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Clandestine offshore transactions: Finally, Nirupama’s statement recorded



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The police have questioned former MP Nirupama Rajapaksa as regards revelations made by Pandora Papers pertaining to secret offshore financial transactions.

Authoritative sources told The Island that the police unit assigned to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) recorded the former Deputy Minister’s statement on Dec 1, though the outfit was not aware of the development.

When The Island asked Secretary to the CIABOC Apsara Caldera on Dec 3 whether the former MP had been questioned, the official said they were yet to record her statement.

However, sources close to the investigation yesterday (9) confirmed that Rajapaksa’s statement had been recorded on the morning of Dec 1 at the CIABOC. She had been there for about three hours. However, the media hadn’t been informed of the development in spite of the CIABOC being accused of not recording her statement.

The CIABOC consists of retired Supreme Court Justice Eva Wanasundera, retired Appeals Court Justice Deepali Wijesundera and retired DIG Chandra Nimal Wakista, one-time head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS).

Pandora Papers alleged that Nirupama Rajapaksa and Thirukumar Nadesan together controlled a shell company the couple used to acquire luxury apartments in London and Sydney and to make investments.

It is alleged that Nadesan set up other shell companies and trusts in various jurisdictions, and he used them to secure lucrative consulting contracts from foreign companies doing business with the Sri Lankan government and to buy artwork.

According to the Pandora Paper leaks, in 2018, one of the companies, Pacific Commodities, transferred 31 paintings and other South Asian art pieces to the Geneva Freeport, an ultra-secure warehouse where assets are not subject to taxes or duties.

In confidential emails to Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based offshore services provider, a long-time adviser of Nadesan’s put his overall wealth, as of 2011, at more than $160 million. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists acknowledged that it couldn’t independently verify the figure. It was alleged that Asiaciti Trust managed some of Nadesan’s offshore companies and trusts, with assets valued at about $18 million, according to an ICIJ analysis.

Subsequently, Pandora Papers revealed transactions carried out by R. Paskaralingam, one-time Ministry Secretary and advisor to late Presidents Ranasinghe Premadasa, and D.B. Wijetunga and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe using similar loopholes

The CIABOC questioned Nirupama’s husband, Thirukumar Nadesan twice as regards the Pandora Papers revelations. Nirupama Rajapaksa first entered Parliament at the 1994 general election on the PA ticket. Nirupama served as deputy minister of water supply and drainage during the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa between 2010 and 2015.

Authoritative sources said that the CIABOC handled the investigation, having submitted an interim report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as requested. Sources said that the CIABOC hadn’t been able to record Nirupama Rajapaksa’s statement before compiling the interim report for President Rajapaksa’s perusal.

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) has written to the President, the Speaker of Parliament and the Elections Commission of Sri Lanka calling for the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities of Former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa. The request was made under the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities law (1975) and the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities (Amendment) law (1988).

According to the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities law (1975), candidates contesting for office in local government, provincial council, Parliament or for the post of President should submit their Declaration of Assets and Liabilities to the Elections Commission of Sri Lanka.

TISL pointed out that the Election Commission has expressed concerns over campaign expenditure. Similarly, it should be concerned about failure on the part of many lawmakers to declare their assets and liabilities.

The law further states that Members of Parliament should submit their Declarations of Assets and Liabilities to the Speaker of Parliament while Ministers and Deputy Ministers should submit their asset declarations to the President.

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Overtime gravy train for public sector back



Govt. MPs make contradictory statements on state of economy

By Shamindra Ferdinando

UNP National List MP Wajira Abeywardena on Sunday (26) disclosed the issuance of a circular by the Finance Ministry to restore overtime and other payments in the public sector.

The declaration was made in Galle soon after Transport and Media Minister Bandula Gunawardane lamented that the government was short of billions of rupees to pay public sector salaries, pensions, Samurdhi payments and meet recurrent expenditure.

Minister Gunawardena and UNP National List MP Abeywardena addressed the local media after the handing over of several buses to the Galle SLTB depot.

Cabinet Spokesman Gunawardena said that the government needed as much as Rs 196 bn before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and its projected revenue was Rs 173 bn. In addition to that Rs 500 mn was required to settle what Minister Gunawardena called bilateral debt.

Minister Gunawardane said that a part of the first tranche of USD 333 mn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would be utilised to pay public sector salaries.

Of the USD 333 mn received so far, USD 121 had been used to pay the first installment of USD 1 bn credit line secured from India early last year, according to State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera in the second week of August last year revealed as much as Rs 3 bn had been paid as overtime to Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers for several months. This disclosure was made in response to a query raised by Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella.

One of the major demands of the public sector trade unions on the warpath over the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government’s new tax formula is the restoration of overtime.

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Now, Opposition wants Finance Secy. hauled up before Privileges Committee



Prof G L Peris

Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (27) urged Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to act speedily on the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) request to summon Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena before the parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

Addressing the media on behalf of the Freedom People’s Alliance, the former External Affairs Minister said that the Treasury Secretary had challenged the parliament by withholding funds allocated in the budget 2023 to the Election Commission thereby sabotaging the election.

Prof. Peiris said that there couldn’t be a far worse violation of parliamentary privileges than a government official undermining Parliament.

Instead of appreciating the intervention made by the Supreme Court to facilitate the delayed Local Government polls, the ruling party had sought to challenge the apex court, Prof. Peiris said, urging Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to fulfill his obligations.

Prof. Pieris said that if the government lacked funds, just one percent of USS 333 mn received from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was sufficient to conduct the election.

The ex-minister said that the IMF wouldn’t oppose the utilisation of a fraction of the first tranche of USD 2.9 bn loan facility provided over a period of four years to guarantee the constitutional rights of the Sri Lankan electorate. (SF)

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Cabinet nod for fuel distribution by three foreign companies



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera announced yesterday that the Cabinet of Ministers has granted approval for allowing China’s Sinopec, Australia’s United Petroleum and RM Parks of the USA, in collaboration with multinational Oil and Gas Company – Shell plc, to enter the fuel retail market in Sri Lanka.

The minister said that each of the three companies would be given 150 dealer operated fuel stations, which are currently operated by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). A further 50 fuel stations at new locations will be established by each selected company, he said.

They will be granted licences to operate for 20 years to import, store, distribute and sell petroleum products in Sri Lanka, the minister tweeted.

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