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Land rackets and legal fraternity

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On joining the prestigious legal profession, in Sri Lanka, an attorney-at-law has certain obligations and responsibilities to their clients and the country. As Dr A. R. B. Amarasinghe in his book, “Professional Ethics and Responsibilities of Lawyers”, points out, “a lawyer has many obligations. He has a duty to the client, to the court and to other tribunals and bodies. As an officer of the court, he must act with honesty, integrity and candour. Any duties or directions made by the court must be fulfilled, including any matter regarding which he has given an undertaking to the court. His foremost duties to his clients require him to act with due skill and diligence and reasonable swiftness and courtesy while maintaining his clients’ confidence and avoiding conflict of interests. A lawyer has an obligation to demonstrate ethical practice to the public, including his peers.”

In 1979, I designed a house for Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra at Epitamulla Road, Pita Kotte. During this process, he informed me that there was land available for sale on the opposite side of the road. As I had been looking for suitable land, I ventured to buy it. I could not afford to build at the time but constructed a retaining wall and fence along the boundary to secure it. Even though I visited the place off and on, nothing was built on the land. Neighbours are excellent and kind enough to take care of the property. All these years, we did not have any problem.

In 2016, my daughter was interested in constructing a house and was looking for land. I offered her the land at Epitamulla Road. As she was interested, I proceeded to install a proper gate and redid the boundary fence that had deteriorated. I gifted the land to my daughter. A young, efficient attorney prepared the deeds on behalf of my daughter with life interest on the property retained in my name as a precautionary measure. It also helped to maintain the pedigree of the land from the original purchase. I proceeded to the Land Registry at Battaramulla, interviewed the lady in charge, and inquired about registering the land. There was a delay, and subsequently, the process was completed.

A false deed registration, registered from Matara, claiming ownership to the land appeared within a week of going to the Land Registry. The claimant said that the land belonged to him, a case was filed against him. He is currently absconding. But judgement has been issued.

In the meantime, it seems that the land was sold many times in quick succession. One person who allegedly bought it cut the two jack trees and the kitul tree, while another buyer brought in heavy equipment and filled the land that sloped to the water edge of the lake. In the process, he broke the gate post and the gate. While this was going on, I placed nine police entries recording what was happening in sequential order. These complaints were made to the Mirihana Police Station, as Epitamulla Road comes under its jurisdiction. The gate post and gate were hurriedly repaired in one night.

The land was being hawked around and offered to different Finance companies and possible genuine buyers. Many to whom the land was offered to, through friends, contacted me, and on being informed that the deeds were fraudulent and that we had not sold the land and they should not get caught in the fraud, they quickly withdrew. Some still ring me, thanking me for saving them.

In the meanwhile, others were busy preparing the second set of false deeds and documents. This time the documents included a false deed prepared and attested by Attorneys, a National Identity Card issued in my daughter’s name with a photograph of some strange woman, a death certificate issued in Kuruvita, Ratnapura District, in my name and a signed affidavit that the life interest holder was dead. The documentation looked authentic. The seller was pushing for the conclusion of the sale. The sale had been almost concluded on this false deed. However, a family member of the buyer and his lawyer were suspicious and informed the Mirihana Police. All involved, that is, all the players who were getting a share from the proceeds of the sale, were arrested. We were called to the Mirihana Police Station and requested to make statements. We stated that we had not sold the land, and this was recorded. There was a lull for some time.

A couple of months later, two new false deeds appeared. This was more serious. One false deed stated that my daughter had sold the land to one Mr Perera, and another false deed was issued in the new owner’s name. As there was a life interest on the property, there was also a second death certificate, which this time was issued in Colombo, stating that I had died and was buried at the Galkissa Cemetery.

With this documentation, the land was sold to a finance company. Within a week, the owner of the finance company, who had met me previously through his family contacts, enquired if I had sold the land when informed that I was still alive. On being informed that I had not sold the land, he immediately informed the CID. He was hell-bent on getting his money back.

The CID was on the ball. They quickly collected copies of all four false deeds and the names of the Attorneys who had signed the deeds, copies of the two death certificates and the false Identity card. The CID also collected copies of all the five original deeds lodged with us. They also recorded statements from all involved with the original deeds. The heat was such that the owner of the finance company got his money back.

Subsequently, the property, with the false deed and documentation was sold again to an insurance company that placed their name on the gate. The insurance company has since offered the property for sale in the usual manner. Many who were offered it informed us, and after they heard our story, they withdrew. But the insurance company continued to push for its sale. We were informed that some individual had brought in heavy equipment and cleaned the property. I lodged a complaint at the Mirihana Police that an unknown individual was cleaning my property.

At the end of August 2021, we received an anonymous letter with information giving the names of persons, one Mr. Perera, who is involved in the possible preparation of another fraudulent deed. This letter as well has been handed over to our lawyers.

It is difficult to comprehend how members of the legal profession, members who are duty bound to protect the rights of the citizens of this country, are so easily convinced and willing to compromise and demean themselves and their ethics to indulge in the initiation and preparation of false deeds and support the falsification of legal documents, which I understand is a serious offence. It is disconcerting that these individuals are willing to compromise themselves, their responsibility and professional ethics to stoop to such low levels to cheat the general public and be so desperate to earn a fee.

It is also unfortunate that members of the legal brotherhood are willing to certify the forged documents as authentic without proper research into the pedigree of the deeds. They seem to be ever ready to take the documents at face value and even recommend them to potential buyers, their innocent clients who have placed their trust and faith in their better judgement that the documents are in order.

It is also a bad reflection on the officers in different important government departments which may be willing to issue collaborative documents, like death certificates, on false requests, and even going as far as issuing false national Identity cards to different persons for a fee. Surely, the Sri Lanka administrative service has not reached down to such a low level. However, these documents may also be forgeries. The officers in the land registry, covering the Epitamulla area and the Kotte Municipal Council, should not register false documents, at face value. They should insist on some authenticated documentation of the real ownership of the property.

We have been notified that brokers are going around trying to sell this property. We have not engaged any brokers. We are informing the general public to please note that we have not sold the above-mentioned property to anyone. We still hold the original title. There have been many efforts to change the status by using numerous forged deeds and false supporting documents to pressure the authorising authorities to collaborate.

Let the general public be warned against the purchase of this property at 48/57, Epitamulla Road currently 128/5, Ediriweera Sarachchandra Mawatha

, Kotte as all the documentation used to sell the property is fraudulent. The deeds shown and paraded around are all false deeds and documents. Please do not get caught. The Criminal Investigation Department may be busy, but they have all the information needed. The CID has the names of all the people involved and the names of all the members of the legal brotherhood involved in preparing these false deeds. They have already interviewed several people. We are confident that the CID will soon do their job in the usual efficient manner. All the original deeds and copies of the false deeds and related documentation are lodged with Romesh de Silva, PC.

This land adjacent to the Diyawanna Oya is not for sale. We are still interested in developing it for our use. We recommend that all parents who give property to their children introduce a life interest clause, making it more complicated for unscrupulous individuals to intrude on your privacy, as two persons have to agree to sell this land.

Ashley de Vos



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Opinion

The lasting curse of Janasathu

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Kataboola tea estate

Let me begin with two anecdotes.

In the 1960s, my father would pull into the local Shell petrol shed and a smiling pump attendant, smartly attired in a uniform (khaki shirt and shorts) would come up to the driver’s side and inquire what was needed. While petrol was being pumped, the attendant would wipe the windscreen and check the engine oil. The toilet was clean. The air pump worked. To my delight, large, colourful road maps were given out, for free. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? All this for about Rs. 1 (one) for a gallon of petrol!

The next anecdote. In 1978, I visited Brian Howie, a former classmate, at Kataboola Estate in Nawalapitiya. Brian was an SD – assistant superintendent – and his bungalow was in a remote corner of the estate, so remote that it had its own mini hydroelectric plant. Mrs. B’s government, which had nationalised the estate, had recently fallen and the estate was now under new management.

The bungalow was sparsely furnished, and I noticed that a corner of the living room was blackened. Brian told me that the previous occupant, a former bus conductor turned “SD”, had not known how to use the kitchen stove, so he put some bricks together and had created a lipa in the living room to do his cooking. Meanwhile, every appliance and item of furniture in the bungalow had been stolen by the same man.

Janasathu has a false ring, meaning “owned by the people”. But, as everyone knows, the term instead means a nest of thieves, running up millions in losses at the cost of the people. A place where friends and political supporters are given employment, showered with generous perks, and given a free run to plunder. Government owned corporations, companies, and “other institutions” run into the hundreds, and perhaps a handful make a profit. The rest are leeches, sucking the blood of the nation.

Do we need a corporation/board for salt, ceramics, timber, cashew, lotteries, fisheries, films, ayurvedic drugs, handicrafts? For a publisher of newspapers? They are so swollen with employees that their raison d’être appears to be employment, perks and plunder that I mentioned above.

I recently read that Sri Lankan Airlines, the CTB, the Petroleum Corporation, and the Ceylon Electricity Board are the biggest loss makers. The Godzillas among them appear to be Sri Lankan Airlines, which reportedly lost Rs. 248 billion in the first four months of this year, and the Petroleum Corporation, which lost Rs. 628 billion in the same period. (The Petroleum Corporations is owed billions of rupees by both Sri Lankan Airlines and the Ceylon Electricity Board.) The Ceylon Electricity Board appears to be a mafia, subverting efforts to promote renewable energy, while promoting commission-earning fossil fuels. While the poorest among our population are starving, the crooks that run these organisations continue to deal and steal.

In Hong Kong, where I lived for 20 years, no airline, bank, petroleum company, telephone service, LPG or electricity supplier is owned by the government. The buses belong to the private sector. In Japan, where I live now, in addition to the list from Hong Kong, even the railways and the post offices are privatised and provide a courteous, efficient service. In Japan, the service at petrol stations is reminiscent of Ceylon’s in the 1960s that I described above.

At least in one instance, Mrs. B attempted to correct her folly in nationalising plantations. The de Mel family owned thriving coconut estates in Melsiripura. After nationalisation, the estates declined to such a sorry state that Mrs. B personally invited the de Mels to take them back. Today, the estates are thriving under efficient management.

As a nation, we need to admit that janasathu has failed, and take steps to remedy the situation ASAP.

GEORGE BRAINE

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Opinion

Road to Nandikadal: Twists of Kamal and Ranil actions

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I am re-reading retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne’s book “Road to Nandikadal ” these days. This is his first hand experience of the battle against LTTE, and his journey in the Sri Lankan army from Thirunelveli in 1983 to Nandikadal in 2009, where the final battle took place. Thirteen years have passed since the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 under the political leadership of former president Mahinda Rajapakse and the then secretary of defence Gotabaya Rajapakse. As we all know, Gotabaya became the president of Sri Lanka in 2019, and resigned last July, due to public pressure, and is currently travelling from country to country without a set destination.

In his book, Kamal has written an interesting chapter titled “A final chance for peace” and detailed the peace process followed by the then government led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the prime minister. This is Kamal’s narrative about the memorandum of understanding (MOU), brokered by the Norwegian government and signed by the then prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2002. “According to the MoU, members of the LTTE political wing were allowed to enter government controlled areas to commence their political activities. The first group of such LTTE political wing members entered the government controlled area from Muhamalai, singing and cheering, as if they had won the war. They insulted and jeered at the soldiers manning the checkpoint with impunity whilst the poor soldiers, under strict instructions not to react, helplessly looked on. The Navy, which arrested a group of terrorists, was immediately instructed to release them. Upon release, the terrorists threatened the sailors and lifted their sarongs, baring their genitalia at the stunned sailors, who could do nothing but simply look down in shame. Such developments intensified the apprehension we held of things yet to come and prepared ourselves to face untold humiliation in the name of the Motherland”.

Kamal further writes, “At the time of drafting the MoU, experienced officers like myself, knew it was premature to enter into peace negotiations. On the one hand, LTTE could not be trusted to keep their word, as past experience had taught us bitterly, and on the other hand, negotiations should be ideally undertaken from a position of strength”. He continues, “The government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was very confident of the peace process and strongly believed there would never be a war again. They did not have any confidence in the Army, which spurred this belief and therefore pursued peace at any cost”.

Kamal’s criticism of the Wickremesinghe administration continues: “The step motherly treatment the Army received during this period was terrible. Strict instructions were given to cut costs and the ever obedient army reduced many of our facilities and benefits. The army even stopped the annual issue of face towels to soldiers, given as a benefit for decades. It felt like they wanted us to live like ‘Veddhas’ without a bit of comfort”

Now the same Ranil Wickremesinghe is the President and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Kamal Gunaratne, who was highly critical of the Wickremesinghe administration, is the trusted Defence Secretary of the president. Is it a twist of fate or twist of faith!

LIONEL RAJAPAKSE

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Opinion

Need for best relations with China

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(This letter was sent in before the announcement of the government decision to allow the Chinese survey vessel to dock at Hambantota – Ed.)

I once met Pieter Keuneman sometime after he had lost the Colombo Central at the general election of 1977. We met at the SSC swimming pool, where he had retreated since his favourite haunt at the Otters was under repair. Without the cares of ministerial office and constituency worries he was in a jovial mood, and in the course of a chat in reference to a derogatory remark by one of our leaders about the prime minister of a neighbouring country, he said, “You know, Ananda, we can talk loosely about people in our country, but in international relations care is needed in commenting on other leaders”.

Pieter, the scion of an illustrious Dutch burgher family, the son of Supreme Court judge A. E Keuneman, after winning several prizes at Royal College, went to Cambridge in 1935. There he became a part of the Communist circle, which included the famous spies Anthony Blunt, later keeper of the Queen’s paintings Kim Philby, and Guy Burgess. Eric Hobsbawm, the renowned historian commenting on this circle, wrote of the very handsome Pieter Keuneman from Ceylon who was greatly envied, since he won the affections of the prettiest girl in the university, the Austrian Hedi Stadlen, whom he later married. Representing the Communist Party in parliament from 1947 to 1977, soft-spoken in the manner of an English academic, Pieter belonged to a galaxy of leaders, whose likes we sorely need now.

I was thinking of Pieter’s comments considering the current imbroglio that we have created with China. Our relations with China in the modern era began in 1953, when in the world recession we were unable to sell rubber, and short of foreign exchange to purchase rice for the nation. The Durdley Senanayake government turned to China, with which we had no diplomatic ties. He sent R G Senanayake, the trade minister, to Peking, where he signed the Rice for Rubber Pact, much to the chagrin of the United States, which withdrew economic aid from Ceylon for trading with a Communist nation at the height of the Cold War.

Diplomatic relations with China were established in 1956 by S W R D Bandaranaike, and relations have prospered under different Sri Lankan leaders and governments, without a hint of discord. In fact, in addition to the vast amount of aid given, China has been a source of strength to Sri Lanka during many crises. In 1974, when the rice ration was on the verge of breaking due to lack of supplies, it was China, to which we turned, and who assisted us when they themselves were short of stocks. In the battle against the LTTE, when armaments from other countries dried up, it was China that supported us with arms, armoured vehicles, trucks, ships and aircraft.

It was China and Pakistan that stood by our armed services in this dire crisis. More recently, amidst the furore, created by Western nations about human rights violations, China was at the forefront of nations that defended us. A few weeks ago, it was reported that the UK was ready with documents to present to the UN Security Council to press for war crimes trials against the Sri Lankan military, but the presence of China and Russia with veto powers prevented it from going ahead with its plan.

It is in this context that we have to view the present troubles that have engulfed us.President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the short period he has been in office, has won the sympathy of people by the speed with which he has brought some degree of normalcy, to what was a fast-disintegrating political environment. On the economic front, his quiet negotiations and decisions are arousing hopes.

A shadow has been cast over these achievements by the refusal to let in the Chinese ship to Hambantota, a decision made on the spur of the moment after first agreeing to allow it entry. The manner in which it was done is a humiliation for China, one administered by a friend. We must remember that these things matter greatly in Asia.

These are matters that can be rectified among friends, if action is taken immediately, recognising that a mistake has been made. The President should send a high-level representative to assure the Chinese leadership that these are aberrations that a small country suffers due to the threats of big powers, to smoothen ruffled feelings, and normalize relations between two old friends. The American-Indian effort to disrupt a 70-year old friendship, will only lead to its further strengthening in the immediate future

ANANDA MEEGAMA

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