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Thico scam draws Monetary Board’s attention, abuse of banking system under scrutiny

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One of the alleged masterminds had been on prez’s delegation to Libya in 2009

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Secretary to the Finance Ministry Mahinda Siriwardena yesterday (07) said that the ongoing investigation into the alleged Thico scam haD received the attention of the Central Bank and Monetary Board.

 Siriwardena, one of the five members of the Monetary Board said that the issues at hand would be appropriately dealt with. The Monetary Board consists of Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe (Chairman of the Board), Dr. Ranee Jayamaha, Sanjiva Jayawardena, PC, and Nihal Fonseka.

The Finance Secretary said so when The Island raised the alleged abuse of the banking system by the Thico Group of Companies based at the World Trade Centre (WTC) over a period of time.

The official said that although periodic warnings were issued, some people continued to be deceived by high interest rates and other benefits.

Former Governor of the Western Province (January-June 2019) Azath Salley told The Island that he invested Rs 80 mn and one of his close associates Rs 226 mn in Thico Group of Companies run by Thilini Priyamali only on the assurance given by Janaki Siriwardena, Chief Executive Officer and Director of The One Transworks Square project meant to build 92 storeyed commercial and residential tower.

The One Transworks Square in late February 2019 announced the launch of phase II of the project (JW Marriott Hotel & Residences). The top management declared that the second phase would be completed in two and a half years.

Salley emphasised that he had absolutely no reason to have any doubts as regards the investments as the influential businesswoman was known to him since 2002. According to Sally, the leader of the National Unity Alliance (NUA) formerly led by Mrs. Ferial Ashraff, at the time they first met he served as the Deputy Mayor of the UNP-run Colombo Municipal Council (CMC).

Responding to another query, Salley said that when the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had recorded his statement as regards the investment that had gone awry, he brought to the notice of the investigators the complicity of bank officials in the abuse of the banking system.

Specific reference was made to the female manager of a branch of a private bank located at the WTC as regards issuance of instructions by Thilini Priyamali to stop payments after having issued cheques to be cashed at that particular bank, Sally said. How that particular bank could allow her to irresponsibly issue cheques continuously in spite of not having sufficient funds in her account, Salley asked.

Salley emphasised that he wouldn’t have invested money nor encouraged his associate to commit as much as Rs 226 mn with Thilini Priyamali without Janaki Siriwardena’s guarantee.

So far, the Fort Magistrate has remanded five persons arrested in connection with the Thico scam till Nov 16 pending further investigations. The CID arrested Waduwaarage Thilini Priyamali on Oct 05. On Oct 17, the police arrested one of her associates, Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Isuru Shammika Bandara. Several days later, the police apprehended Wijesuriya Arachchige Kasun Harshana Perera, a director of Thico Construction Company, Ven. Borelle Sirisumana, who has reportedly declared as having attained arahathood and Janaki Siriwardena were taken in on Nov 01 and Nov 04, respectively.

A female officer, Chief Inspector Niroshani Hewapathirana, the officer in charge of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division of the CID, leads the investigation.

Appearing on ‘Truth with Chamuditha,’ Salley recently said that Janaki Siriwardena was so influential the slain Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi had provided a special aircraft to fly her home. The Libyan leader intervened after she sought to return home claiming an emergency, the former Western Province Governor told the interviewer. According to Salley, Janaki Siriwardena had been part of the government delegation led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

President Rajapaksa visited Libya in April and August 2009. Rajapaksa is on record as having said that Sri Lanka’s economy could have collapsed before the war was brought to a successful conclusion in May 2009 if not for Muammar Gaddafi agreeing to lend 500 million USD to Sri Lanka in response to a single phone call from him.

 Salley said that he had first met Thilini Priyamali at Janaki Siriwardena’s office situated at the One Transworks Square project building on May 03, this year. Declaring that he hadn’t even heard of Thilini Priyamali prior to that, Salley said that the meeting took place on Ramazan Day. The NUA leader said that within a week he gave Rs 45 mn to Janaki Siriwardena and Thilini Priyamali. “Of that amount, Janaki Siriwardena collected Rs 5 mn from me at my home and subsequently Thilini Priyamali received Rs 19 mn and 21 mn on two days. On both days, she came with Isuru Banadara who drove a 7 series Benz.”

Later, Janaki Siriwardena accepted Rs 20 mn and 15 mn on two days at her office, Sally said, altogether he invested Rs 80 mn. “I haven’t received my money back,” Salley said, acknowledging his associate, too, was in a dilemma. Although Salley declined to name the associate or what business he was involved in, he didn’t deny when Chamuditha Samarawickrema repeatedly asked whether the unnamed investor was Abdul Shattar. Attorney-at-Law Maithri Gunaratne yesterday told The Island that he represented Abdul Shattar, who was one of the few persons to lodge complaints in this regard.

 Salley questioned the reportage of the Thico scam by two social media commentators in a way he alleged was meant to influence the ongoing investigations. Claiming the duo did so at the behest of Janaki Siriwardena, Salley said that some of those who were duped by the duo didn’t lodge complaints fearing repercussions. Salley said that one of the commentators referring to his military background warned the public of his shooting prowess, both in side arms and assault weapons. That was meant to scare those struggling to recover their money, Salley said, adding that The One Transworks project was now in serious trouble.

Disclosing that he got in touch with Janaki Siriwardena’s boss based in India, Salley said that the project was unlikely to be completed against the backdrop of growing controversy over this matter.

Commenting on the involvement of Ven. Borelle Sirisumana thera in the Thico ‘operation,’ Salley said that after a dispute over the failure on the part of the two women to settle money taken from him and his associate, the monk on at least six occasions assured the quick return of their money. But, so far not a single cent had been returned, Salley said, revealing that part of the money taken from them seemed to have been given to a Galle based Kattandiya, a former member of the Southern Provincial Council who is the custodian of a devalaya in Bataduwa.

Salley recalled a ceremony conducted by this particular kattandiya at One Transworks complex at the request of Janaki Siriwardena.

Salley dismissed accusations that he had an affair with Thilini Priyamali. Various Tamil social media platforms exploited unsubstantiated allegations and claims made by a particular social media activist with a military background. Those platforms would be dealt with appropriately through legal means, Salley said, warning he wouldn’t give up until he recovered the money stolen from him. Sally estimated the total amount misappropriated by Thilini Priyamali and Janaki Siriwardena at over Rs 4 bn. However, others speculated the total amount could be as much as Rs 10 bn.

An Attorney-at-Law familiar with the case told The Island that former minister who had served Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s cabinet is believed to have made quite a substantial investment with Thico. However, he hadn’t lodged a complaint with the police so far. Salley also claimed that he knew three other persons who lost money but they were scared to disclose their plight fearing retaliation by Janaki Siriwardena.



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Health crisis: GMOA calls for WHO intervention

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Alleging the government has failed to address the developing crisis caused by grave shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has called for WHO’s intervention.In a letter dated January 26, 2023, addressed to WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge has raised concerns about shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, escalating prices of medicines and allegations of malpractices and corruption in procurement procedures.

The GMOA has released its letter to the media along with what it called a 10 fold plan formulated by an expert committee set up by the GMOA.

The following are the GMOA’s proposals:

1. To appoint a high-level coordinating committee within the Ministry of Health to ensure effective communications and coordination between following institutions, identified as responsible for the whole exercise. (a) Ministry of Health focal points (b) Medical Supplies Division (MSD) (c) State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) d. State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) e. National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Monthly progress review meetings of aforementioned committees are to be ensured, with Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Health or his representative. Quarterly review with Minister of Health to facilitate arriving at essential policy decisions.

2. To ensure Transparent Procurement Procedures, where every interested citizen should be entitled to know the true facts.

3. To upgrade the available computer software programme to match the current needs and to ensure more efficiency in procurement procedures.

4. To appoint a technical committee to study Auditor General Reports with regard to procurement Procedures of last 5 years and actions to be declared with specific time frame to implement recommendations of the Auditor General.

5. Review the recent Presidential Investigation Commission reports and initiate urgent actions to file legal action against the respondents. Remove all those officials who are accused through these reports of malpractices, from their current posts, until the verdicts are delivered.

6. To minimise emergency purchases of Medicinal drugs and ensure the transparency of that process through progress reports on emergency purchases, which is to be published on a monthly basis.

7. To identify alternative modes for distribution of pharmaceutical drugs to peripheral stations (e.g.: Public Transport services with identified modifications)

8. To open an “Information Desk” at the Ministry of Health to effectively communicate with and guide the donors of pharmaceutical items.

9. To fill the existing vacancies at National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), following stipulated acceptable pathways and activating all the sub committees within NMRA.

10. To declare a relief package to reduce the prices of essential medicinal drugs, through the upcoming interim budget.

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CEB says suspension of power cuts not possible

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By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) says it is not in a position to discontinue power cuts despite an assurance from some quarters that there will be no power cuts till the end of the G C E Advanced Level examination on 17 February.

CEB Chairman Nalinda Illangakoon, contacted for comment, told The Island that they had not taken any decision to halt power cuts, especially at night. He however stressed that during the examination hours there would be no power cuts.

“We have not agreed with anyone to do away with power cuts,” he said, adding that they had clearly pointed out that Rs. 4.1 billion was required to continue power supply without power cuts until 17 February.

He also said that the CEB could not do business on credit. “I am responsible for my institution. Anybody can say anything but I have to run it,” he added.The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) yesterday said that the power sector stakeholders had agreed not to impose power cuts from yesterday until the end of the GCE A/L examination.

The HRCSL said in a statement that there will be no power cuts until February 17.They also said that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had come to an agreement with the PUCSL to provide continuous fuel supply for electricity generation during the A/L examination.

Covering the cost required for power generation must be identified as a priority in the proposed tariff revision, PUCSL instructed the CEB. Accordingly, the two parties agreed to pay the relevant expenses incurred within 60 days, the statement said.

The HRCSL also said the Power and Energy Ministry should intervene to provide coordination facilities for the agreement.Accordingly, an agreement was made not to continue with power cuts during the exam period starting today.This agreement will be included as a recommendation of the HRCSL, and the PUCSL agreed to implement the recommendations.

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PM’s Office: IMF impressed with progress made by govt.

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Director Dr. Krishnamurthy Subramanian has said the political will displayed by the Sri Lankan leadership to speed up reforms and implement difficult tax increases in order to revive the economy is highly appreciable, according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s Office yesterday (26)

Dr Subramanian, who called on Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the PM’s Office in Colombo yesterday (26) was quoted as having said almost all the requirements for the IMF relief package for Sri Lanka have been completed and the moment the final assurances from major lending countries is completed, the process would be finalised.

“We will bat for you,” IMF Executive Director said using cricket jargon. “We play forward with a straight drive for you and whenever necessary, we play cover drives too,” said Dr Subramanian who was the Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India from 2018 to 2021.

The Prime Minister briefed the IMF delegation about steps taken by the government to face the unprecedented economic challenges faced by the country and to enhance agricultural produce to meet local demand and also for export.

While elaborating the measures taken to reduce non-essential imports and increase export production, he stressed the need for welfare for the poorest segments of the society. Dr Subramanian said that as the Prime Minister pointed out a safety net for economically vulnerable groups is an essential requirement when plans are formulated to restructure debt and revive the economy.

However, he emphasised that the public sector should be ready to make sacrifices as they are at least assured of salaries, while many others have lost their avenues of income.

Secretary to the Prime Minister, Anura Dissanayake, Deputy Governor of Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara, who is IMF Alternate Executive Director, Dr. P.K.G. Harischandra, Director and Dr. V D Wickramarachchi, Deputy Director of Economic Research Department of Central Bank also took part in the discussion.

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