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Nirupama, husband respond to ICIJ: Govt. response awaited

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivrad Cabraal yesterday (5) said that law enforcement authorities would have to initiate investigations into the Sri Lanka aspect in Pandora Papers revelations.

Cabraal said so when The Island asked him whether CBSL would look into International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) disclosure pertaining to stunning disclosures of clandestine financial transactions by elites across the world.

The ICIJ has named former UPFA Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa, who served as a lawmaker from 1994 to 2000 and again from 2005 to 2015 and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan. The ICIJ mentioned some specific accusations in respect of them while claiming they declined to respond to queries posed by the outfit. However, subsequently, the ICIJ said that in response to questions from the outfit, Nirupama Rajapaksa and Nadesan said that their “private matters are dealt with by the couple properly with their advisers” though they did not comment on their companies and trusts.

Referring to the investigations launched during the yahapalana administration, Nadesan added that the 2016 charges against him were “spurious and politically motivated.”

The ICIJ quoted Piyadasa Edirisuriya, a former Sri Lankan finance ministry official and now a lecturer at Australia’s Monash University as having said that offshore financial service providers could stop illicit money flows by conducting due diligence on clients and monitoring their transactions. “But in international financial centers, many don’t do that,” he was quoted as having said. “That is why people in countries like Sri Lanka can earn money in corrupt ways and easily use these tax havens to send them overseas.”

CBSL Governor Cabraal said: “The inquiries will have to be initiated by the law enforcement authorities. In the course of their investigations, if they require any input from the Central Bank authorities, we would certainly provide such assistance.”

The Island

also raised the issue at hand with Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC. The Justice Minister asserted that the CIABOC (The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption) should initiate an inquiry.

Declaring that such a development didn’t directly come within the purview of the Justice Ministry, Minister Sabry said that in case the cabinet decided on this matter, the Justice Ministry could consult the Attorney General. The Minister was responding to query whether his ministry would consult the AG regarding this.

The CIABOC comprises Justice Eva Wanasundera (Chairperson) Justice Deepali Wijesundera and Chandra Nimal Wakishta, one-time head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS). Asked whether the CIABOC would initiate an inquiry into revelations made by the ICIJ, Justice Wijesundera said that they couldn’t act on their own. According to her, the CIABIC could take action only after it received a complaint as the CIABOC Act had stipulated.

As of 2017, the Lankan elite couple’s offshore holdings, which haven’t previously been made public, had a value of about $18 million, according to an ICIJ analysis of a Nadesan trust’s financial statements.

Former Governor of Central, Uva and Southern Provinces and anti-corruption activist Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon questioned the political will of the incumbent government to conduct a proper investigation into the recent revelations.

Referring to the previous exposure of Sri Lankans having ill-gotten money in offshore accounts, Keerthi recalled him lodging a complaint at the CIABOC along with Ven Ulapane Sumangala, the Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Front. “They did nothing. Absolutely nothing happened pertaining to our complaint. Actually, all of us should be ashamed of what is going on,” Tennakoon said.

Responding to another query, Tennakoon said that during a recent conversation with ICIJ he realized there could be further revelations regarding offshore accounts. The former Executive Director of polls monitoring body CAFFE said that the Parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the overall deterioration of public finance. The Parliament as the supreme institution answerable for public finance should inquire into the Sri Lanka aspect as one of those so far named happened to be an MP who served three terms, Tennakoon said.

What would be the response of those in the Opposition as Nirupama Rajapaksa represented the SLFP in the PA/UPFA led governments? he asked.

Authoritative sources said that the Foreign Ministry, too, was inquiring into the matter and a ministerial response to the issue at hand was likely.

In the immediate aftermath of the Pandora Papers’ disclosure, the Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) urged the government to undertake a no holds barred domestic investigation.

Informed sources said that first of all the government should establish whether those named by the ICIJ investigation informed the relevant local authorities of them conducting international financial transactions. It would be important to understand that having offshore accounts was not an offense in terms of Sri Lankan laws, sources said.



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No immediate hike in fuel prices – Udaya

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Finance Minister rules out bailout package for CPC

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has told Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila that the Treasury is not in a position to assist the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). However, there would not be a fuel price hike in the short term, the Minister of Energy told the media yesterday.

Minister Gammanpila said that if a fuel hike was on the cards, he would announce it publicly.

“This is what I did last time also. This time around, I have told the people that we are facing a serious problem. We incur a loss of Rs. 15 on a litre of petrol and a loss of Rs 16 on a litre of diesel. The Chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has asked for a price increase,” he said.

Gammanpila said he told the Chairman of the CPC that they should first seek assistance from the Treasury. Given that prices of all essential items had increased, a significant increase in fuel prices would cause great inconvenience to the people, he said.

“At the last Cabinet meeting, I asked the Finance Minister for assistance. He said it was hard to provide assistance and was non-committal. I will again take the matter up at the next Cabinet meeting,” he said.

The government was discussing the possibility of obtaining a 3.6 billion US dollar credit line for fuel from Oman. Sri Lanka spent around USD 300 million on oil imports per month and the credit line would allow for a year of fuel supply at concessionary rates, the Minister said.

“If we get this credit line, we should be able to weather this storm. Otherwise, I will ask the Cabinet for relief. While people are suffering, we can’t also let the CPC go bankrupt. If CPC goes bust, the People’s Bank and Bank of Ceylon will be in deep trouble too,” the Minister said.

Gammanpila added that there was no point in queuing at fuel stations because a decision to increase fuel takes a few months to be approved. For example the previous hike in June was first proposed in April. “If takes a few months for such a proposal to be approved and implemented. I was told that people were queuing at fuel stations last Monday and Wednesday.”

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JVP calls for multi-agency probe into Rs. 4 bn. Gin-Nilwala scam

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Ex Prez can assist inquiry

By Shamindra Ferdinando

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says a comprehensive multi-agency investigation is required to get to the bottom of what he called the massive Gin Nilwala scam perpetrated in 2012 and 2015.

In spite of disclosures in that regard, both in and outside Parliament, over a period of time, absolutely nothing had been done so far, lawmaker Dissanayake told The Island.

The government owed an explanation why over Rs 4 bn had been paid to a Chinese firm, in Dec 2012, and on January 7, 2015, as the project was yet to get off the ground, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that he felt the need to highlight the Gin Nilwala scam against the backdrop of the Pandora Papers exposure of former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa’s husband, Thirukumar Nadesan, as the Chinese company, allegedly involved in the Gin Nilwala project had moved money to a foreign account, in Hong Kong, held by the businessman.

Asked whether the Gin Nilwala scam, too, had been dealt by Pandora Papers, MP Dissanayake said as far as he knew Pandora Papers’ disclosure didn’t include the Gin Nilwala project.

Responding to another query, lawmaker Dissanayake said that though the then President Maithripala Sirisena questioned the Gin Nilwala project, the yahapalana government never investigated the issue properly.

MP Dissanayake said it wouldn’t be a difficult task to establish the transferring to a foreign account of Rs one bn in Dec 2012 and the over Rs. 3 bn on January 7, 2015, the day before the presidential election. Since the release of Pandora Papers, the video footage of former President Sirisena, now an SLPP MP, on the Gin Nilwala project had gone viral, the MP said.

The JVP leader said that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should inquire into the matter as part of the ongoing examination of matters relating to Thirukumar Nadesan in respect of Pandora Papers.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Oct. 06 instructed CIABOC to inquire into Sri Lankans mentioned in Pandora Papers. Nadesan, too, also on the same day, asked President Rajapaksa to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations by appointing a retired Appeals Court Judge for the task. The CIABOC has recorded Nadesan’s statement in this regard.

MP Dissanayake alleged that successive governments had conveniently turned a blind eye to major cases of corruption. The very basis of parliamentary control over public finance was under threat, MP Dissanayake said, urging the government to take remedial measures or face the consequences. “Billions of rupees had been moved around, misappropriated and squandered. Those responsible for ensuring the proper practices are accused of exploiting the system. What is happening now is tragic,” MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that examination of proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Finance) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) since the last general election revealed a frightening situation. The reports before the last general election were no exception, the parliamentarian said, the level of corruption in the public sector and the private-public sector joint ventures was horrifying. The national economy was being mercilessly exploited by persons holding office, the JVP leader said, the CIABOC could examine proceedings of the parliamentary watchdog committees if it was genuinely interested in stamping out corruption.

MP Dissanayake said that the national economy was in such a desperate situation thanks to decades of waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence on the part of political parties in power. “Today, we are seeking finance assistance from various countries. Recently, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris revealed he discussed ways and means to overcome financial crisis with the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary,” he said.

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Inter-provincial travel restrictions extended to Oct 21

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Inter-provincial travel restrictions have been extended to October 21, the Presidential Media Division (PMD) said issuing a press release yesterday.

The PMD added that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed the security forces to strictly enforce the inter-province travel restrictions during the weekend.

The decision was taken at the COVID-19 Prevention Committee meeting held Friday (15) morning.

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