The Sunday Leader

How Sunanda Robbed The Money And NGO Accountability FMM Still Not Submitted Audited Accounts For Rs 30.9 Million

  • Continued from last week; Sunanda Saga, States of Denial and NGO Accountability

By Uvindu Kurukulasuriya

Sunanda Deshapriya and Jacqueline Park

Last week I reproduced Sunanda Deshapriya’s lies regarding his corruption. On December 28, 2008 Sunanda Deshapriya told Lakbima News’ Namini Wijedasa;  There was no other alternative to do that. At the end of the project, we found that something was missing. So we discussed among ourselves and decided to do it the way we did, without cheating the money but by using the excess money for something else. Ninety percent of NGOs work like this. I know that other NGOs have had much bigger issues and there has been internal disciplinary action. But Sara (Saravanamuttu) and some others have gone to the press. I accept their right to go to the media.
His statement regarding NGO work is a real challenge to Sri Lankan NGOs.  NGO leaders must address the issue. He said, “Ninety percent of NGOs work like this. I know that other NGOs have had much bigger issues and there has been internal disciplinary action.” If we believe Sunanda then we have to believe ninety per cent NGOs are corrupt. This week, I will describe Sunanda’s and the International Federation of Journalists’ (IFJ) way of robbing money.

Episode One

In 2007, there was a USAID-funded project called promoting “Public Service Values in Media” (PSM). The project partners were International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Association, Tamil Media Alliance and the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). All financial and administrative work was done by the CPA with staff members assigned specifically for the relevant tasks.  Sunanda Deshapriya was the chief of the Media Unit, Sasha Ekanayake was the unit coordinator and the other three full time staff members were Manjula Wediwardena, Athula Vithanage and Chanaka Krishantha. The final event of the project was to conduct an islandwide programme to reward journalistic excellence. The prize giving was held at the Galle Face Hotel on November 16, 2007.  IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park was also present.
According to the original project, organisers had to produce a book with prize-winners’ articles. Instead of doing so, Sunanda and other project staff decided to produce a Compact Disk containing just the visuals of the prize giving. Deshapriya secretly misled the project staff saying he had to pay for Jacqueline Park’s air ticket and there was no money in the project. He asked them to over-invoice the CD production bill. So, they produced 200 CDs and over- invoiced it for 1,200 items. The CPA was given a forged invoice from an advertising company. Unfortunately for Sunanda, the CPA accountant rang the advertising company and asked for clarification. The company said they had not produced CDs or an invoice. The CPA stopped the payment. Sunanda then produced another forged bill for the same transaction and he authorised it himself as a Director of the CPA. Since he was a Director, the CPA accountant released the cheque. The payee collected the cheque from the CPA and came to meet Sunanda. Sunanda’s subordinate Chanaka Krishantha was sent to the bank with the payee Deleepa Hemantha. Hemantha cashed the cheque, charged for 200 CDs and gave the balance Rupees 192,150 to Krishantha, who came to the office and handed over the money to Sunanda.

Episode Two

This took place in December 2007. Sunanda was the Convenor of FMM while being a Director and the Head of the Media Unit, CPA. I was informed of a suspicious transaction and I decided to investigate it.
I asked CPA unit coordinator why Jacqueline Park’s air ticket was not paid by CPA. He said there is another 3-year project called “Promoting Human Rights in Media (EU HR)”, funded by the European Union and run by the IFJ with five media organisations. I was told Jacqueline Park came to Sri Lanka to launch the EU HR Programme at Hotel Janaki and also had participated in the PSM prize giving, that same night, at the Galle Face Hotel. The date was November 16, 2007. But, I had no authority to carry out any official investigation at that time. In any case, I wanted to collect hard evidence on this malpractice before proceeding. When I checked the EU HR budget there was money for three tickets for International travel for Project Supervisor. One trip for the EU HR project launch, a second trip for the 2008 HR prize giving and the third trip for the 2009 prize giving. Apart from that there were another two air tickets for IFJ regional expert travel.
By the time I became the Convenor of the FMM, I had opened a file and collect all the evidence and kept a record. Meanwhile, somehow Sunanda came to know that I was investigating him and he surreptitiously handed over the robbed money to FMM as a donation. This was in June 2008. He asked for a donation receipt from the FMM administrative officer Faizal.  Faizal told me that Sunanda donated 192, 150 which was a strange figure for a donation. I still could not proceed further, because people involved in this corrupt activity were not willing to give evidence officially. It must be remembered that he had kept the money for eight months!

Episode Three

At the time I became the Convenor in May 2008, FMM was involved in two major projects, one was the above-mentioned Human Right Programme funded by the EU and the other was Public Service Media (PSM), funded by the Norwegians (run by IFJ and five media organisations, without CPA involvement). Sunanda was the project head at the FMM. Manjula Wediwardena, Athula Vithanage and Ravi Chandralal were the project staff. At one meeting  IFJ’s Jacqueline Park told them that when they organise islandwide training programmes, to conduct the HR workshops and PSM workshops on same day, same place for the same participants and get the two bills from the hotels!! In other words, she asked them to forge one invoice and forge the participants’ signature list.  Sunanda and Park were obviously planning to cheat two different donors. Someone informed me of their plan and I told Sunanda to stop it. Sunanda then shouted angrily at Wediwardena and Vithanage, accusing one of them of having told me since he trusted Chandralal. Wediwardena at this point, said that we had trained  journalists on corruption and journalism last year. He pointed out this was corruption and asked how we can ask for invoices from hotels? Then Sunanda accused Wediwardena of being engaged in corruption. Wediwardena replied saying, ‘yes, I am guilty of over-invoicing with regard to the CD production’. Sunanda was exposed thus before my eyes.  He threatened Wediwardena and asked him to resign.  The fight went on and on with Sunanda trying to sack them. At the Editors’ Guild annual prize giving, after consuming a lot of alcohol, they resumed the fight and called each other “hora, hora” (thief, thief).  The news of the corruption drama was spread all over.

Episode Four

Now I am quoting relevant sections from the official emails in the file I gave the Internal Audit Committee of FMM. You can see how Sunanda was/is lying and how he tried to launder the money.
Forwarding an email with attachments from IFJ Jacqui Park, on November 19, 2008  at 7:37 AM, Sunanda asked FMM Treasurer Kasun Yapa Karunarathna to authorise a money transfer to FMETU. The email was copied to other office-bearers including me.
I identified this 192,150 figure straight away. That was the money robbed from CPA. Without mentioning it, I replied; “According to the attached letter from Jacqui, FMM is currently holding a 192,150 Sri Lankan rupees reimbursement to the IFJ for travel costs incurred by Jacqueline Park on the PSM prize giving event on November 16 2007. My point is FMM has no obligation on this, because the 2007 PSM prize giving was organized by CPA.”
Sunanda replied to us, “I handed over that amount form as travel cost to 192,150 FMM form some saving we had for IFJ work, It was given as part of the LOTCO payment, The receipt is in FMM office, in the LOTCO budget. We had to do this as Sasha had not informed us that there was no travel cost in the budget only per diem and fees, FMM can give me this amount;  then I can transfer this amount to FMETU” [sic].
I replied; “Your answer is not clear, What is this SOME SAVINGS? Can you clarify this? Are you holding FMM savings with you? Are the treasurers aware of this? (last year Rusahangan and this year Kasun). Are the office-bearers aware of these savings? (except me)”
Sunanda replied; “It is my private savings for media freedom work re IFJ, I have spent more form this savings on many occasions for our press freedom activities, Whenever I earn from media freedom work I keep a saving for emergency work, This money has nothing to do with any organisation, This was paid to FMM as it was easier than to transfer the money” [sic].
I replied; “Okay,Then why did Jacqui park says FMM is holding 192,150 rupees? This is what you said re this 192,150 money in your earlier mail,  I handed over that amount form as travel cost to 192,150 FMM form some saving we had for IFJ work, It was given as part of the LOTCO payment. This is discordant with the new answer”.
Sunanda replied; “Sorry Uvindu, We mean Menik and me”. (Menik is his wife)
I replied; “Thanks for your generosity. Keep doing your generous donations to the FMM. The problem is this is a lot of money and you are donating this amount for some training which is conducted by SLWJA. We don’t need to ask money from the donors!!!!!!!!!!! But if you looked at the PSM budget 2007 which the CPA conducted there is money for IFJ expert’s traveling????”
Sundanda replied; “No money for IFJ expert travel in 2007 PSM budget, the problem is that when you look at it you get that feeling, but it comes under local contribution.”
I replied; “I’m new to the NGO culture; are we cheating the funders? But even if that’s a local contribution it was 150,000 rupees; how has it become 192,150. Was it air cost?
Sunanda replied; We can discus cheating the funders in a meeting to see who has done it before and who is doing it still, We all who travel know air fare changes, I think best way to sort this out is to return the money back to me, then I can transfer that amount to FMETU, then there is no issue for FMM to be burden with. [sic]
I replied; “I do not care who is cheating the funders. But FMM must not do that. Does the travel cost is tally with current air fares? Did we receive any invoice for the air ticket?”
Then I wrote an email to all FMM office-bearers and the office-bearers of the other four media organizations explaining this blatant act of theft. I copied the relevant part of the two budgets re the air ticket saga. Even though it was clearly robbed money I repeatedly asked Sunanda to produce a valid invoice for the said air ticket. He has so far failed to produce an invoice.
Apart from that, I also rang Dr. Saravanamuttu and explained the situation of this “stolen money”. Sara asked me to send an email to him. Since Sunanda says that air fare comes under local contribution, I forward those emails to him and asked him to clarify why CPA did not pay Jaqui Park’s air fares on November 16, 2007. We both knew what had happened, but this email was sent so he could carry out further investigations. Then Sara sent an email to Sunanda and asked why CPA did not pay for that air ticket. He replied claiming that it was his mistake and he paid the ticket money from his own pocket.
I handed over the relevant files including some other instances of corruption to the FMM internal audit committee on December 5, 2008. They have begun the investigation.

Episode Five

On December 7, 2008 Sunanda rang me from the Athens Airport and begged me not to go further and promised to sort-out all money issues. The day he returned he visited my house with his wife and reiterated this. But it was too late. On December 18, 2008, Wediwardena, Vithanage and Krishantha gave evidence against Sunanda regarding this issue and he was duly sacked from the CPA.  Of course, I encouraged them to give evidence at a proper inquiry. When I realised they were twiddling their thumbs over this I spread a rumor that Saravanamuttu was going to give this file to the Criminal Investigation Department. Then they got scared and gave the evidence.
The story did not end there. The day Sunanda was sacked, an NGO leaders’ delegation led by INFORM’s Sunila Abeysekera, an award winning human rights campaigner met Dr. Saravanamuttu and begged him to revoke his decision. They told Sara it was detrimental to the peace and human rights movement in Sri Lanka, and that others will use it against NGOs, etc. Even though Sara did not agree with them the following morning he came up with the theory called “lacked clarity” and not the “swindler”. Deshapriya is using that weak point and still playing around saying he did not rob the money!  These are the people who question the integrity of others, talking of good governance, transparency, etc. As I wrote last week, the day Sunanda was sacked Dr. Saravanamuttu said to me, “Tell Sunanda not to come to any public event, I will expose him calling a press conference”. He was influenced by other NGO tycoons.
You may think this is just a 192,150 Rupee issue. It is not. This story shows how they pocket NGO money, how they cheat the donors by producing forged bills. The story is still unfolding. FMM internal investigations found that millions of rupees had been misused. FMM now says they are not doing any further investigations. But FMM’s own reports which they sent to me, show that Rupees 30,900,000 (Rs. 30.9 million) have gone unaudited and FMM has failed to submit accounts for the years 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 to its membership.  FMM is a registered NGO under Sri Lankan law.
Under Sri Lankan law FMM has to submit its annual accounts to the NGO Commissioner. It has even failed to fulfill this obligation. There are still corrupt people in FMM. They all do not want to investigate this. They are scared that it will open another Pandora’s box.  My investigations found Sunanda to be responsible for swindling millions of rupees. This corruption saga is still unfolding.
Although the office-bearer positions are volunteer positions, the FMM is a registered NGO under Sri Lankan law.

13 Comments for “How Sunanda Robbed The Money And NGO Accountability FMM Still Not Submitted Audited Accounts For Rs 30.9 Million”

  1. Suruttu Bibiley

    So, even Jacqui is playing the game well. Aha!

    • Loku Banda

      Sunanda is one of the hated of Mahinda KIng’s regime, specially during the Geneva sessions. He has become a permanent representative at the UN against this Repressive regime. So last few days state media was having a good campaign against him. Uvindu is also adding these things at the same time.Good Uvindu. Very good. Being in UK, MOst probably having a hard time (ha- ha -ha ) He comes out against the people who fight against MR regime when the regime needs fighters against their critics.Keep it on and add more articles when the regime needs them.
      Will definitely support hanging a robber like Sunanda but first we will hang multi billion robber MR who violates HR openly.
      Loku Banda

  2. roti hora

    Judging by the picture, I dont think Jacky is capable of covering-up anything. Not even a small fraud.

  3. Leela

    Uvindu, What you wrote is just a tip of the iceberg. If you see what’s in the Pandora’s boxes of Sara and bigwigs of other NGOs, you’ll see the stars. Man, those that represent sponsors themselves are thieves. They all thrive on deceiving and robbing the gullible together.

  4. Leela

    I forgot; my earlier comment was not expected to be published but for you to read only.

  5. Leon Jayatunge

    This bunch of theive. Even the staff members mentioned here have a bad records in the fast( from young age)

  6. ganja sarath

    Why not? She sure looks game for anything.

  7. dagobert

    Rama Mani left us……….. Who played out the money from that organisation?? At the time the acting head who approved was none other than our madame ….and she said it was the accountant who played out the money that she only approved those cheque payments….

    You know what I am writting here…

    Over to you Uvindu if you can ???? This for investigative jouralism. At the time R2P was hot.

  8. Don't take politics to Journalism


    Sunanda is a well known and well respected Journalist, who contributed much more to sri Lankan Free Press than what you described as he had stolen.

    We know that he was a Brave person who sacrified his personal safety many times in behalf of the Press Freedom. In fact he acted almost similar to
    respected Lasantha wickrematunga.

    Let us assume that, he made a mistake and in later stages become little bit corrupted. Looking at his track records, it is highly unlikely that, he
    stole all what you mention here, but let us assume that he did. once the event started to get more exposure,he tried to correct himself.
    Don’t you think it as a Good Part of him ?

    You stated following : “On December 7, 2008 Sunanda rang me from the Athens Airport and begged me not to go further and promised to sort-out all money
    issues. The day he returned he visited my house with his wife and reiterated this. But it was too late.”

    I do not know much about you, and I really wonder how you can point a finger on a Journalist much repected in all over the island. He is known to any
    villager and he respected for his stand and he has a very clear track record than many of New journalists like you.

    I am surprised if you as an official involved in mud slinging campaign against a fellow journalist can do something better than him. Where is your contribution ?
    what did you do for Press freedom in Sri Lanka ?

    Can you elaborate more about yourself, before you divide the Journalists working for the same cause ?

    It clearly looks like you have a personal grudge or complex against him, which makes you to abuse valuable space in respected Sunday Leader. Please stop exposing a fallen (disgraced) hero, and try to concentrate more on correcting the issues.

    Also, may I ask you about your background a little ? Else, you can compare yours with sunanda’s before you start to spit on him.
    I hope you will not be given any designations in next elections, as you areknown to be a mudslinger and a bad mouthed rumour monger.

    With Journalists like you, we don’t need White Vans!
    you are doing it at your best!

    Good Luck to sri Lankan Press Freedom.!!!

  9. Don't take politics to Journalism


    i demand your clarification to my concerns.

    Can you tell us about your track record as a Journalist ? What is your contribution and what is the impact ?

    Also, can you teach us something about working ethics and the approach you should be taking as a position holder (in the organization, where you are trying to become a One Man show), if you see a corruption which is involved with many millions ? You stated following : “My investigations found Sunanda to be responsible for swindling millions of rupees”.

    Can publish all corruptions and respected (but disgraced) Sunanda’s involvement in them ? Else, until proven anyone is considered as to be INNOCENT. Provide your clarifications or else admit that, you have a personality issue with the disgraced Hero.

    I hope respected Mrs. Janz will give the publicity to this comment without removing it.

    Uvindu, once again, I demand a Clarification on your Allegations. Please publish it here under the comments or if not waste some more space to sling mud again.


  10. kamani w

    Uvindu I/we know you have a god given ability to swim against the currents, you are not alone, we are with you always. to readers dont know about the past he was the only person who fought against JVP/JUHU brutal ragging in Universities. once a respectable editor wrote this; “But even then ragging had not assumed the brutal form it has taken today. Much later in the 1980s it was only Uvindu Kurukulasuriya (who later became a journalist on the ‘Ravaya’) who alone was able to resist ragging as a fresher at the Jayawardhanapura University. Today a senior student of the same university has had to pay the supreme price for opposing ragging.”
    read University killings and five-star gun fights

    long live brother! Kamani

  11. Chandra

    Thank you very much Uvindu, for exposing another NGO swindler. Thanks

  12. lal

    As a Journalist I am aware that Sunanda has no policies at all! If Mervyn Silva is considered as a comedian in our Parliament , we Consider Sunanda as the same in Geneva.He was attacked for the 7th time in front of the UNHRC for the same behaviour with the same old uneducated crowed. Nowadays, this self exiled robber could find it as the only way to make himself popular. Dedicated journalists should sue him against, in order that he be really arrested for his mass robbery in the FMM and to be brought back to Sri Lanka for trials.

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