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Lak Sathosa garlic scam: Whistle-blower prevented from leaving for Dubai

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Executive Director of Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA), Thushan Gunawardena says the Immigration and Emigration Department has barred him from leaving the country.

An irate Gunawardena alleges he is being harassed over the disclosure of a massive garlic scam at Lak Sathosa last September.

“Instead of prosecuting those responsible, expeditiously, regardless of their status, I’m being targeted for ordering the raid that exposed the corrupt lot,” Gunawardena told The Island soon after returning home. The ex-CAA official declared he would be soon filing a fundamental rights case against the Immigration and Emigration Department et al.

Gunawardena said that the senior officer in charge of the Immigration and Emigration unit at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in the early hours of Saturday (22) informed him of the instructions received in this regard. Gunawardena was to board the Colombo-Dubai Emirates flight that departed at 2.55 am, Saturday.

Asked whether his passport had been impounded over the ongoing case at the Wattala Magistrate court over the Lak Sathosa garlic scam, or the CID probing the case ever informed him being a suspect in this particular case, Gunawardena said how could that be when he was responsible for the detection.

Gunawardena said that a stock of 56,000 kilos of garlic that had been released by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to Lak Sathosa, was sold to a regular Lak Sathosa supplier at about Rs 135 a kilo. The Sathosa management had planned to buy back the same consignment at Rs 445 a kilo and then make it available to consumers at about Rs 540 a kilo. Alleging that the fraud had been perpetrated at Lak Sathosa management level, Gunawardena said the plan had gone awry due to the raid carried on information provided by an insider. Lak Sathosa had sold the stock at such a low price to a supplier on the basis of poor quality in spite of Quality Assurance clearance, Gunawardena said, such fraudulent activities were rampant though never been properly investigated.

Gunawardena said that the government owed an explanation how the Immigration and Emigration Department had thwarted his departure in spite of him carrying a valid passport. “I was told the BIA unit acted on the instructions received from their head office at ‘Suhurupaya’ Sri Subhuthipura road, Battaramulla. But, the issue at hand is as my passport hadn’t been impounded in connection with investigations into the garlic scam, there is suspicious of interested parties manipulating the Immigration and Emigration Department.”

Gunawardena said that according to a document that had been received by the Immigration and Emigration unit, he was categorized as a suspect along with five others unknown to him.

The Immigration and Emigration Department 1962 hotline in a recorded message stated that the department could be contacted only on weekdays between 8.30 am and 4.15 pm.

Gunawardena emphasized the political leadership couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for what was happening with the connivance of lawmakers and top officials. Gunawardena said that he learnt a bitter lesson having had an opportunity to serve as CAA executive. “Corruption here is nothing but a way of life. The current dispensation, despite its leaders’ pledges, has done nothing to curtail waste, corruption and irregularities,” Gunawardena said.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that he expected the Justice Ministry, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the Human Rights Commission as well as the Police Commission to inquire into this matter.

Gunawardena claimed that he earned the wrath of both Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena and State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna for going public with garlic fraud. Now that the government had prevented him from attending some meetings in Dubai connected with his present employment he was seriously contemplating seeking compensation for loss of business opportunities.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has assigned the Immigration and Emigration Department to Defense State Minister Chamal Rajapaksa. The Immigration and Emigration Department is one of the 31 state institutions that come under the purview of the Defence Ministry.

The Police Department, State Intelligence Service (SIS), Registration of Persons Department, National Dangerous Drugs Control Board and the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRC) are among other state institutions coming under the purview of the Defence Ministry.

Gunawardena said that a senior management level official who had been arrested and then granted bail pending further investigations into the garlic scam was reinstated. Recalling he sent in his resignation to Chairman CAA retired Maj. General Shantha Dissanayake in the third week of Sept last year, Gunawardena said government actions couldn’t certainly be compatible with the much-touted policy statement titled Vistas of Splendor.



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Speaker proposes how to steer SL out of crisis

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Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena has handed over a set of proposals to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, spelling out how to resolve country’s economic crisis.The proposals made by the Speaker pertain to a number of important sectors and highlight the importance of providing relief to low income groups.

The Speaker has said Sri Lankans working or doing business overseas or foreign investors depositing USD 100,000 with the Central Bank for a period of two years should be paid a 10% interest per annum in Sri Lankan rupees and allowed to credit the interest to any account preferred by the depositor. He also proposes that the government issue a vehicle import licence worth USD 25,000, six months after an individual makes a fixed deposit while also allowing him to pay a standard tax of USD 10,000 to the government for that vehicle.Speaker Abeywardena has proposed how to reduce energy costs, release adequate stocks of LP gas to the market, boost domestic production food production, stabilise the banking system.

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MR had not decided to resign on 09 May, says Weerasekra

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP MP Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera says Prime Minster Mahinda Rajapaksa had not decided to resign on 09 May 09 although the SLPP MPs had been asked to bring supporters to Temple Trees for a meeting.Weerasekera said so when The Island asked him why he had skipped the Temple Trees meeting.One-time Public Security Minister said that the then PM Rajapaksa had, during a conversation with him on 08 May had denied reports that the latter was planning to resign the following day. MP Namal Rajapaksa, however, had asked a group of MPs and others to bring supporters to express support for the PM, MP Weerasekera said.

Weerasekera said he had been among those contacted by MP Namal Rajapaksa.The former Navy Chief of Staff said that the failure on the part of law enforcement authorities and the military to respond swiftly and decisively to a threat of breach of law and order had led to a disaster at time global attention was on Sri Lanka due to the deteriorating financial situation.MP Weerasekera questioned why police had refrained from firing at least once into the air when mobs arrived at some MPs’ houses, which were destroyed. For over 48 hours mobs had ruled the country, the MP alleged, demanding an explanation why shoot-on-sight orders had not been issued as soon as mobs started to attack MPs’ houses.MP Weerasekera said that serious accusations made by SLPP members, particularly Wimal Weerawansa, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Mahindananda Aluthgamage couldn’t be ignored. They accused some sections of the SLPP of conspiring to unleash violence and the police and the armed forces turning a blind eye to countrywide retaliatory attacks.

Newly-appointed Public Security Minister Tiran Alles said that he would order a thorough probe into the May 09 incidents. Minister Alles said so when The Island asked him what he would do against the backdrop of allegations of the police facilitating attacks on protesting public in the Kollupitiya and Fort police areas.MPs, Weerawansa and Dr. Ramesh Pathirana alleged in Parliament that Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis, Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration and C. D. Wickremaratne, Inspector General of Police prevented Deshabandu Tennakoon, Senior DIG, Colombo from mob attacks on the protesting public.

Former Minister Weerasekera said that the government, the SLPP and the police should come clean on this matter. MP Weerasekera said that the government mishandled the challenge posed by those who cleverly exploited the economic crisis. “Perhaps one of the major blunders was allowing the public to block roads. Now, it has become a style. Interested parties also exploit the media and social media. The government seems clueless,” MP Weerasekera said, urging the government to review the developments.MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage, too, told The Island, the top SLPP leadership ignored repeated warnings. The former Agriculture Minister questioned whether those who had advised the Cabinet of Ministers chaired by the President deliberately deceived them.

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Lankan-born Cassandra elected to Australian Parliament

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She beat another candidate of Sri Lankan origin, Ranj Perera

Cassandra Fernando of Sri Lankan descent has been elected to the Australian Parliament.Cassandra, an advocate for essential workers and the Federal Labor Candidate for Holt.She migrated to Australia with her family when she was 11.She began working at Woolies Dandenong Plaza as a teenager. She now represents workers in the retail and fast food industries, fighting to improve their pay and conditions. She has also volunteered to tutor migrants and refugees from non-English speaking backgrounds so they can make the best of every opportunity.

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