Christmas has come early this year for the political class of Lanka. Shortly before the President’s own departure in the wee hours of Monday morning to Singapore on a two day private visit with his wife, he prorogued Parliament, sending its 225 members on a compulsory 5 week holiday till January 18 next year. The President and wife returned on Wednesday morning.
But hours before the First Couple’s arrival home, Minister of Finance Basil Rajapaksa had packed his bags and left the country on Tuesday late night with his wife on a private visit to the United States. According to a Daily Mirror report, 60 members of both sides of the House have taken the cue and are set to leave to Britain, America, Australia and other world hotspots to spend the merry Christmas season in the bosom of their families, resident abroad.
Some pukka sahib MPs, forced to stay put at home, planned to don their sweaters and scarfs and make a beeline to Lanka’s Little England, to the mist covered hills of Nuwara Eliya, and savour, second hand, a taste of England’s colonial past at the 19th century British built English country house, the General’s House, now the Government owned up country retreat for all Parliamentarians, having had the foresight to book well in advance.
Not even the ghost of an English lady found dead in one of the rooms, said to haunt the manor walls in the dead of night, seems to have chilled their ardour to enjoy the quaint trappings of English colonial life at a heavily subsidised MP rate of just Rs. 4500 per day.
But one final chore had to be done before cabinet minister could hang their ministerial hats and let their hair down and brave the assault of the mystery female apparition after a busy night at the General’s Bar in the hills – as SJB MP Nalin Bandara recounted 5 years ago of how one night at around 2 o’clock he had been coming out of the bathroom in a room he was occupying near the ill-fated Room 16 at General House, when he was pushed by a ghostly presence, so forcefully that it sent him reeling to bang the wall, wounding his chin.
The business that awaited the Ministers on the same day that Parliament was prorogued was to attend the cabinet meeting that evening at Temple Trees. In the absence of President Gotabaya, the ignominious task of presiding over the surrender of the Lankan Government to a Chinese company by the payment of US$ 6.7 million as damages for rejecting its Erwinia ridden fertiliser shipment, fell upon the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who presented the outlandish settlement plan to the cabinet as acting on the advice of the Attorney General.
Surprising, for its the same Attorney General who had, as per the Sunday Times report on October 24, told the Commercial High Court on October 23 that even though the Chinese company was required to ship sterile organic fertiliser under the contract, it had admitted in its shipping advice that the consignment may contain microorganisms; and that the National Plant Quarantine Service had confirmed its presence as harmful. Ah, but even the south west monsoon must give way to the north east in December.
Firmly supported by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, the Chinese owned Seawin Biotech had gone to extraordinary lengths to gain their unwarranted pound of flesh. The Company had pursued its claim relentless, bolstered by the knowledge that it was a matter of time before the government caved in, being as it was in the merciless grip of China’s iron fist. But to pay a Chinese supplier for contaminated goods rejected and never used, vividly illustrated the alarming extent to which this government had let the nation turn into a vassal pseudo-state, subservient to China’s vested interests.
The Government’s capitulation to Seawin with its decision to hand over 6.7 million dollars of the people’s money to appease its Chinese Dragons raises questions:
Were the negotiations so misconducted and the terms of the contract so botched up that the Attorney General advised the Government it had no leg to stand on in any arbitration proceedings brought against it but to throw in the towel and pay up?
If so who is responsible for the 6.7 million dollar blunder? Is it the Agriculture Minister Mahindananda alone to blame? Or must the entire cabinet assume collective responsibility?
What is the penalty for failure? Since the resignation of a minister alone will not suffice – no cabinet minister’s axed head is worth 6.7m dollars or 1.5 billion Lankan rupees of the people’s money – shouldn’t failure of this magnitude be punished by a financial penalty?
Does the decision to pay Seawin circumvent the Commercial High Court order granted on October 23 and further extended on December 3 to the Government owned Ceylon Fertiliser Company preventing the Government owned People’s Bank from paying any sum to Seawin for the same contaminated fertiliser cargo, Lanka’s statutary authority, the National Plant Quarantine Service, rejected thrice?
Since government decision to settle involves expending public money, shouldn’t it be first presented to Parliament, which controls public finance, and its approval obtained?
Thankfully for the Government, Parliament has been sent on an extended holiday and the egg on the government face will not be visible to its members to censure and decry and will, no doubt, fade away by 18 January when it meets again.
And while the political crust break bread holidaying abroad with family and friends or revel in the hills and dales of home, cloistered in privileged comfort and wrapped in cotton wool, ‘far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,’ the forlorn, forgotten, fatigued masses continue to trudge, toil and tear, overwrought facing the same familiar struggle to keep the wolf from the door.
And the only ghosts they will encounter this Christmas season are not the colonial upper class sorts MP Nalin Bandara had a brush with one night at General’s House in Lanka’s little England but the newly risen Ghosts of the Past, Present and Future, each pushing them further against the wall with rising prices, food shortages and now, spooky gas explosions in the kitchen to blast them to kingdom come to meet their maker sooner than expected.
|How Indian conman Sukesh wooed and won Jacqueline
At first Bahrain-Lankan model Jacqueline Fernandez, who made good in Bollywood, refused to take the call from a mystery man last December who identified himself simply as ‘Shekhar Ratna Vela’. But that did not deter India’s ace conman Sukesh Chandrasekhar who knew there was more ways than one to skin a cat.
In January this year Chandrasekhar, the man indicted in the Indian rupees 2 billion extortion case, gave a call to Jacqueline’s make-up artist Shaan Muttathil pretending to be a high government official. Shaan passed on Chandrasekhar’s message and phone number and soon she was in touch with him. The expensive gifts started to flow and soon it was a hop-step-and-jump for him to be welcomed with open arms by the woman who had rejected him out of hand at first. The conman had weaved his magic and Jacqueline was held spellbound.
CONMAN AND THE ACTRESS: Jacqueline and Sukesh pose for a mirror selfie in the bedroom which went viral to disprove her claim she was not in any relationship with him
This is the sleazy script now being played out in an Indian court in the criminal case against Chandrasekhar for having exhorted Rs 2 billion from the wife of a jailed businessman promising his early release by pretending to be a top official from the Law Ministry between 2020 and 2021 – while he, Chandrasekhar, himself was also in jail.
But Chandrasekhar had always been a dreamer, forever dreaming of get rich quick schemes, driven by ambition to somehow become fantastically rich. With a natural flair for impersonations coupled with exuberant confidence and with the mobile phone as his primary instrument to execute his crimes, he was in business: the Indian replica of the true life character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film ‘Catch me if you can’.
From the age of 17, he started swindling people posing as senior government officers over his phone. In 2007 he duped over 100 people by impersonating a high ranking bureaucrat in government making them believe he was getting their work done by the Bangalore Development Authority. He was soon exposed and arrested but managed to get out of police custody. But the nasty skirmish with the law did not stop him but drove him on to expand the business. Recruiting associates, he went on a swindling spree and was arrested several times, but even while on bail the old habit never died.
In 2015, he married his partner in crime, Leela, a model and actress, and moved to Mumbai where he set up a Ponzi scheme. Over 450 people invested only to find they had been robbed of all their monies. The Central Bureau of Investigations filed action against Chandrasekhar and wife who were accused of cheating investors to the tune of Rs. 195 million Indian rupees.
In 2017 came the game changer. He learnt that Tamil Nadu politician T.T.V. Dinakaran was desperate to secure Jayalalithaa’s legacy and to obtain the ‘two leaves’ election symbol. Chandrasekhar told Dinakaran that he knew the election officials at the Election Commission and would bribe them to get the symbol in his favour. The price: 500 million Indian rupees. Later having learnt of Chandrasekhar, Dinakaran filed a complaint. He was arrested and then remanded.
But four walls did not a prison make for his fertile imagination for when the window of freedom closed on him another window of opportunity opened to let his spirit free. It was here in a Delhi jail that he planned his most audacious enterprise yet: The 2 billion buck extortion racket which led to the first Act of the present drama unfolding in Delhi’s High Court last week with Jacqueline – whom he wooed and won during his interim bail – starring in a leading role, having liberally enjoyed his mind boggling extravagance.
The charge sheet read out by India’s Enforcement Directorate revealed the many expensive gifts Jacqueline, who had the red carpet laid out for her when she visited Lanka in 2013 to open her elite restaurant ‘Kema Sutra’ at the newly renovated Arcadia shopping complex off Independent Square where a single hopper was priced at 250 bucks, had received from big spender Chandrasekhar. Jacqueline is implicated in the case because her intimate relationship with him has raised doubts whether she was the ‘beneficiary’ of laundered money.
The charge sheet itemised the gifts she received from him as:
15 pairs of diamond earrings
5 Birkin bags, Hermes bangles, Louis Vuitton bags and shoes, Gucchi gym wear
A bracelet from Tiffany & Co and Cartier bangles
Rolex watches, diamond studded jewellery sets
An Arabian horse worth 5.6 million Indian rupees
4 Persian cats each worth 900,000 Indian rupees
A MINI Cooper which she claims was returned
On top of all these presents which amount to over Rs.100m or in Lankan rupees to over 250 million, she used to visit showrooms of luxury designer bags, clothes, shoes and other items from where she would send Chandrasekhar a list of the items she wanted. He, in turn, would pay for them and got them delivered to her either in person or through his aides.
And that’s not all. Her siblings too were in the deal. Jacqueline’s sister Geraldine who lives in the States received US$ 150,000 and was also presented with a BMW while her brother was given US$ 50,000.
If that was not enough for him to play Happy Families, even her parents cashed in on Chandrasekhar’s largess. They were given two sports cars, one a Masserati and the other a Porsche.
Jacqueline had appeared before India’s Enforcement Directorate in October this year for questioning in connection with Chandrasekhar’s extortion racket, after having skipped the meeting thrice earlier. She had appeared once before in August and recorded her statement under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act in the case. On December 5 she was stopped at Mumbai Airport from boarding a Muscat bound flight after Enforcement Directorate had issued a lockout order for her and summoned to New Delhi where was questioned for over five hours.
Born and raised in Bahrain, Jacqueline who comes from a multi Eurasian family of Sri Lankan, Canadian and Malaysian descent, graduated from being a model to hit the big time in Bollywood making her film debut in 2009 with the fantasy film Aladin. After a 12 year wait, her genie seems to have finally appeared to answer her every wish this year but only to leave her in a grubby soup at the end of it, though Rs.100 million richer.
However, despite the photograph of Jacqueline smooching Chandrasekhar going viral three weeks ago, the Bollywood actress has continued to deny she was in any relationship with him.
No doubt, his lavish gifts – which will dry up no sooner if he’s jailed – were purely acts out of philanthropy. Now that Jacqueline has agreed with the Enforcement Directorate to ‘completely cooperate with the agency in the investigations’ and turned Judas, he may find his altruism boomeranging to crucify him in the dock.
Disclaimer: X’mas comes early for MPs sent on mandatory holiday - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view