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Autopsies prove Minister, Prisons and Police wrong

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Clashes among Mahara prisoners caused deaths?

*SJB points out AG faulted IGP over Mahara riot
 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Investigations into the Mahara prison riot that claimed the lives of 11 inmates and wounded over 100 recently have taken a new turn with eight post mortems conducted so far revealing that all of them died of gunshot injuries.

In the run-up post-mortems conducted by a five-member team comprising four consultant judicial medical officers and a ballistic expert from the Government Analyst’s Department, both police headquarters and the Office of the Commissioner General of Prisons repeatedly alleged that the deaths were due to fierce clashes among remanded suspects and convicted prisoners.

Clashes erupted following protests launched by inmates demanding immediate measures to thwart the spread of the corona epidemic in the Mahara prison. So far, over 3,000 positive cases have been reported from prisons.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday (25) confirmed that autopsies revealed all eight bodies bore marks of gunshot injuries. Asked how many statements had been recorded by the police so far in connection with Mahara riots, DIG Rohana, who is also the senior officer in charge of the Police Legal Division, said wounded inmates were among 726 questioned by Thursday (24).

At the time of the Mahara prison riot, approximately 2,800 persons, including 600 convicted were held in the overcrowded facility.

Prisons Management and Prisons Rehabilitation Minister Lohan Ratwatte, having visited devastated Mahara prison told Parliament on Dec 3 that none of those killed during the riot had suffered gunshot injuries.

The Attorney General’s Department made an application at the Wattala Magistrate’s Court for the appointment of a panel of experts to conduct the post-mortem on Mahara victims when the family members and rights activists called upon the government not to cremate them without a post-mortem.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), too, intervened in the matter. The HRCSL instructed the Ragama Hospital to retain bodies till the autopsies were conducted. Three autopsies have yet to be conducted.

At the onset of the investigation, the focus was on claims by the Police headquarters and the Prisons Department that the rioters had been under the influence of drugs. Both Departments said the Prison Dispensary had stored over 21,000 tablets prescribed for mental disorders, and sleeping pills.

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Colombo District MP Mujibur Rahman yesterday (25) told The Island that the government owed an explanation as to how all autopsies conducted so far had proved inmates died due to gunshot injuries.

At the time of the riots, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle was in charge of prisons. Soon after the Mahara violence, Kandy District lawmaker Ratwatte succeeded Dr. Fernandopulle.

MP Rahman said they were awaiting the autopsies of the remaining three bodies and that in spite of clear evidence of fatal shootings, both Police Headquarters and Prisons Department continued to insist that the deaths had been caused by clashes among remand prisoners.

MP Rahman pointed out that Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, had blamed IGP C. D. Wickremaratne for congestion in prisons while President Gotabaya Rajapaksa faulted the Government Analyst, the AG and the police for the prison crisis.

MP Rahman said that State Minister Ratwatte should reveal the person who assured him that none of the Mahara deaths had been caused by gunshots.

Magisterial inquiry in respect of Mahara killings resumes at the Wattala Magistrate court on Wednesday (Dec 30).

Lawmaker Rahman said that the government couldn’t turn a blind eye to the report submitted by a five-member committee headed by retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena that justified the inmates’ grievances. The SJB spokesperson asked whether the government had made a deliberate bid to deceive Parliament and the people. Some government members went to the extent of complaining of a conspiracy to discredit President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government by engineering Mahara riot.

Rahman said that the ongoing investigation should clarify AG’s statement as regards the IGP’s culpability and added that he had never heard AG making such an allegation against a serving Police Chief.

The SJB MP noted that the accusation was made in the presence of Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC and Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya.

Rahman asked the government who would accept responsibility for the Mahara killings.

The AG alleged that the Mahara incident could have been avoided if the IGP had carried out instructions the former had issued in April this year. MP Rahman said that the government couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for Mahara killings. He said all the victims had tested corona positive.



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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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