in this case, the printing the almanacs took place in 2011. The witness stated that since the inception of the Divineguma Department, it had been carried out in accordance with the objectives of the department. The witness stated that the printing of the almanacs for the year 2015, which is the basis of this case, had taken place in the latter half of 2014 according to the same process.”

The judge said that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there had been an abuse or a violation of the provisions of the Presidential Election Act through the process of printing and distributing the almanacs.

Accordingly, the defendants were acquitted and released without calling for a defence statement, the judge concluded.

The judge also ordered that if there was any travel ban imposed on the accused by his court, steps should be taken to lift it and release the bail money deposited by the accused with the court.

The Attorney General had filed indictments against Basil Rajapaksa and former Divi Neguma Department Director General Kithsiri Ranawaka in the Colombo High Court for having printed five million almanacs with the image of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa thereon at a cost of Rs. 29.4 million by utilising funds belonging to the Divi Neguma Department, to be used as election propaganda material ahead of the January 2015 presidential election.



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BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”

 “Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.

 “We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”

The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.

 The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

Full text of the BASL letter to the President:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.

Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.

The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.

We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.

The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.

The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.

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SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution

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By A.J.A. Abeynayake

A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.

The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.

The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.

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A/L may be delayed by one month

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Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.

Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.

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