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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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Appointment of GM led to CEB chief’s resignation?

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By Ifham Nizam

Amidst further deterioration of the power crisis, the Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) M.M.C. Ferdinando has tendered his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In a letter to the President, the Attorney-at-Law said that he is quitting due to personal reasons. Ferdinando will resign as Chairman/Member of the Electricity Board with effect from Feb. 1.

Sources close to Ferdinando said that the incumbent CEB Chairman did not want to be in that position following the appointment of Eng. Dr. D.C.R. Abeysekera as CEB General Manager. Abeysekera received his letter of appointment from Ferdinando on Tuesday (25).

Abeysekera received the appointment at the expense of Dr. Susantha Perera, whose designation as the GM on a temporary basis was resisted by the engineers’ union as he is a retiree.

Retired public servant Ferdinando was brought in as the CEB Chairman on July 19, last year soon after Sri Lanka entered into what was called a framework agreement with the US energy firm, New Fortress Energy. The agreement now challenged in the Supreme Court was finalised on 17 Sept, last year with Ferdinando endorsing it as an Advisor to the Finance Ministry.

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UK indicates sanctions against Lanka military

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By Shamindra Ferdinnado

Close on the heels of UK Foreign Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad’s three-day visit here, the House of Commons has been told that measures were being contemplated as regards the Sri Lankan military.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Minister Amanda Milling has told Parliament that the government regularly engaged with the US and other partners on issues relating to Sri Lanka. She has further said: “The UK government keeps all evidence and potential designations under the UK Global Human Rights sanctions regime under close review, guided by the objectives of the sanctions regime. We would not normally speculate about future sanctions targets, as to do so could reduce their impact.”

The Conservative Party member was responding to Labour Party’s Siobhain McDonagh on Tuesday (25). MP Milling was responding to a query McDonagh posed to the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Elizabeth Truss, what assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the sanctions imposed by the US on General Shavendra Silva of the Sri Lankan army.

The US in Feb 2020 imposed a travel ban on General Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Recently, the US extended its action against the Sri Lankan military by issuing travel ban on retired Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera.

The UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has commended the British stand.

Concerned Lankan military sources said that the UK in its capacity as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was planning further measures ahead of the next human rights sessions.

UK based sources told The Island that that type of written parliamentary question was usually answered by a government minister from the FCDO.

Sources explained as this particular question dealt with Sri Lanka, the minister responsible was Lord Tariq Ahmad, but as he represented the House of Lords he couldn’t make statements in the Commons chamber.

Sources added that it would be rare that a question on Sri Lanka would be directly responded to by the Foreign Secretary Truss

Commons member Amanda Milling is Minister of State for Asia, therefore her portfolio closely matches Tariq Ahmad’s brief.

Incidentally, the FCDO now has a British Tamil in a senior position. Maya Sivagnanam is South Asia Deputy Director for the Indian Ocean Region at the FCDO.

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JCPSM token strike cripples hospitals in Western Province

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Strikers want Health Ministry to solve their problems within 10 days

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Joint Council of Professions Supplementary to Medicine (JCPSM) launched a 24-hour token strike yesterday (26) at 7 am at all hospitals in the Western Province. It consists of 16 unions.

The JCPSM has urged the government to address its members’s grievances including salary anomalies and issues related promotions. The strike had crippled hospitals in the province, Health Ministry sources said.

The JCPSM said emergency care, essential services and the treatment of COVID patients had not been affected by the strike.

President of the Government Nurses’ Association and former UNP National List MP Saman Rathnapriya said they had been urging the government to solve their problems for the past two months.

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island that they would end the token strike by 7 am today m(27) and thereafter give the government 10 days to address their demands.

“We will launch a continuous strike if the demands are not met within 10 days,” he said.

President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) Dr. Rukshan Bellana said that most unions seemed to have lost the ability to solve disputes through negotiations.

“The unions have become too politicised, and the people are suffering as a result.”

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