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Ex- SDIG of CID tells PCoI Zahran, his cadres had been planning attacks from 2017

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim and his associates had initially planned to carry out a suicide attack in 2020, former SDIG of the CID, Ravi Seneviratne on Friday night told the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

Seneviratne said that while they were aware of Zahran’s ideology, it was during the CID investigations into the Jihadist Training Camp at Wanathawilluwa that they had found his direct involvement with extremists.

Seneviratne had earlier said that they presented former IGP Pujith Jayasundara with a report on the Jihadist training camp and information elicited from the suspects arrested at the camp on January 26, 2019. However, as the IGP was banned from attending the National Security Council (NSC), the report could not be sent there.

The AG’s Department representative leading the evidence asked the witness if he had also received a letter in early April 2019, sent by former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena about a possible terrorist attack.

“Jayawardena sent it to the former IGP on April 09, 2019 about the attacks. On April 16, 2019, I got a copy of the letter from Jayasundara. I was out of the country on an official visit and I only came to office on April 16. We were to arrest those who were mentioned in the letter. So I forwarded the letter to Director of the CID, Shani Abeysekera and ASP Wickramasekera. But Shani had only seen the letter on April 23, 2019, after the attack.”

The AG’s Department representative then asked the witness if he had received a text message from the former SIS Director on the morning of April 21 warning that an attack would take place on that day. The former SDIG said had seen that text after the bomb explosions.

The AG’s Department official said: “After the attacks, MP Harin Fernando told the media that his father had asked him not to go to Church on April 21. From what was revealed at the PCoI, police sergeant Nandalal, who was involved in CID investigations into the Mawanella Buddha statue vandalisation and the Wanathawilluwa Jihadist camp, had called Harin’s father on April 20 night. It is likely that Nandalal warned him of the attacks. How would CID officials know about such an attack on April 20?”

Seneviratne said that although he was not aware how Nandalal had received information about the attacks, Nilantha Jayawardena, on April 20, had informed him that a terror attack would take place on April 21. “I shared that information with Shani and ASP Wickramesekera,” the witness said.

Seneviratne also told the PCoI about NTJ preparations for the attacks. The witness said that Zahran and his associates were planning to carry out an attack from 2017. Unhappy about the progress they had made in 2018, Zahran had asked Shaheed Abdul-Haq, who was behind vandalizing Buddha statues in Mawanella, to attack the statues.

Seneviratne said: “Zahran also asked those who were with him, if they wanted to become fighters or suicide bombers. While Zahran was away, NTJ members decided to carry out suicide attacks outside Sri Lanka. However Zahran then motivated them to carry out attacks here. They decided that the attacks should take place in 2020. However, by the first week of April 2019, Zahran decided to launch the attack as soon as possible. Although there were initial disagreements, NTJ members agreed by April 09 and by April 17, they decided to launch the attacks on Easter Sunday, which fell on April 21. Looking at these revelations I felt that Zahran was being handled by someone else. I wanted to find out who this was before I retired.”

At his point the AG’s Department official wrote a name on a piece of paper and showed it to Seneviratne . “Could this be the person?” he asked the witness.

“Yes, it is possible. The name you showed me had worked with Zahran,” Seneviratne said.

The former SDIG overseeing the CID also revealed that NTJ had arranged for a hiding place where those who failed to carry out the suicide attack could gather. “This was a place of worship in Colombo. The person who failed to carry out the attack should get there and tell another person that he was there. Then a person would come to pick up the unsuccessful attacker and take him to a safe house.”

Seneviratne also wrote the name of the person who was to transport the unsuccessful attackers into a safe house. The witness said that person had been arrested.

“We must find out those who handled Zahran. Until they are revealed, the threat to national security will always be there,” he said.

Members of the PCoI also asked Seneviratne if the NTJ had received financial aid from an Islamic State. The witness said that the CID had not been able to find such a link. “We found about 42 bank accounts belonging to this group. They all belong to Sri Lankans and the money had been provided by the Ibrahim brothers (Mohamed Ibrahim Insaf Ahmed who carried out the suicide bombing at Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo and Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahmed who carried out the suicide bombing at Shangri- La hotel in Colombo).”



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COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs

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Irregularities, lapses, corruption erode public finance

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has summoned the Inland Revenue Department tomorrow (23) for an inquiry regarding the inordinate delay in collecting taxes amounting to billions of rupees and extraordinary payments made to the officers of the Customs Department out of fines imposed on both public and private sector enterprises.

Besides, a COPA sub-committee is inquiring into revenue losses suffered over the years as a result of releasing vehicles imported for special purposes as dual-purpose vehicles. 

SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana heads the all-party watchdog committee. 

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake in a statement issued on April 19 through the Communication Department of the Parliament said that Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and COPA summoned four enterprises. COPE called the Sri Lanka Football Federation and the National Film Corporation on April 22 and 23, respectively. The COPA summoned the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Inland Revenue on April 21 and April 23, respectively, Dasanayake said.

COPA has fixed the meeting in the wake of disclosure of major shortcomings in the overall revenue collection process. Following COPA meeting Inland Revenue Chief H.M.C. Bandara on March 10, the watchdog committee called for accelerated measures to recover dues. The COPA pointed out that out of Rs 107 bn due to the government, only Rs 224 mn had been recovered so far, immediate measures were required to collect taxes and fines.

At the same meeting, the COPA, having questioned the correctness of a list containing tax defaulters furnished by the Inland Revenue Department, emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the shortcomings. The COPA also raised the practicability in recovering taxes in terms of the data provided by ‘Legacy’ and ‘RAMIS’ computer systems. 

The Inland Revenue Commissioner General lamented before COPA how inordinate delay in legal proceedings thwarted their efforts to recover taxes. The COPA assured that the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be summoned for a meeting along with the Inland Revenue Department to explore ways and means of overcoming the issue at hand.

At a subsequent COPA meeting held late March, it was revealed that in addition to their failure to recover taxes amounting to Rs 2,670 mn due from casinos, the Inland Revenue received 6,878 dishonored cheques to the tune of Rs 2,451,465,383. COPA members present on this occasion included Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tissa Attanayake, Mohamed Muzammil, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Upul Galapatti, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Cader Mastan, S. Sritharan and Weerasumana Weerasinha.

That particular meeting was also told that the amount of collectable taxes in terms of the ‘Default Taxes (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010 (certified on Dec 07, 2010) amounted to a staggering Rs 144.5 bn. 

COPA and the Consultative Committee on Ports and Shipping had also taken up on March 9 and 24 the highly contentious issue of the Customs officers taking a big share of fines imposed on tax defaulters, both public and private sector. COPA pointed out that the Customs took advantage of the provision that 50 per cent of the fines imposed on defaulters were shared among those involved in a particular detection. COPA has discussed two specific issues in this regard. COPA pointed out that the allocation of 50 per cent of a fine received from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) for defaulting in respect of gantry cranes to Customs officers was a major problem. COPA focused on taking necessary measures in this regard after having discussed the matter with relevant authorities, including the Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.

COPA pointed out how out of Rs 205 mn fine imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Limited for defrauding taxes, Rs 102.5 mn (50 per cent of the total amount) had been distributed among Customs officers as rewards and Rs 41 mn for their welfare (20 per cent) thereby leaving the government with only Rs 61.5 mn. COPA has directed Treasury Secretary Attygalle to conduct a fresh inquiry into this and take tangible measures to prevent similar malpractices in the future.

COPA investigations have also revealed massive racket in the registration of ‘dual purpose’ vehicles. It revealed that as a result of corrupt elements since 2013 registering vehicles imported for special purposes as ‘dual purpose’ vehicles the Treasury lost taxes amounting to Rs 220 mn.

In addition to that the Treasury had been also deprived of taxes amounting to Rs 1.300 mn by not imposing Rs 3 mn each on 443 special vans brought to the country during 2010-2019 period.

COPA also stated that the Customs perpetrated another massive fraud by allowing the import of 10 vans and 414 lorries as special purpose vehicles during 2010-2014.

COPA reported the Customs imposing Rs 1.5 mn tax on a super luxury car instead of legitimate Rs 56 mn.

It revealed the loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 6.1 bn during 2013-2016 period due to the Customs adopting wrong procedure in respect of large quantities of palm oil imports by two enterprises. The watchdog committee has instructed the Customs to expedite measures to recover the dues from those companies.

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India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security

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India has reiterated her support for Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. The assurance was made on the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The following is the text of statement issued by the Indian High Commission yesterday: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay attended the solemn ceremony at St. Anthony’s Church on 21 April 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks. He lit a candle in memory of the victims of the attack and prayed for the recovery of those who are still suffering from its aftermath.

“It may be recalled that the High Commissioner had paid homage to the victims at the Church also on 23 May 2020, the first day after the completion of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, subsequent to his arrival to Sri Lanka on 8 May 2020 on a special flight carrying a gift consignment of essential medical supplies from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also paid his respects at the Church during the solidarity visit to Sri Lanka in June 2019.

“St. Anthony’s Church was one of the multiple targets of the Easter Sunday attacks, which also took away the lives of 10 Indians. These Indian victims fell prey to the perpetrators at Shangri-la, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.  

India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely in all aspects across the security spectrum. India stands firmly with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism and also collaborate on curbing various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, narcotics, etc. “

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Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port

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A ship that made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday night (20) carrying Uranium hexafluoridea–a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons–has been asked to leave.

Chandula Rambukwella, Senior Manager, Commercial & Marketing, Hambantota International Port, issued the following statement yesterday: “M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China. The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board, prior to the vessel entering the port.

It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.

The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”

 

 

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