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Treasury loses USD 18 mn as minister blocks CCD probe into generator fraud

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by Ifham Nizam and Prabhath Withana

An investigation by the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) into a complaint of fraud, which caused a loss of over USD 18 million to the government coffers, has been stalled by a minister, according to police sources.

The CCD commenced the investigation, several weeks ago, following a complaint against a Singaporean, of Sri Lankan origin, and a Sri Lankan, for using forged documents to cheat a Sri Lankan company out of Rs 35 million.

Investigators uncovered a customs fraud, amounting to USD 18 million using a Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) between the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and a Hongkong-based company. The Customs Department’s Compliance and Facilitation Division commenced a separate investigation.

The Customs investigation found that the suspects had deprived Sri Lanka of USD 18 million by using the PPA, which had been cancelled by the CEB. “As per the PPA, the V Power Holdings could import to Sri Lanka power generators, duty free, to supply 34 MW to the national gri, for a six-month period. As per the PPA, after six months the company is required to re-ship those generators and is also requested pay a 10 percent tax on revenue from the generators. That tax could have been around one million USD. They brought down 350 generators. The duty for the generators would have been around 14 million USD. The company obtained a duty waiver to the tune of around three million USD. However, the PPA had been cancelled by that time by the CEB because V Power Holdings failed to deliver 34 MW, within the stipulated one-month period,” a senior CCD officer said.

The company has to pay over 18 million USD to Sri Lanka. It did not re-export the generators. In addition, the suspects have also been charged with defrauding Rs 35 million from the Green Win Holdings Lanka Ltd., the local agent company of the Hong Kong-based Listed Company, V Power Holdings.

The CCD investigation has been halted due to political interference, sources said, adding that the suspects had approached a Cabinet minister.

Asked for comment, senior CEB officials said that there had been a PPA with V Power Holdings but it had been cancelled by the CEB. With the cancellation of the agreement, the company loses their rights for duty concessions, a top management level officer of the CEB told The Island.

Customs Media Spokesman and Deputy Director (Legal) Sudattha Silva said that the Compliance and Facilitation Division of the Department was conducting an investigation. He said he was not in a position to comment more as the investigation was in progress.

The V Power Holdings was accused of violating the Section 50 (A) (1) (a) (b) of the Customs Ordinance.

When contacted for comment, Chairman of Green Win Holdings Lanka Ltd, Vajira Wickramasinghe said. That there were two investigations into the aforementioned incidents.

“We signed the PPA with CEB as the Sri Lankan representative of the V Power Holdings of Hong Kong. The V Power Holdings’ Chief Commercial Officer sent a Singaporean of Lankan origin to work with us. Later, it was found that Singaporean with the help of a former director of our company, carried out the fraud. They have misused the canceled PPA to clear the consignment from the harbour. Now, the CCD says that they cannot find the Singaporean and the Lankan who have gone into hiding. I hope that the investigations will resume and the culprits will be caught so that justice will be done.”



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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare

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Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions

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Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread

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Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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