12th May, Volume 8, Issue 43

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SPOTLIGHT

PSD chief drops another bombshell

By Frederica Jansz

In a bizarre, but perhaps predictable twist of events, former heavyweight of the Presidential Security Division (PSD), SP Nihal Karunaratne when quizzed by sleuths attached to the Criminal Investigations Department, has said that all his former actions had been carried out on the orders of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Karunaratne's attempt to absolve himself from all blame, follows hot on the heels of Kumaratunga having accused Karunaratne of being a weapons agent for the LTTE.

Willing to now spill the beans on his former boss, Karunaratne is disgusted and angry at the president's betrayal. Having risked his life many times to safeguard hers, Karunaratne is of the opinion that he should have been treated better, and does not deserve being publicly slated.

Not only has he implicated the president in his confessions to police, but Karunaratne has also named former Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva and Presidential Secretary, Kusumsiri Balapatabendi, who he says manouvered many a 'deal.'

According to Karunaratne, both de Silva's and Balapatabendi's sons are shipping goods to the north for US$ 5 more than the price offered by his friend and confidant, casino owner Dhammika Perera.  Dhammika Perera has offered US$ 35 per ton for the same purpose as against the US$ 40 for each ton quoted by Balapatabendi and de Silva through Mercantile Shipping. However, a permit for Perera has not been granted. Instead it was given to the offspring of the politically influential duo.

Karunaratne has charged that the ships used by Mercantile Shipping for this purpose are over 20 years old, which are against specified regulations. According to Sri Lankan standards these ships are not seaworthy and cannot keep to a required speed of 15 knots, he claims. 

Karunaratne's statement was recorded on May 6, in connection with his presence and that of other members of the PSD at the scandalous election held to elect a president to the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka in 1999.

The violent election has video footage of Karunaratne being present together with other armed PSD personnel during an ensuing fracas that broke out.

Karunaratne has told the cops that his presence at the BCCSL that day was on the orders of President Chandrika Kumaratunga who had ordered him and other members of the PSD to give protection to her uncle, Clifford Ratwatte who was contesting the election against former BCCSL President, Thilanga Sumathipala.

He asserts that his presence at the BCCSL in 1999 was after the president had confided to him that she was expecting trouble to erupt and appealed to Karunaratne to take care of her uncle Clifford Ratwatte.

Clifford Ratwatte at the time was resident at Temple Trees where the president too lived and worked from. Defending his presence at the BCCSL that day, the cop now fallen from grace, says he was only carrying out his duty. At the time "I was tasked to provide security to the president and her immediate family which included her son, daughter, uncle and aunt who lived at Temple Trees," he states.

He has denied getting involved in any of the fisticuffs that followed during the disgraceful melee. Karunaratne has admitted that former PSD officer Baddegana Sanjeewa and other PSD officers had also been present at the BCCSL fracas.

According to Karunaratne the fight at the BCCSL erupted that day due to infighting within the SLFP/PA. He claims that some in the SLFP/PA, including former Minister Reggie Ranatunge and his son Arjuna were supportive of Thilanga Sumathipala while others had supported the candidature of Clifford Ratwatte to be president of the BCCSL.

During the row, Kamal Ratwatte had desperately appealed to Karunaratne to get his father out of the BCCSL as Clifford Ratwatte is a heart patient and he was afraid his father would suffer a heart attack.

Contender for the hot seat at the time, Thilanga Sumathipala said he is happy that finally an investigation is being carried out in this regard. "I am glad Interior Minister John Amaratunge has taken this initiative - as the culprits must be brought to book."

Sumathipala added that on this occasion SP Nihal Karunaratne had been physically present at the BCCSL together with the DIG PSD, Victor Perera.  "They were both present at the BCCSL from 8.30 in the morning that day manipulating the whole election," Sumathipala charges.

He added that in the 53 years of elections at the BCCSL this was the only time the government got involved. "I have faced seven elections at the BCCSL and we never had a problem.  This time there was trouble because Clifford Ratwatte was a contender for the presidential post," Sumathipala said.

Meanwhile, disgusted with the manner in which Kumaratunga has publicly slandered him, SP Nihal Karunaratne has asserted that it is pure selfishness on the part of the president and others that makes them such turncoats.

Having safeguarded Kumaratunga's life by putting his own life in danger, Nihal Karunaratne expected gratitude. Instead, the president has accused him of conspiring with the Tamil Tigers together with Dhammika Perera.

Karunaratne's and Dhammika Perera's friendship goes back to the time when Dhammika Perera wanted to open 'Bally's Club' at Colpetty junction. Perera ran into opposition when the then OIC for Colpetty, Earl Fernando refused permission. Henry Attanayake who had been contracted to serve as manager of this club then approached PSD Chief, Nihal Karunaratne.

The permission was received in record quick time and 'Ballys' was open for business to foreigners only. The club to date functions as an unauthorised structure as it never sought and obtained the necessary approvals from the Colombo Municipal Council though he got a court order staying the demolishing of the structure.

Earl Fernando in the meantime also received stern orders to keep his mouth shut and shut-up - he did. Dhammika Perera did not forget Nihal Karunaratne. Not only was he a contender for the spoils the casino wrought but was a recipient of Perera's unceasing gratitude and friendship.

Last week, Karunaratne made two anticipatory bail applications. The first was made on Wednesday, May 8 and the second on May 9. The first application was in connection with his involvement in the assault on The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickre- metunge and his wife Raine, in 1995. Bail was not refused but his passport was impounded by the Gangodawila magistrates court.

The Criminal Investigations Department demanded that Karunaratne report to the CID headquarters the last week of every month.  Senior sleuths have arrested five suspects in connection with this case so far. Two, were identified by Lasantha on April 29, this year.

The evidence so far has implicated SP Nihal Karunaratne, who according to the confessions made to police had allegedly organised and planned the assault together with former media advisor and film star Sanath Goonetileke.

OIC, PSD, Ravi Peiris stood surety for Karunaratne on this occasion. Karunaratne's second application was made the following day on May 9, 2002. This time around he sought bail for the 1999 case where press photographers were assaulted at Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 7.

The CID did not object to bail being granted in this instance too. The cops however pointed out that investigations so far have revealed that one of the stolen mobile phones belonging to a journalist was subsequently recovered. The detection led to the name of one Sanjeewa surfacing and it transpired that this man had worked as a labourer for Karunaratne.


Fuelling CBK's bank balance

by Frederica Jansz

President Chandrika Kuma-ratunga is landlady of a petrol shed she pressurised the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) to allow on land owned by her at Nambadaluwa, Attanagalla and will shortly own the shed, obtained through power peddling.

The 'deal' was pushed through in record speed-time in a matter of only five days from when the CPC received a request from a private company to set up and be dealers for a Lanka filling station at Horagollawatta situated at Nambadaluwa village, Attana-galla.

That the land in question belonged to the president proved to be a cakewalk for the private firm who as a result of paying Kumaratunga a rental were allowed to bypass all norms and procedures usually adopted by the CPC in such transactions.  The monthly rental to Kumaratunga is only Rs. 5,000. The binding lease agreement however will doubtless reap dividends for the president who will be the owner of all the buildings, structures, fittings and fixtures at this petrol shed even after the lease is terminated or expires.

In reality, the petrol shed is for Kumaratunga and the lease given to close associates is just to get over the preliminary hurdle of the president having a contract with a state agency.

In fact, in an attempt to show how poor she was, she had even told her former PSD Chief Nihal Karanaratne at one point, she did not have enough money to complete the shed.

Kumaratunga apart from leasing the land for the explicit purpose of a petrol shed being built and operated is the stakeholder in the project.  Her agreement with the private firm clearly states that she and "her agents, engineers, workers and other persons" should be permitted at all reasonable times including during construction of the petrol shed to view and examine the state of the project.

The private firm, once the lease agreement with the president is either terminated or expires, will not be entitled to claim compensation of any kind for any of the buildings, structures, fixtures or fittings that have been erected at this site for the purpose of operating a petrol shed. This is despite the company having to initially erect such building etc., at their own cost.

The company during the time of the lease agreement will pay all rates, taxes, assessment property taxes and any other outgoing taxes in respect of the premises at Horagollawatte, Attana-galla. 

Ironically, the lease is valid only upto two years commencing December 1, 2000 and ending November 30, 2002. And the petrol shed is not even ope-rational yet.

Thus, by the time it becomes operational, the lease would have ended and president in terms of the agreement auto-matically becomes the owner of the petrol shed.  Neat trick surely.

In this context, it is also damning that the lease agreement is signed by Kumaratunga on November 24, 2000 permitting the operation only of a petrol shed when the application for the dealer outlet is made by Hi-tech Carbons (Pvt) Limited only on De-cember 13, 2000.

Therefore it is obvious, granting of the petrol shed licence was pre-arranged before the signing of the lease though the application itself was only after the lease agreement was entered into by Ku-maratunga.

The company will also insure according to the lease and will be kept insured against loss or damages as well as pay insurance premiums for all the buildings on the said premises which the company have no right to claim even after the termination or expiry of the said lease.

Having leased out the land to Hi-Tech Carbons (Private) Limited on November 24, 2000, Kumaratunga arbitrarily gave permission to the private company which is situated at 75/1, 3rd Floor, Hemas Building, York Street, Colombo 1 - to construct a petrol shed on this lot of land for which she is also paid a monthly rental.

Ratnayake Mudiyanselage Podimanike Liyanage and Sujatha Jayanthi Wickremarat-chchi, both close associates of the president have signed on behalf of Hi-Tech Carbons (Pvt) Ltd. the lease agreement with Kumaratunga.

Attorney Anil Tittawela, a relative of the president who was also a director of Hi-tech Carbons had subsequently resigned on August 2, 2001.

That former Chairman for the CPC, Anil Obeysekera was a mere stooge of the People's Alliance (PA) government is clearly displayed in this instance. Kumaratunga in writing leased the said land to Hi-Tech Carbons before attorneys-at-law and notaries public, Murugesu and Neelakandan on November 24, 2000.

The lease agreement specifies that the rent must be paid in Colombo to President Kumaratunga without any deductions on the due dates. A second, binding clause adds that the said premises must be used to carry on a petrol shed only, and not to assign or sub lease or part with the same or any part thereof.

M. P. Liyanage, Director for Hi-Tech Carbons (Pvt) Ltd., only two weeks after he signed this agreement with the president wrote to Obeysekera, informing him that the company was interested in setting up a dealer owned outlet at Nambadaluwa, Attanagalla.  He requested for officers from the CPC to visit and recommend the site to set up this outlet.  His request was cursory considering the fact that he already had presidential approval to begin setting up the petrol shed.

After all, the property had by this time been already leased out for the said purpose.

Five days later, on December 18, 2000, a board paper was submitted at a CPC board meeting of its directors and chairman.  The paper specified that the subject issue was the establishment of a dealer owned Lanka filling station at Nambadaluwa, Attanagalla.

The paper proposed that Hi-Tech Carbons (Pvt) Ltd. be appointed as the dealer for the filling station at Nambadaluwa, Attanagalla.

The paper stated that the company had already obtained necessary clearance (from whom it does not say), that the land offered had road frontage of more than 200 feet and is ideal for a filling station. The paper also reiterated that the applicant is financially sound and capable of operating a dealership. The board paper was submitted by the marketing manager of CPC.

The paper received unanimous recommendation from the CPC board members who agreed that Hi-Tech Carbon should be given the dealership. The board minutes on this day record that CPC granted Hi-Tech Carbon the authority under section 5E of the CPC Act No. 28 of 1961 as amended by the CPC Act No. 5 of 1963 to sell supply and distribute Lanka Two Star Petrol, Lanka Auto Diesel, Lanka Kerosene and lubricants. The permission was granted on the condition that the company would begin consumer sales after they had completed the infrastructure and the installation of equipment at their own cost. 

The CPC however stated that discounts must be extended to dealer owned category dealers.

The next day, on December 19, 2000, the board discussed the issues raised in the board paper the previous day by the CPC marketing manager and re-affirmed their decision to allow Hi-Tech Carbons (Pvt) Ltd., a dealer owned Lanka filling station at Nambadaluwa, Attanagalla.

Working at record speed, the hierarchy at the CPC were in fast mode. Twenty four hours after the board decision was re-affirmed, a day later, on December 20, 2000, the marketing manager CPC, wrote to Hi-Tech Carbons (Pvt) Limited.

The letter sent by registered post to the private company stated that CPC was pleased to inform them that the board of directors of the state owned corporation had con-sidered their appli-cation and had re-solved to grant them the authority to set up a dealer owned cate-gory Lanka filling station at Nambada-luwa, Attanagalla.

The company was told to contact the Area Manager (West/North) of the CPC at Kolon-nawa for further advice.

Varying specifica-tions normally required to set up such a filling station was detailed in the letter. The approval certainly created history. Not only had the president already given the company the necessary approval on November 24, 2000, stating specifically in her lease agreement that the land must be used to set up a petrol shed only, she had also ordered Obeysekera to follow suit and treat the matter with the utmost urgency. An order, Obeysekera complied with pronto - together with               the other board directors at the CPC.

What justification there was for this petrol shed being approved is a question that even the present chairman of the CPC is unable to answer. The sole determining factor apparently is that the directors of Hi-Tech Carbon (Pvt) Ltd., share a very special friendship with President Kumaratunga.

Daham Wimalasena, the new chairman of the CPC admitted that approval for this filling station had been secured "extraordinarily fast. The company concerned, obviously got very special attention," he noted.

Wimalasena however asserted that there is nothing he can do now to stop the filling station from operating. "This company has invested in the CPC and we cannot now terminate this approval," he said.

Needless to say that the approval was granted in a matter of five days due to presidential pressure and that the president too is a stakeholder in this petrol shed has only served to further violate and ridicule the norms by which the CPC is governed.

Can a head of state be legally doing business with a state agency alone is the question the CID will have to now probe.

 

 

 

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