‘Cash-strapped country being overwhelmed by corruption’ By Shamindra Ferdinando

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Mega Airbus, US PR deals: Eran questions govt. silence

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Eran Wickremaratne says that in spite of revelations of massive waste, corruption and irregularities in the public and private sector, Sri Lanka lacked a system to deal with those exposed here as well as persons implicated as a result of judicial actions overseas.

National List MP Wickremaratne pointed out that action hadn’t been taken against those exposed.

The former State Finance Minister said that the failure on the part of Sri Lanka to take follow up action on two specific judgments given by British and US courts in January 2020 and Feb 2021, respectively, clearly exposed the situation.

Wickremaratne served as the Deputy Minister of Investment Promotions and Highways of the Yahapalana 100-day government before being elevated as State Finance Minister.

The former CEO of the NDB who gave up that post in 2010 to enter parliament on the UNP National List served two terms before switching allegiance to the SJB in early 2020.

Lawmaker Wickremaratne told The Island that the country was in such a precarious situation, financially, the incumbent government should put in place a system to deal with corruption. The MP said that he used last Friday’s debate on two COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) reports tabled in Parliament this year to underscore the need to address the issue at hand.

The country had been overwhelmed by unbridled corruption, the former banker said, urging the Parliament to pay attention to the much deteriorated financial accountability or face the consequences.

Lawmaker Wickremaratne emphasized the urgent need for a strong independent body that could inquire into corruption cases whoever exercised political power.

Responding to another query, the SJB heavyweight questioned the rationale in COPE investigations as well as inquiries undertaken by two other parliamentary watchdog committees, the COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) if those exercising political power conveniently ignored the disclosures. Similarly, the country couldn’t ignore decisions given by foreign courts in respect of Sri Lankans or cases involving Sri Lankans.

The NL MP said that Sri Lanka’s failure at least to properly examine the rulings given by a British court in respect of corruption in the procurement of aircraft to SriLankan Airlines and the US court as regards Sri Lanka government being duped to the tune of USD 6.5 mn by US political promoter Imaad Shah Zuberi highlighted the weakness in our system.

MP Wickremaratne said that the incumbent government owed an explanation regarding the handling of SriLankan Airlines case.

The MP told the parliament: “In 2013 Airbus engaged a wife of a person, concerned with the purchase of Aircraft for Sri Lankan Airlines through an intermediary company, and pursuant to that engagement, Airbus company had offered up to USD 16.84 mn to the said intermediary company to influence SriLankan Airlines to purchase ten Aircraft and four more on lease basis. In fact USD 2 mn had been paid at that particular time as commission to the intermediary. The judgment mentioned that the seriousness of the criminality in this case has been acknowledged by all sides. It was proven in the Southwark High Courts in Great Britain in the case between the Director of Serious Frauds Office and Airbus where the judgment pronounced on January 31, 2020 said Airbus and SriLankan Airlines had committed a major fraud.”

When interrupted by Agriculture Minister Mahindanda Aluthgamage MP Wickramaratne challenged the SLPP to take legal action if politicians of the yahapalana government had been involved in the Airbus fraud.

MP Wickremaratne was referring to SriLankan Airlines ex-Chief Executive Kapila Chandrasena and his wife Priyanka Wijenaike who surrendered to the CID following the disclosure of payments received by Airbus in a sales contract made in 2013.

Chandrasena received appointment as Sri Lankan Air Lines Chairman in Nov 2018 in the wake of constitutional coup staged by the then President Maithripala Sirisena.

MP Wickremaratne asked what had happened to the investigation ordered by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa into the Airbus deal after the British court ruling.

The incumbent administration also owed an explanation regarding payment of USD 6.5 mn to an American of Pakistani origin lobbyist Imaad Shah Zuberi, who was given a 12 year prison term for falsifying records to hide his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level US officials. US federal judge found him guilty on several counts, including defrauding Sri Lanka of USD 6.5 mn. MP Wickremaratne pointed out that the then government had paid USD 6.5 mn for what was called an image building exercise. “All these are proven cases, but what has the Sri Lankan Government done about this?” The MP pointed out while the rest of the world took tangible measures against corruption, the COPE seemed satisfied with disclosures with no final investigation or justice.

MP Wickremaratne said that the parliamentary watchdog committee should state its position on the British and UK rulings.

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Disclaimer: ‘Cash-strapped country being overwhelmed by corruption’ By Shamindra Ferdinando - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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