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Local ‘mafia’ campaigning to derail sale of star sapphire cluster to prospective global buyers

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Gem and Jewellery Authority Chairman says

By Suresh Perera

A local ‘mafia’ has unleashed an organized campaign of misinformation to thwart the sale of the star sapphire cluster unearthed at Pelmadulla near Ratnapura to prospective international buyers, a top industry official asserted.

“They are trying to deliberately devalue the precious gemstone in an attempt to discourage global bids so that they can make a kill after procuring it for a rock-bottom price”, says Tilak Weerasinghe, Chairman of the Gem and Jewellery Authority.

The rare gemstone weighing 510-kilograms or 2.5 million carats, described by the Authority as the “world’s biggest star sapphire cluster”, has been estimated to be worth US$ 100 million or possibly more. It surfaced from the backyard of a house when some workers were digging a well at Pelmadulla near Ratnapura known as the “city of gems”.

The negative publicity on the worth of the star sapphire cluster has emanated from the local ‘mafia’ keen to put prospective international buyers off track so that they can grab the rare find for a fraction of its worth, he said.

“Many international buyers have already shown a keen interest in procuring it”.

There are collectors who make fantastic offers to buy rare gemstones of this calibre, Weerasinghe pointed out. “I am confident we will be able to fetch a record price for it”.

He said the BBC report on unearthing a star sapphire cluster of this magnitude not found anywhere in the world so far triggered a frenzy with scores of prospective global collectors and buyers expressing interest in purchasing it.

Two persons described as “professionals in the lapidary field” dismissed speculation that the gemstone was not “worth millions of dollars”, as claimed.

Expressing their views on a television channel, one of them said the gemstone was basically a “museum piece” and estimated its worth to be around one million rupees.

The other person placed its value at around Rs. 400,000 and said he had more precious gems in his possession.

The fact that the star sapphire cluster was described as a “museum piece” itself shows that it’s priceless, Weerasinghe interjected. “We cannot fix prices to exhibits in a museum”.

This precious gemstone is a part of our national pride, he stressed. “It will be an honor to our country to bestow it to the world”.

Those who live like frogs in a well don’t understand that there’s a world beyond which appreciates and rewards what’s of worth and value, the Chairman noted. “People with their own agendas want to paint a different picture to achieve their own ends”.

Outlining that as a professional he has dealt with precious stones and also traveled to multiple world capitals on related work, Weerasinghe recalled the sale of a 25-kilo rare gemstone for millions of dollars at a London auction some time back.

Apart from precious gemstones, even the personal belongings of celebrities such as Michael Jackson have fetched millions of dollars at public auctions, he continued.

Asked whether the star sapphire cluster was unearthed at Pelmedulla about a year ago, he replied, “yes, only the owner of the property and I knew about it. We kept it under wraps until the pandemic situation both here and globally improved to make the announcement so that we could secure a good price for it”.

“Over the past year, it was cut and polished and a valuation done after it was analyzed and certified to be ready for the market”.

He said there will be a 25% tax component to the Sri Lankan government on the sale price of the gemstone.

State Minister of Gem and Jewelery Related Industries, Lohan Ratwatte, said that Sri Lanka is also looking at placing the precious gemstone for bidding at an auction in China in November this year.

During the cleaning process, a few stones that dislodged were found to be high quality star sapphires. They were pale blue in colour, officials said.

However, despite the euphoria about the prospect of the star sapphire raising millions of dollars, some experts have warned that though the specimen has a high carat value at 2.5 million, all the stones within the cluster may not be of high-quality.

“It remains to be seen how an international valuation will play out”.



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Explanation sought over Monetary Board Secy.’s sudden transfer

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Rohini calls for social media campaign against govt. move

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has sought an explanation from the government over the sudden removal of the Secretary to the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, K.M.A.N. Daulagala on16 Sept.

Matale District lawmaker Rohini Kaviratne yesterday (19) questioned the rationale behind Assistant Governor Daulagala’s removal. The former UNP MP emphasised that Daulagala had played a critically important role in the Central Bank’s response in the wake of Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016. Therefore, her removal was quite suspicious and might facilitate efforts to suppress those scams as well as future frauds as well.

MP Kaviratne represented the UNP during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Prime Minister (2015-2019).

Declaring that Daulagaha had been at the forefront of the efforts to create a clean administration, Kaviratne stressed that she was second only to Rohini Nanayakkara of the Bank of Ceylon (BOC) and earned the respect of all for courageously taking a stand against fraudulent practices.

The SJB spokesperson said that Daulagala, in her capacity as the head of the non-banking sector financial institutions, handled the ETI investigation at the onset (2010-2012) of the probe. In the wake of her recommendations pertaining to the ETI being rejected by the Central Bank, she received a transfer to another section, MP Kaviratne said.

The Monetary Board is responsible for making all policy decisions related to the management, operation and administration of the Central Bank. It comprises Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Finance Secretary S.R. Attygalle, Sanjeeva Jayawardena, PC, Dr (Mrs) Ranee Jaymaha and Samantha Kumarasinghe.

Cabraal, who served as the Governor (2006-2014) recently replaced W.D. Lakshman on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request.

Kaviratne asked who had benefited from the removal of the Secretary to the Monetary Board?

MP Kaviratne said that Daulagala had been involved in the internal process following the first Treasury bond scam and the subsequent developments, including the coordination between the Central Bank and the Attorney General’s Department pertaining to the Treasury bond scams. Urging women’s organsations, civil society and law abiding citizens to take up Daulagala’s removal through social media, lawmaker Kaviratne said that the issue at hand should receive attention of the parliament.

“The Parliament is responsible for public finance. The Parliament cannot turn a blind eye to what is going on in the Central Bank. The national economy is in such a perilous state every effort should be made to investigate past frauds and thwart future adventures,” the MP said.

MP Kaviratne also recalled the role played by Deepa Seneviratne, Superintendent of Public Debt at the time of the first Treasury bond scam in exposing the then Governor’s culpability. “Unfortunately, we seem to be unable to change the direction regardless of exposure of past misdeeds,” she said.

Declaring that she had no intention of protecting any wrongdoer under any circumstances, MP Kaviratne said that the incumbent government should ensure transparency and accountability in public finance.

Examination of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) proceedings revealed a frightening picture, lawmaker Kaviratne said. Shocking revelations made by the watchdog committee should be examined against the backdrop of overall deterioration of the national economy over the past several years, the MP said.

She said that it would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to blame the current crisis on the raging Covid-19 epidemic. Acknowledging the difficulties caused by the economic downturn, MP Kaviratne said that the country was paying a huge price for unbridled waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence.

The MP asserted that the citizenry could play a bigger role in a political campaign on social media. The vast majority of those who use social media strengthened democratic opposition, she said. Removal of Daulagala could be a rallying point, she said, urging public onslaught on the SLPP government.

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Those responsible for Easter carnage will be haunted eternally – Bishop Galle

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA

The Chief Celebrant of the 114th annual feast of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Matara, Bishop of the Diocese of Galle, Rev. Dr. Raymond Wickremasinghe told a virtual congregation that the conscience of those responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage would never be at peace and it would haunt them eternally.

 The celebrations of the 114th annual Feast of the National shrine of Our Lady of Matara commenced on 05 September with the raising of the flagstaff and ended on Sunday 12 September. This year’s feast was held in keeping with strict health guidelines sans public participation.

 Rev Dr. Wickremasinghe reiterated that it was the wish of the general public, especially all Christians that those who carried out and those masterminded and those who knew but did not prevent the Easter Sunday carnage would be exposed and Justice served. “It is our prayer that the divine father guides the authorities in their endeavours” the Bishop added

 Rev. Wickremesinghe also called upon every person including decision-makers to heed the advice of the experts and act intelligently to overcome the pandemic.

 The Marian procession carrying the miraculous statue of our lady of Matara. accompanied by clergy and security personnel paraded the town, concluding this year’s festivities.

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Wild jumbos destroy houses in search of newly harvested paddy

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BY CYRIL WIMALASURENDRE

KANDY— Herds of wild elephants raid Ududumbara and Minipe area sdestroying houses in search of newly harvested paddy.

Farmers of Minipe, Hasalaka and Udadumbara keep paddy in their houses as they are without proper storage facilities.

Kandy District Secretary Chandana Tennakoon visited the house of a farmer destroyed by elepheants in Kongahaela, Hasalaka.

The victim informed the District Secretary Tennakoon that a herd of elephants including young ones were roaming had attacked his house.

Similar complaints were made to the District Secretary by farmers at Minipe, Hasalaka, Welgala, Ulpathagama and Udunuwara.

The farmers said at least they should be provided with an adequate number of elephant crackers to scare the elephants away. The farmers had to travel about 30 km to the Randenigala Wildlife Office office to receive one cracker each, they said, adding that they needed many more.

District secretary Tennakoon told the farmers that steps would be taken to resolve the issue this year by putting up an elephant  fence around the affected villages of Ududumbara, Medsadumbara, Minipe and Hasalaka sector.

The project would cost about Rs. 100 million. The length of the fence would be about 43 km, he said.

Divisional Secretary of Minipe Nuwan Hemachandra and Deputy Director of Plan Implementation Palitha Rajapakse were present.

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