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American foreign agent who cheated SL out of $ 6.5 mn gets 12-year jail term in US

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* Zuberi, American of Pakistani and Indian descent was hired by SL embassy in US in 2014

A Los Angeles-based venture capitalist and political fundraiser who faced several felony charges related to his work as a foreign agent, including cheating the Sri Lankan government out of millions of dollars promising to rebuild the country’s image following the end of the LTTE war, was sentenced on Thursday (18) to 144 months in federal prison, foreign media reported.

Imaad Shah Zuberi, 50, of Arcadia, California, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, who also ordered him to pay $ 15,705,080 in restitution and a criminal fine of $1.75 million.

The media, including the US-based ‘Sri Lanka Express’ quoted prosecutors as having said Zuberi had given illegal campaign contributions to Joe Biden, Lindsey Graham and a host of other US politicians.

Investigations revealed that Zuberi had received USD 6.5 mn in 2014 from the then Sri Lankan government after the conclusion of the war in May 2009 to thwart US moves against this country. The following year, the US had an accountability resolution passed at the UNHRC against Sri Lanka.

The sentencing took place less than a week ahead of the commencement of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

The UNP-led yahapalana government exposed Zuberi’s involvement in high profile Sri Lanka project, but baulked at initiating a probe.

In November 2019, Zuberi pleaded guilty to a three-count information charging him with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by making false statements on a FARA filing, tax evasion, and making illegal campaign contributions. In June 2020, Zuberi pleaded guilty in a separate case to one count of obstruction of justice. His sentence today pertains to both cases.

The obstruction charge to which Zuberi pleaded guilty in June 2020 stemmed from a federal investigation into a $900,000 donation from Zuberi through his company to the Donald Trump presidential inaugural committee in late 2016. Some of the funds Zuberi donated to the committee came from other people, including one individual who gave him a $50,000 check.

“Zuberi turned acting as an unregistered foreign agent into a business enterprise,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers in a press statement issued by the U.S. Justice Department . “He used foreign money to fund illegal campaign contributions that bought him political influence, and used that influence to lobby US officials for policy changes on behalf of numerous foreign principals.”

Demers said Zuberi, while concealing lucrative agreements with foreign principals, also made false statements about them in a FARA filing.

“After learning he was under investigation, Zuberi doubled down on his criminal conduct, obstructing justice by creating false records, destroying evidence, and attempting to purchase witnesses’ silence. This sentence should deter others who would seek to corrupt our political processes and compromise our institutions in exchange for foreign cash.”

Zuberi operated Avenue Ventures LLC, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, and solicited foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments with claims he could use his contacts in Washington, D.C. to change U.S. foreign policy and create business opportunities for his clients and himself.

In addition to consulting fees, his foreign clients advanced funds to Zuberi to make investments, or to fund campaign contributions. Zuberi hired lobbyists, retained public relations professionals, and made campaign contributions that gave him access to high-level U.S. officials, some of whom acted in support of his clients.

As evidence of his access and influence, Zuberi distributed to his clients photographs of himself discussing policy with elected officials.

Among the top-ranking politicians with whom Zuberi met were former President Obama, then Senator Biden, former President Bill Clinton, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Through myriad international contacts and business partners, Imaad Shah Zuberi was able to raise money and gain influence among the highest political circles in the US. Zuberi used his status to solicit funds for lobbying, campaign contributions, and investments, but ultimately swindled his business partners and pocketed most of the funds for himself,” said Special Agent in Charge Ryan Korner of IRS-Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office.

Korner accused Zuberi, Zuberi is a naturalized American of Pakistani and Indian descent, of being “an opportunist at his core” who used political figures across the aisle to lend an appearance of credibility to his “political charades.”

The Sri Lankan government through its embassy in Washington hired Zuberi in 2014 to boost the country’s image in the United States vis-a-vis various allegations.

The Justice Department said: “Zuberi promised to make substantial expenditures on lobbying efforts, legal expenses, and media buys, which prompted Sri Lanka to agree to pay Zuberi a total of $8.5 million over the course of six months in 2014. Days after Sri Lanka made an initial payment of $3.5 million, Zuberi transferred $1.6 million into his personal brokerage accounts and used another $1.5 million to purchase real estate.”

In total, Sri Lanka wired $6.5 million pursuant to the contract, and Zuberi used more than $5.65 million of that money to the benefit of himself and his wife. Zuberi paid less than $850,000 to lobbyists, public relations firms and law firms, and refused to pay certain subcontractors based on false claims that Sri Lanka had not provided sufficient funds to pay invoices.

On his 2014 tax return, Zuberi claimed income of $558,233 received as lobbying fees from the Sri Lankan government while failing to report more than $5.65 million paid by Colombo. “Zuberi’s tax evasion over the course of four years – 2012 through 2015 – caused tax losses ranging from $3.5 million to as much as $9.5 million.”

Zuberi was also accused of siphoning funds invested in U.S. Cares, a company set up to export humanitarian aid to Iran. In 2013 and 2014, Zuberi used more than 90 percent of the approximately $7 million investors deposited into U.S. Cares for his personal benefit, which included purchasing real estate, paying down debt such as mortgages and credit card bills, remodeling properties, investing in brokerage accounts, and donating $250,000 to a non-profit organization established by a former high-ranking elected official.

Zuberi violated the Federal Election Campaign Act in 2015 by making conduit contributions in the names of other people, reimbursing contributions made by others, and being reimbursed for contributions he made. Over a five-year period – 2012 through 2016 – he made or solicited more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions.

Zuberi is expected to report to prison May 25.



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Geneva HR vote:

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UK, Canada seek to influence member states against Lanka

The Sri Lanka Core group members, Canada and the UK, are campaigning hard to muster support for their resolution against Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka Core group consists of Canada, Germany, the UK, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Malawi.

Canada High Commissioner David McKinnon met the Bangladesh High Commissioner Tareq Ariful Islam, at the Canada House, Colombo 07.

Sources said that meetings between diplomats of those countries were rare. Bangladesh is a member o the f UNHRC. The meeting at the Canada House took place close on the heels of the UK HC Sarah Hulton meeting South Korean Ambassador Woonjin Jeong. South Korea is also a member of the UNHRC.

The 47-member UNHRC is divided into five groups on regional basis. The Asia-Pacific Group consists of Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Marshall Islands, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Uzbekistan; Western Europe and Other States consists of Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and UK; Eastern European States consists of Armenia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine; Latin American and Caribbean States group consists of Argentina, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela and African States group consists of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Gabon, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Namibia, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Togo. (SF)

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CEB Chairman: Country would have been facing daily power cuts if not for MR’s initiative

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by Ifham Nizam

The country would have been facing a daily power cut of eight hours if not for the initiative taken by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he was the President, to commence the first coal fired power plant complex at Norochcholai, said Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Chairman Engineer Vijitha Herath at yesterday’s inauguration of the first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) power plant in Sri Lanka.

PM Rajapaksa was the Chief Guest at the event. The CEB head stressed that if not for the Norochchoali plant the country would have lost more than Rs. 100 billion annually.

Power Minister Dullas Alahaperuma said that since the construction of the Norochcholai power plant in 2013, no large scale power plant had been built.

“Today, we are paying for this. Only small hydro power plants and solar power plants have been added to the national grid,” Alahaperuma said.

The power minister said that the LNG plant was coming up at an important time and would bring great relief to the economy which was heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

“Let there be a power sector that is not dependent on fossil fuels. The new power plant has been constructed at Kerawalapitiya, Wattala. This has been designed in accordance with international standards with minimal environmental damage. This power plant will have the highest efficiency F class gas turbine installed. The Kerawalapitiya Power Plant is a dual cycle power plant and will be completed in two phases. The installation of the first phase, or gas turbine, will generate 220 MW, which will be completed within 21 months and added to the national grid.”

Alhaperuma said that the second phase would add another 130 megawatts to the national grid via a steam turbine, which was expected to be completed in 12 months. With a total capacity of 300 MW over the next three years, the plant was expected to meet the country’s growing electricity demand, he said.

Speaking at the event Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stressed that the government wanted to provide electricity at affordable prices using the most advanced technology. There had been many delays in building power plants under the Yahapalana regime; but the current government would fast-track power projects, he added.

Minister Alahapperuma also said: “The LNG power plant will be a great relief to the economy. Renewable energy is the future. It was clearly mentioned in the President’s vision of prosperity as well as in the Mahinda Chinthana. Our goal is an economy fully armed with renewable energy.”

State Ministers Duminda Dissanayake, Susil Premajayantha, Nimal Lansa, Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Energy Wasantha Perera, LTL CEO of Lakdanavi Affiliates U.D. Jayawardena, and a large number of people’s representatives and government officials were present.

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US Secretary of State names Lankan for International Women of Courage (IWOC) award

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Lankan Human Rights Activist and Attorney-At-Law Ranitha Gnanarajah is among the recipients of this year’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) award presented by the United States Secretary of State.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will host the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards virtual ceremony to honour a group of extraordinary women from around the world on Monday, March 8, at 10:00 am, the U.S. State Department announced.

The First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden will deliver remarks to recognize the courageous accomplishments of these women.

Now in its 15th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment – often at great personal risk and sacrifice, the US State Department says.

According to the biographies of the finalists for the 2012 IWOC Awards, Sri Lanka’s Ranitha Gnanarajah, a lawyer, and Head of the Legal Department of the Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) Sri Lanka continues to fight for and defend the rights of the marginalized and vulnerable communities in the country, despite threats and challenges by the state.

“Ranitha has dedicated her career to accountability and justice for victims of enforced disappearances and prisoners detained often for years without charge under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act by providing free legal aid and related services. As an individual personally affected by the conflict and based on her extensive experience working with victims and their families, Ranitha has demonstrated tremendous passion and dedication to justice and accountability, especially for Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable populations.”

From the inception of this award in March 2007, the Department of State has recognized more than 155 awardees from over 75 countries.

U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries, and finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials.

Following the virtual IWOC ceremony, the awardees will participate in an International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) virtual exchange and connect with their American counterparts.

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