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Top level committee probes import of 300 luxury vehicles worth Rs. 2bn

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By Ifham Nizam

A high-level special committee comprising Secretary to the President, Dr. P B Jayasundara and Secretary to the Treasury, Dr. S. R. Attygalle has been appointed to look into the improper import of 300 luxury vehicles worth more than Rs. 2 billion during the Covid-19 pandemic, a senior government official said.

The committee will examine all aspects and recommend the penalties to be imposed on the importers, he said. “A report on its findings and recommendations is expected to be submitted within one week”.

Most of the vehicles were imported from Japan, while the others had been brought down from the United Kingdom and Germany.

“Latest model, super luxury Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars are among the consignment imported in violation of regulations”, the official said.

Customs spokesman, Sunil Jayarathne said investigations on their part have been concluded and the recommendations of the committee are being awaited to decide on the next move.

He said the consignment of luxury vehicles has been imported during April-May when the country was under coronavirus threat. “The offenders will be penalized under the Custom Ordinance”.

Investigations revealed that most of the vehicles were imported using duty-free permits and by government officials.

In some cases, Letters of Credit had been opened before the government imposed restrictions on imports, while in the others, the orders had been placed after the ban came into effect, Jayarathne explained.

There is the possibility such vehicles being confiscated, he warned. “The consignments had been shipped to the Colombo and Hambantota Ports”.

The government suspended the import of vehicles in May 2020 in a bid to stem the outflow of foreign exchange.

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Special COVID-19 probe crippled by infections among CCD sleuths: AG calls for new police team

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Brandix Apparel Limited yesterday (29) said that the company would fully cooperate with relevant authorities in the investigation ordered by the Attorney General (AG). A spokesperson for the company said so when The Island sought a clarification with regard to AG Dappula de Livera, PC, directing the police to launch a criminal investigation into the alleged lapses on the part of the company as well as those officials leading to the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

The Minuwangoda eruption, which happened in the first week of October is widely believed to be the cause of the fast expanding Peliyagoda cluster.

Asked whether the police had contacted the Brandix management as regards the investigation and sought access to Brandix management and workers at its Minuwangoda apparel manufacturing facility as well as records at the Minuwangoda facility, the spokesperson said: “We will work with the relevant authorities in this regard”.

The Colombo Crime Division (CCD) tasked with the probe has suffered a serious setback due to a section of its officers being tested positive for COVID-19. Authoritative sources said that the CCD lacked sufficient strength to carry out the investigation.

AG de Livera early this week told DIG Ajith Rohana that a progress report should be submitted to him by or before Nov. 13.

Sources said that the badly depleted CCD was not in a position to conduct the high-profile investigation, in addition to other ongoing inquiries. The AG has directed the Acting IGP to constitute a special team of law enforcement officers to conduct the investigation. Sources acknowledged the urgent need for a thorough inquiry into the far worse second corona wave. Sources said that the AG issued fresh instructions in that regard after the crisis in the CCD was brought to his notice.

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Most garment workers under self-quarantine left to fend for themselves

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of garment workers who were undergoing self-quarantine in Minuwangoda did not receive any assistance, Chamila Thushari of the Dabindu Collective, a labour organisation that works with garment workers, told The Island yesterday.

She said that those who were under self-quarantine did not have money to purchase food and even those who were willing to help could not reach them.

“Some of them have received food parcels from their work places but that is not adequate. Most others have not received any assistance. Matters will only get worse after curfew is imposed throughout the Western Province,” Thushari said.

Most of these workers are undergoing self-quarantine at their boarding places, which also house individuals who still work in garment factories. “Although there is a curfew, they can go to work. These are perfect incubators for the virus,” she said.

Thushari said that every day between 20-30 workers under self-quarantine, tested positive for COVID-19.

There were no public health inspectors to monitor the boarding houses of garment workers to ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures were being followed, she said.

“Not even Grama Niladaris visit them,” Chamila said.

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SJB requests separate seats for its dissidents

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Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella has written to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena requesting him to make arrangements to provide separate seats to the nine MPs who had voted with the government for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution recently.

The letter dated yesterday said that the SJB parliamentary group had decided to expel MPs Diana Gamage, A. Aravind Kumar, Ishak Rahuman, Faisal Cassim, H. M. M. Haris, M.S. Thowfeeq, Nazeer Ahmed, A.A.S.M. Raheem and S.M.M. Musharaf and it requests the Speaker to make separate seating arrangements for these MPs in the Chamber.

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