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Conduct of AG’s Dept. under microscope

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Failure to arrest Zahran

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Attorney General has recommended disciplinary action against Deputy Solicitor General, Azard Navavi, and State Counsel Malik Azeez, who were entrusted with the file on National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its leader Zahran Hashim, for lapses in handling the case, the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday attacks was informed yesterday.

A three-member committee had also concluded its inquiry, and charge sheets have been sent to the Public Service Commission (PSC,) Additional Solicitor General Sumathi Dharmawardena yesterday told the PCoI. The report had been sent on 27 November 2020 through the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, but there had been no response so far, he said.

The Attorney General’s Department had paid attention to the file on NTJ leader Zahran Hashim, sent by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) seeking their advice, three weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks, Deputy Solicitor General Navavi, on December  (05) told the PCoI.

When the PCoI summoned Navavi and Azeez, the Chairman asked Navavi what the AG’s Department had done about the file on Zahran, sent by the TID for legal advice. Navavi said that he had received the file on 07 June 2017 and directed Azeez, who was under him to handle it. Both men insisted that the TID had not relayed the information it had about NTJ and Zahran until 2019.

Azeez said that on 12 March 2019,  there had been a meeting  with several TID officers on the file and only at that point had the officers mentioned that the TID had obtained warrants twice to arrest Zahran.

“The arrest warrants had not been attached to the file or brought to the notice of the AG’s Department until March 2019,” Azeez said.

Azeez informed the Commission that the TID had added documents to the file twice, in 2017 and 2018. None of those included the two arrest warrants or statements recorded by Zahran’s mother and wife. Without those important documents, the AG’s department officials had not been able to detect a threat to National Security, Azeez said.

Additional Solicitor General Sumathi Dharmawardena was called before the PCoI to shed more light on the matter. He is also in charge of administration at the AG’s Department.

Dharmawardena said that in 2019 he had testified before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the Easter Sunday attacks on the file that TID had sent.

ASG Dharmawardena added that he had drawn Attorney General, Dappula de Livera’s attention to the final report of the PSC on or around 24 February 2020. The following day, Livera had recommended that an inquiry be conducted as regards Navavi and Azeez. Initially, the investigation was to be done by Deputy Solicitor General, Susantha Balapatabendi.

However, on 13 March 2020, a three-member committee consisting of Senior Additional Solicitor General, Sarath Jayamanne, Balapatabendi and Senior Deputy Solicitor General, Mayadunne Corea had been appointed. Jayamanne resigned from the committee on 29 May 2020 and on 01 June 2020, Additional Solicitor General, Priyantha Nawana had been made the head of the Committee, Dharmawardena said.

The committee had finalised the investigation in July 2020 and sent it to him, Dharmawardena said. The report containing draft charge sheets had been given to Acting Solicitor General Sanjay Rajaratnam for further recommendations and on 27 July 2020, Rajaratnam had also recommended disciplinary action, Dharmawardena said.

“Rajaratnam again on 12 November 2020 said action should be taken on the matter.”

Chairman of the PCoI: “Did you send this to the PSC for action?”

Dharmawardena: “Yes, this was sent to the PSC through the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice. This was done on 27 November 2020.”

Incidentally, 27 November 2020 was the day Dharmawardena was asked to come to the Police Unit of the PCoI to give a statement.

Dharmawardena said that there had been no response to the report so far.

Chairman of the PCoI: “The TID sent a file for advice in 2017 to the division that handled criminal cases. Who was in charge of the division then?”

Dharmawardena: “Senior Additional Solicitor General Kapila Waidyaratne.”

Chairman of the PCoI: “Who were the law officers in charge of the Eastern Province after June 2017?”

Dharmawardena: “Navavi, who was a senior state counsel then was in charge of the area.”

Chairman of the PCoI: “Who was his supervisor?”

Dharmawardena: “Current AG Dappula de Livera.”

Shavindra Fernando, PC, who appeared for Navavi then cross-examined Dharmawardena.

Fernando: “The Committee recommended legal action against the two law officers in July 2020. But you only sent the report to PSC on 27 November 2020. You also gave a statement to the PCoI Police Unit on that day. Is this true?”

Dharmawardena: “This is not a question I can answer. Only the AG can.”

Fernando: “On 18 June 2019, the AG sent a letter to the acting IGP, saying that the law officers of the AG’s Department were not at fault in this case. On 10 July 2019, the coordinating officer to the AG repeated the claim in a press release. It is obvious that AG didn’t think Navavi and Azeez did anything wrong.”

Dharmawardena: “The administration division has nothing to do with sending press releases.”

Fernando: “Can the Commission ask the coordinating officer to the AG to testify before the PCoI on this?”

The PCoI then ordered State Counsel, Nishara Jayaratne to appear before the PCoI tomorrow (17).

She was also asked to give a statement to the police unit attached to the PCoI, today.

 

 



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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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