gathered last Sunday, from an assortment of far flung
provinces, groups of impoverished men women and
children, ill clad, and disoriented, making motley
throngs under the trees of the Viharamahadevi Park.
group of refugees somehow freed from the camps in
Vavuniya but depositors at one of the lesser known
branches of Ceylinco’s network of shame – Shriram.
whirlwind of publicity surrounding Golden Key however
their story has been largely forgotten.
story at both Golden Key and Shriram is much the same,
depositors received over the odds interest rates from
companies that turned out to be fronts for an elaborate
financial scam, but the victims could not be more
ragged crowd that assembled in Viharamahadevi Park
presented the starkest possible contrast to the well
turned out men and women who emerged from their
Mercedes and Monteros to attend the infamous meeting
convened by Golden Keys management at the BMICH.
ultimately it is Shriram’s depositors who are the real
victims of the Kotelawalas’ confidence trickery and
while Shriram might be a lesser known entity in the man
made catastrophe that is Ceylinco it represents
perhaps one of the darkest chapters in the Ceylinco
While Golden Key was a vehicle to prey on the greed and
the black money of the rich, Shriram had an entirely
different purpose – to take advantage of the financial
insecurity of the poor and modestly well off.
Operating primarily in Kurunegala and Anuradhapura,
Shriram’s life blood was money deposited by the
vulnerable people of the provinces.
uncanny timing Shriram salesmen would arrive after a
civil servant had received a gratuity, or an office
worker had collected an EPF payment.
would then whisk their victims away, not in a white van,
but in a sleek saloon car to a well appointed office
and offer them the highest possible interest on their
deposits — 23% and upwards.
Brandishing glossy portfolios, they explained that
Shriram was of course a registered finance company and
that deposits would be backed by an Indian finance
company — Shriram.
course they added that the Ceylinco group was behind the
initiative and retiring civil servants, teachers, and
shopkeepers, with small amounts of capital were all
happy to leave their hard earned cash in the hands of
such a reputed company.
was our job to operate in Kurunegala, Puttalam and
Anuradhapura, rural areas but places where there was
some disposable income; it was our job to convince
ordinary people – farmers, teachers, civil servants… to
invest with us,” said Isuru a former Shriram salesman.
“We weren’t really after big deposits – just savings
from ordinary people.”
course it all adds up and when like all the other
finance companies in the Ceylinco group Shriram stopped
paying interest and began preventing customers from
withdrawing their money late last year, the company
held over 8 billion rupees worth of deposits – from
over 6000 depositors.
Without the knowledge, influence or power of the
depositors at Golden Key, Shriram’s
customers were left destitute, robbed of their paltry
savings but without any understanding of their legal
position and how to mount a case against the company
that defrauded them.
quickly learned that the guarantees and promises they
had been given by glib sales people had been false —
there was no involvement from any Indian company and
Shriram was certainly not a registered finance
of Shriram’s directors reveals the usual suspects —
Kotelawala, the Lady Doctor, Daniel Jegasothy and a
cohort of other Ceylinco big wigs.
appeals made by Shriram’s desperate depositors to
these directors were met with the usual false
Shriram’s Deputy CEO, H.K. De Silva promised the
depositors a grand meeting at the Sugathadasa Stadium
to address their concerns. However just days before that
meeting was scheduled to be held depositors discovered
that the company’s management was attempting to put
the company into liquidation, which would have left
depositors with no hope of recovering the value of their
Shriram unlike other Ceylinco group companies has
virtually no tangible assets – as a fund management
vehicle it invested in other companies and not in real
unlike legitimate fund management companies it invested
principally in other Ceylinco group companies.
value of these companies has of course collapsed over
the last few months and nothing it seems is left of the
Rs. 8 billion deposited at Shriram but shares in
liquidation was halted by legal action Shriram’s
depositors remain at a complete loss as to how to
recover their deposits.
Without the means to afford lawyers and struggling to
mount a case against as murky an organisation as Shriram,
depositors had little idea of how best to take their
case forward – hence the meeting at Viharamahadevi
even there they struggled to agree on a common course of
action, some still holding on to the hope that a
settlement could be reached with Ceylinco, and others
pushing for immediate legal action.
Depositors associations from Kurunegala, Anuradhapura
and Colombo had different ideas on how to proceed and
all they had in common were stories of loss.
“They’ve made us beggars. I invested my pension fund
just months before it collapsed – now I’ve had to
disconnect the electricity at my house as I can no
longer afford to pay my bills,” lamented a teacher from
asked to withdraw the money as my wife’s father needed
heart surgery it was a matter of life and death but the
money is gone, and all our letters to directors have
been ignored,” claimed another depositor.
Stories of lost deposits and financial hardship are all
too familiar from the extensive publicity given to
Golden Key and F & G, but the poverty, the innocence
of these depositors gives these tales of woe a
scam central to Shriram was particularly repellent —
for the company was devoted to leaching funds from
the Kotelawalas and Ceylinco as a whole Shriram was
based entirely on show – flashy offices, slick sales
people, glossy brochures all creating a front of
legitimacy that hid a calculated and vicious scam.
their publicity and their boards everything said
Shriram but any correspondence came from the capital
management. The company had no real assets and the
money taken from depositors was funneled into other
subsidiaries. Even its name was a sham. “We deposited
our money with Shriram but the interest was paid by
another company. But we never thought to question… it
was a registered company, with an Indian partner and of
course there was the Ceylinco name.” The company had no
relationship with the Shriram Group of India. The
company it appears was designed to vanish without a
trace, and given that Shriram’s assets are largely
worthless how precisely depositors will ever be
compensated remains unclear.
the efforts made by depositors association to trace the
Rs. 8 billion of deposits held by Shriram have been
emerged however that Shriram’s deposits were held in
an account at Seylan Bank.
However the bank has refused to cooperate with
depositors who are keen to trace their deposits which
again raises question about the extent of the banks’
involvement in Ceylinco’s schemes.
deposits were held by Seylan Bank, they are responsible
we want our money back they must have a record of what
happened to it. But they are aren’t cooperating”
insisted Sanjay. “So many people need this money to
so far the only offer depositors have received is a
vague verbal promise that if they keep their deposits at
Shriram for five years they will have 45% of their
absurd promises and meager offers are clearly
unacceptable to Shriram’s depositors.
fact the offer itself borders on extortion. Asking
people to keep their money at an organisation the
defrauded them in order to have any hope of getting
even 45% of their money back.
last Sunday as the crowd at Viharamahadevi Park
dispersed, clambering into buses and vans for the long
journey home, they were left to wonder why the
directors of Shriram – including H.K. de Silva and Rajiv
Wijetunge remain free when Golden Key’s directors have
already been incarcerated.
fact the fraud in this case was even more profound as
the company itself was ultimately a fake.
Ceylinco Shriram it turns out is not a single company
but a network of different Ceylinco subsidiaries.
Depositors had been receiving their payments not from
Shriram but from Ceylinco Capital Investments Limited,
explained Sanjay whose wife had deposited her entire
retirement fund at Shriram.
Everything about this case suggests that Shriram was a
carefully thought out scam.