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Corruption charges: JVP slams CIABOC, demands action

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Former MP Wasantha Samarasinghe (left) handing over some files to JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake (pic courtesy JVP)

Yoshitha to move court against AKD

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In terms of the Bribery Act, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) could not initiate inquiries unless it receives a complaint.

Apsara Caldera, Secretary to the CIABOC said so when The Island sought their response to a spate of corruption allegations made by JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, various other politicians and officials at a media conference at the Sri Lanka Foundation on Tuesday (03).

Lawmaker Dissanayake declared his party was in possession of over 500 such files.

Asked whether the CIABOC maintained at public expense could avoid such serious accusations, especially at a time of growing public protests about corruption, Caldera said that the law prevented them initiating investigations.

The CIABOC comprises retired Supreme Court Justice Eva Wanasundera, Chairperson, retired Appeals Court Justice Deepali Wijesundera and retired DIG Chandra Nimal Wakista.

Jathika Jana Balavegaya MP Vijitha Herath, said that complaints in respect of some cases highlighted at Tuesday’s media briefing had been lodged with the CIABOC over a period. He said he himself had complained to the CIABOC about the Greek bond case, way back in January 2015. “The CIABOC did not even bother to question me to verify the accusations made, Herath said.

The bottom line was that Sri Lanka lacked a mechanism capable of investigating corruption cases, the MP said, pointing out how the CIABOC and the Attorney General withdrew over 50 high profile cases, filed since the last presidential election in Nov 2019.

The CIABOC, the AG and law enforcement authorities should at least know whether the cases, that had been raised by the JVP, were currently under investigation, MP Herath said. The lawmaker questioned the rationale in maintaining such outfits at a tremendous cost to the taxpayer.

The President himself directed the relevant authorities to inquire into accusations involving Kapila Chandrasena, former CEO of SriLankan Airlines, and his wife Priyanka Niyomali Wijenayake in a $2 million graft scandal. The UK Serious Fraud Office alleged that the French aircraft producer Airbus paid the bribe, MP Herath said.

Wijenayake allegedly received $2 million in 2013 to ensure that the national carrier bought airplanes from Airbus. That order was cancelled when a new government led by the UNP, took office in 2015.

Herath asked despite President Rajapaksa’s assurance that the government would conduct “a comprehensive investigation into reports of allegations over financial irregularities after Airbus agreed to settle a corruption probe with regulators,” the incumbent administration did not proceed with the case. “We would like to know the current status of the investigation,” lawmaker Herath said.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office yesterday said that Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Yoshitha Rajapaksa would initiate legal action against JVP leader Dissanayake for making unsubstantiated corruption allegations pertaining to various properties owned by him. Condemning the JVPer’s accusations, the PM’s Office alleged that the statement was meant to deceive the people.

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and SLPP MP Namal Rajapaksa, too, have denied accusations directed at them.

MP Herath emphasised that Sri Lanka could not move forward unless tangible measures were taken to ensure a disciplined public and private sectors. Therefore, corruption accusations directed at politicians, including Presidents, serving and retired officials (both civil and military) should be thoroughly investigated, Herath said, underscoring the importance of having COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee of Public Accounts) and COPF (Committee of Public Finance) reports examined by the AG and the CIABOC.

The CIABOC’s response to our revelations proved that the law itself hindered investigations and intervened on behalf of those who should be behind bars, lawmaker Herath said.

Sri Lanka’s failure to take punitive measures against corruption should be examined against the backdrop of the US judicial decisions in respect of a US national who received USD 6.5 mn on a fraudulent image building exercise and former Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington Jaliya Wickremasuriya found guilty of robbing over USD 300,000 from the government of Sri Lanka. Both frauds were perpetrated during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term, the MP said.



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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