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‘Bad Boy Billionaires’ of Sri Lanka

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By UPALI COORAY

This headline quotation in part, is the title of a Netflix series “Bad Boy Billionaires”. This Netflix series brings out some of the epoch-making financial scams in India. The documentary film exposes the truth in an investigation in major corruption scandals, money laundering in India involving Vijay Mallaya (Kingfisher Airlines) Subrata Roy (Sahara India) Nirav Modi (Gitanjali group) Ramalinga Raju (Sathyamgani computers)

Among these scammers Subrata Roy has done something which has parallels in Sri Lanka.

India’s market regulator petitioned the Supreme Court to direct tycoon Subrata Roy to an immediate payment of 626 billion rupees ($8.4 billion) meant for poor investors.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India said the outstanding liability of the Sahara India Parivar group’s two companies and the conglomerate’s chief Roy stand at 626 billion rupees, including interest, according to court filings.

India’s Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that Sahara group of companies violated securities laws and illegally raised over $3.5 billion. The companies said monies were raised in cash from millions of poorest of the poor of Indians who could not avail banking facilities. SEBI could not trace the investors and when Sahara firms failed to pay up, the court sent Roy to jail.

Roy, who at different times owned an airline, Formula one team, cricket team, plush hotels in London and New York, and financial companies, stayed in jail for over two years and has been out on parole since 2016.

The Sahara story, almost a decade after the final judgment, is far from over. Roy has so far deposited over 150 billion rupees, SEBI said in the court filing, while the Sahara group said it had deposited 220 billion rupees.

Financial scams in our country have increased in recent times and not a day passes without news of customers being cheated by finance companies, etc. Let’s start with the oldest of Sri Lankan con- artistes Emil Savundra or Emil Savundranayagam, who was a Sri Lankan who settled down in Britain in 1960, a born cheat. The collapse of his Fire, Auto and Marine Insurance Company left about 400,000 motorists in the United Kingdom without cover.

As a post-war bootlegger, Savundra committed bribery and fraud on an international scale before settling down in the UK to sell low-cost insurance in the fast-growing automotive market. By defaulting on mandatory securities, he funded a lavish lifestyle and travelled in fashionable circles even with the famous Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. He was into power boat racing too.

This drew scrutiny by the press, which discovered major frauds. In a TV interview with David Frost, Savundra demonstrated contempt for his defrauded customers. The police had been investigating him, and he was soon arrested and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Released after six, Savundra died two years later as a drug addict.

Piyadasa Ratnayaka alias Danduvam Mudalali of Hungama, Southern province, had allegedly accepted deposits from over 20,000 investors in a pyramid scheme. He was on bail for the alleged financial scam. Mudalali was killed by an unknown armed gang in Pusallawatte, Kuruwita.

Hideki Finance and Investments, which went bust in 1987, had over 4,000 depositors. The Central Bank had to intervene and pay the depositors their dues in instalments.

The multi-million rupee ‘Sakvithi’ scam by Sakithi Ranasingha did not spare even the handicapped or the sick, as it plundered the wealth of thousands of unsuspecting customers who suddenly realised that all their savings had gone up in smoke. About 5,000 investors were defrauded to the tune of 900 million rupees. A Police inspector was also allegedly involved in the scam, which was exposed following a raid by the Central Bank on unregistered financial institutions.

Kingsley de Silva, an ex-naval rating suffering from a chronic kidney ailment, has been robbed of Rs. 1.2 million — money he had saved for a life-saving surgery. This money, the 65-year-old Mr. Silva said, included payment he received from the Navy on retirement and the rest from the part-sale of ancestral land in Maharagama. He did not know what to do or whom to turn to.

Dulanjan Atapattu, a retired government teacher was due to undergo heart surgery. He needed extra money for the operation and medication, and invested his savings in what he thought would be an income-generating scheme.

“I invested Rs. 2 million after selling my house. Initially, I got a monthly interest, and was impressed with the return. But I was soon to be proved wrong,”

With a self-esteem as philanthropists, embracing the word of God, the very name Deshamanya Dr. Lalith Kotelawala and Lady Dr. Sicille Kotelawala evoked respect, trust and above all a sense of security. That was why 9,054 people in this country, trusted the duo with millions of rupees, in some cases tens of millions of rupees in life savings. Maybe part of those millions belonging to some depositors was black money. Perhaps, some of them invested their money to evade paying tax to the government, or they were just plain greedy or a mixture of both. After all, why did they not invest the monies with financially stable banks?

Whatever the case, they were confident that their savings/loot would be safe in the hands of two human beings held in the highest esteem. There were leading businessmen, civil servants, Buddhist monks, Christian clergy and world-renowned Sri Lanka cricketers, who would never have resorted to money laundering, were also deceived.

When Golden Key collapsed like a pack of cards in December in the year 2008, and as the unsavoury details unraveled in staggered scenes of drama, horrified, dismayed depositors who had been earning as much as 30 and 32 percent on their investments at Golden Key, were forced to come to grips with the fact that soon their monies would be confined to mere numbers on a piece of paper. Soon to be identified as one of the biggest white-collar frauds.

Held in esteem by those who claimed to be his friends and say they trusted him wholeheartedly. Today, these same people spit his name out with vilification. Thousands of families robbed of a monthly interest amounting from thousands to millions of rupees, earned off their capital investment with Golden Key.

At least one depositor from this list, Lady Dr. Sicille Kotelawala will have no such qualms. Her investment in Golden Key was to the tune of Rs. 10.6 million only. A paltry sum by her standards. Even that most likely is what she skimmed off from the company itself. After all, according to court documents she was paid a staggering Rs. 3.5 million a month for being the Deputy Chairperson was just peanuts. She was rich enough not to have to worry about paying for groceries or medicines.

From lower middle-class families to upper, from the rich to the superrich there was no class distinction between the 9,054 people who entrusted their monies with Golden Key.

The strange thing is that most of the big depositors are businessmen who understand finance. They would have known that the unrealistically high interest rates paid by Golden Key could not be sustained. They would have also known that it was not registered with the Central Bank. But then again, the company had been in existence since 1978, and the collapse of the Ceylinco Empire had been predicted for more than a decade. You can run a pyramid scheme for so long, only if new depositors keep depositing money in.

After 10 years of agitation the depositors were paid by the Central Bank with funds from liquidated assets of the collapsed venture.

What is important to note is that most of these company founders were well-respected businessmen in Sri Lanka.

Justin Kotalawala the founder of Ceylinco insurance was a well-respected businessman in the country. He was related to one-time prime minister Sir John Kotalawala.

Sakvithi Ranasingha was a private tuition master highly respected by his students and their parents. He abused his reputation to deceive the unsuspecting depositors and lived a lavish life. In fact, he taught English to prisoners while in jai.

Late E.A.P Edirisinghe and his spouse Late Soma Edirisinghe – Desha Bandu Desha Shakthi and a Honorary Doctorate from Open University of Sri Lanka, an unparalleled feat of being awarded the “Lion of the year” on four occasions and many more, were entrepreneurs who would never have resorted to deception. They were pawn brokers, jewellers, film producers, cinema and TV channel owners and philanthropists. The ETI finance matter is sub judice and, therefore, will not be discussed any further.

Late Kattar Aloysius, the founder of Free Lanka Trading company, a well-known businessman in the country who was initially a major exporter of dried fish, but subsequently diversified into industrial products, granite, indenting agent for importing commodities to Sri Lanka, agents for alcoholic beverages such as cognac, Dewar’s whisky, etc. He was respected among the business circles here and abroad.

Now, the name of Aloysius is synonymous with the Treasury bond scams.

As you sow so shall you reap.

 

 

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Opinion

Where are the Maha Nayakes?

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Coincidentally, February 26th was Navam Full Moon day, when after 20 years of attaining enlightenment, the Buddha preached the “Vinaya Pitakaya” or the code of conduct for Buddhist monks. It is sad that that the majority of them hardly heed the principles laid down there.

I was anyway, contemplating writing a piece on the conduct of Malcom Cardinal Ranjith on national issues when Dr Upul Wijayawardhana beat me to it with an excellent piece in today’s (26.02.21) The Island!

The Cardinal has been very discreetly and without undue emotions addressing the national issues at stake with substance and authority, and the appropriate actions the government should take. By contrast our Buddhist priests often deviate on political riffraff, praising the political leadership or criticizing it, rather than confining themselves to the matters at stake! Often their utterances over electronic media are disdainful, full of emotion and very unbecoming of monkhood! They are unaware that the moment one becomes emotional, one loses self-control and make a mess of things! They should take a ‘leaf from the ‘Cardinal’s Bible’, as it were!

There is no argument that priests, Buddhist or otherwise should take evidence-based stands on national issues and endeavour to move the political authority in the right direction. They should not go to praise the President or other politicians unduly, but confine themselves to facts of the matter as the Cardinal always does.

What is most disdainful is the manner in which Buddhist monks conduct themselves in protest rallies, often shouting slogans, forcefully breaking through security defenses, and even climbing windows! Very often the leaders of mass demonstrations, especially of universities, are priests. Of course, they do so, knowing that the police will handle them gently, with dignity and respect!

It is noteworthy that other religious leaders hardly participate in protest demonstrations. Even if they do so it is done in a peaceful manner. Our Buddhist priests should follow suit.

The question is where the leading monks who should discipline the juniors are. Many of them are, sadly, the culprits themselves! Have they at least read the “Vinayapitakaya”? Moreover, I am not aware of any instances of Mahanayakas endeavouring to discipline monks. Should they not at least ensure their conduct is on the key principles of “Vinaya Pitakaya”? It is time the Mahanayakas and other leading Buddhist monks addressed this vital issue of discipline of monks as matter of highest priority.

 

Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

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Opinion

A drive of great memories

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Sanjeewa Jayaweera’s recent recollections (The Island 25/2) of advantages of coming from Ceylon/SL – or rather “benefits” accruing from Mrs B’s permitting Pakistan to use Ceylon/SL airspace in 1971 — when he was living in Pakistan, remind me of similar experiences in 1974.

Four of us drove overland (well, only one of us could drive then) in a Beetle from London to Sri Lanka, taking nearly six months. At the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, neither side checked our heavily laden car.

We had gotten used to cooking for ourselves in many countries, and camping up to Turkey; so we always carried basic foodstuffs. In Pakistan, however, many things were rationed and towards the end of our stay we needed to stock up.

Just before leaving Lahore for India, we went in search of rice and sugar (rationed). One chap we happened to ask, got into the car (with four already in it and luggage overflow) and said he would get us what we needed. He insisted on giving it free — “You are my brothers!” Very strange – it was only later that we discovered the reason for this.

He jumped out near a shop and disappeared, presumably to queue somewhere. Returning with about 8lb of rice and 3 lb of sugar, he absolutely refused to accept any money. Instead, he insisted that we visit the Shalimar Gardens and wouldn’t let us pay there either. We took a photograph with him which we promised to send him. He was an Assistant Store-Keeper at Pakistan Oxygen.

However, things were slightly different at the border. The Pakistan side wouldn’t let S, our Ugandan-Asian friend, cross. No Hindu from any part of the world was allowed to cross into India. Fortunately, our group was pretty mixed (with a Sri Lankan Buddhist, Sri Lankan Muslim and an Anglo-Asian atheist! – though fortunately, that wasn’t on the passport). S’s “companion” insisted she’d become a Muslim by marriage, and signed a declaration form to that effect. Problem solved! But a moment of anxiety at Indian Customs when a cursory search was made of the car. Officials were offended by the fact that we’d brought rice with us — “We have rice in India!”

MANEL FONSEKA

 

 

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Opinion

Realities of Canada’s efforts to prevent child conscription

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Letter to PM Justin Trudeau

 

Right Honourable Prime Minister,

Canada’s efforts to prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is greatly appreciated. Your statement on the 12th of February 2021, reaffirming Canada’s commitment to draw attention to this inhumane practice with the longstanding intent of ending such conscription, along with nearly 100 UN Member States endorsing the Vancouver Principles on ‘Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers’, is most commendable.

The late Honourable Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka’s former distinguished Minister of Foreign Affairs, too devoted a great deal of time in campaigning for the same laudable objectives, and also canvassing international support towards the aims envisioned in the Vancouver Principles, and peace in Sri Lanka. He was unfortunately gunned down on August 12, 2005, by a sniper belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which group was designated as an international terrorist movement by the UNSC in September 2001, as he was emerging from the swimming pool at his residence in Colombo.

The LTTE was one such organization that abducted and conscripted children, several of whom were as young as 10 years, over a long period, that came to the attention of UNICEF that recorded a total in excess of 7634 such child soldiers. After a short period of training, they were unleashed on remote villages in the north and east of Sri Lanka settled by Sinhalese farming communities, who were set upon in the middle of the night to be hacked and shot to death while they slept, to make them combat ready. The last such village that was attacked was Gonagala in the Ampara district in the year 2000, where 62 persons were put to death, with the lucky ones escaping to the jungle to be rescued later by Sri Lanka’s security forces. Despite the LTTE signing a pledge with UNICEF’s Special Rapporteur, Olara Otunnu in 1998, and thereafter making repeated promises to the UN officials, they continued to conscript underage children to their fighting forces. They would abduct them on their way to school or homeward bound children after school hours, and by instilling fear and making threats to the parents. Subsequently, they forced each family to release a child for their separatist war effort.

These child soldiers were given combat training and were equipped with an AK47 automatic weapon and a cyanide capsule strung around their neck, to be bitten into in the event of their being captured. They were used as stormtroopers in the LTTE’s unceasing waves military strategy, adopted in battles against the Sri Lanka Army, with many of them becoming casualties in combat. Their bodies were laid to rest in the special cemeteries set up to bury the LTTE’s martyrs, with no mention of their dates of birth, and only the date of death being recorded on the gravestones in order to hide the fact that they had conscripted under age children below 15 years, which was a war crime. Some of the children so conscripted were brainwashed to become suicide bombers, with the LTTE holding the world record, having exploded around 377 human bombs.

Those responsible for the disruption of schooling and family living and care for Tamil children in Sri Lanka, are present in Canada as well, and raised funds for the terrorist war engaged in by the LTTE through extortion of Tamil expats and Tamil owned businesses, drug and human smuggling, passport fraud, and numerous other illicit activities. Following the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, and ending of the three- decade long separatist terrorist war in Sri Lanka, these LTTE activists in Canada, have donned the cloak of human rights activists to spread their fabricated stories, doctored videos, and unsubstantiated wild allegations of IHL violations and war crimes, supposed to have been committed by the Sri Lankan security forces during the last phase of the armed conflict January 1 to May 18, 2009. It is a shame that these allegations have been swallowed by the powerful countries in the west that continue to harass Sri Lanka at the UNHCR and other fora, based on these unproven alleged violations, citing Ban ki-Moon’s one sided three- member panel report headed by Marzuki Darussman, which has been locked away for 20 years till the year 2031.

Unlike these bogus allegations emanating from born again pro-LTTE Human Rights activists, Sri Lanka rescued about 300,000 Tamil civilians held by the LTTE as a human shield, in the final battleground at Mullivaikkal on the northeast coast; sheltered them in welfare camps in Vavuniya where they were fed, provided with education, vocational training, psychiatric help, etc., until the land area of almost 1,000 sq. km was cleared of landmines, houses and infrastructure restored, and made safe for resettlement in their former villages. Among those who surrendered were nearly 12,600 former LTTE fighters, including the remaining 594 child soldiers who were rehabilitated with new livelihood skills and released to their families and society, where they could be gainfully employed under the restorative justice principles adopted in their case.

A new 12-minute video documentary has been produced under the title ‘Truth Behind Dare’ using video clips provided by the rehabilitated ex-LTTE fighters which shows the military training given to the children who were abducted and conscripted as soldiers for armed warfare, most of whom perished in battle. Some scenes show parents handing over their children to the LTTE terror organization as part of their propaganda to claim willingness of the civilian population to give up their children for the separatist cause; which obviously fails as the parents faces shows the immense pain they suffer at the time, as the alternative is violence being directed at them and their children still risking being abducted on their way to or from school.

Other scenes show Adele Balasingham, the Australian nurse who was married to the LTTE’s ideologist, in military attire, participating in a Passing Out Parade of women cadres most likely trained by her, who were being garlanded with the signature ‘Cyanide Necklace’ for committing suicide in the event of capture. Adele Balasingham today resides freely in the UK, probably supported with the tainted funds raised by the LTTE, with no questions asked about her being part of a designated international terrorist movement.

The LINK to this revealing video is given here: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpz8Cl_-YpM&feature=youtu.be> .

Please watch the video to learn the facts behind the rigged version that is propagated by the pro-LTTE organizations, which have been sold to the western powers who seek to punish Sri Lanka for geopolitical reasons best known to them.

MAHINDA GUNASEKERA

Toronto, Canada

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