UL Chairman With Undeclared Millions Under His Pillow
- Nishantha Wickramasinghe – Chairman of SriLankan Airlines
It is typical. Not the 8 million rupee theft. But the cover-up which has followed. Both police and SriLankan Airlines of which Nishantha Wickramasinghe is Chairman have collectively or perhaps it is a national maladay – effectively shut-up.
Closely connected to the first family – brother of First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, a former planter and currently General Manager Estates at Finlays, – Nishantha Wickramasinghe though the victim of a theft – nevertheless, appears to have been caught with an undeclared booty.
How much of the foreign and local currency worth Rs. 4 million, stolen from his residence can Wickramasinghe honestly account for?
We tried valiantly to ask Wickramasinghe himself this question but the man remained phone shy until this newspaper went to print.
So, we were compelled to rely on inside sources. Not the thieves. Our ‘sources’ confided that US $ 11,500, Sterling Pounds 10,500 and one million rupees was the amount stolen from Wickramasinghe’s home in Mt. Lavinia . A Rolex Watch valued at an estimated Rs 4. million was also stolen.
From where did Wickramasinghe get such an expensive watch? His tax declarations would indicate whether he could afford to buy one himself. Wickramasinghe is clearly in violation of the Exchange Control laws his own brother-in-law helped promulgate in this country, as a legislator.
Controller, Exchange Control Department of the Central Bank P. H. O. Chandrawansa said that if a person retains foreign currency worth US $ 2000 with him 90 days after returning to Sri Lanka from overseas it is a violation of the Exchange Control Act.
Chandrawansa explained that according to the Exchange Control Act No. 24 of 1953, any person travelling overseas in possession of monies exceeding US$ 15,000 must declare it.
When entering the country any person can bring any amount of money back to Sri Lanka but no one is allowed to keep more than US$ 2000, for more than 90 days after arrival. “In such instances I have the authority to investigate the matter,” Chandrawansa said.
Asked as to what action he could take against those who violate the regulations of Exchange Control Act, Chandrawansa said that it is up to him to decide what the penalty should be.
Our repeated requests to SriLankan Airlines asking if Wickremesinghe is paid a per diem when overseas and if he is required to return any of those monies if unspent on his return, were met with blank denials of “I don’t know”, including from the Chief Executive Officer Kapila Chandrasena who was literally quaking andbegging us “not to involve him” when we asked him for a clarification on the matter.
Even an email query to the corporate communications department remained unanswered as we were fended off with a non committal “the email has been sent to the management for a response”. A management who remained mute, too afraid to pull the rug – from beneath the muddy feet of a Chairman who clearly has much to hide.
In our endeavour to find out how Wickramasinghe could have amassed such wealth to be left loosely lying around his home we asked Kapila Chandrasena and the Board Secretary for SriLankan Airlines Ms. Melgrade Peiris if the Board had recently approved a Rs. 500,000/- monthly reimbursement package together with perks for Nishantha Wickramasinghe.
Both Chandrasena and Ms. Peiris claimed they did not know or “are not entitled to speak on Board matters”.
The multi-million dollar plus sterling pound question is this. Where and how did Wickramasinghe gather R. 4 million worth of foreign and local currency which – he did not trust a bank vault with, but instead his home at De Saram Place, Mt. Lavinia?
The police refused to tell us where in the house the money had been stored.
The Mt. Lavinia police who initiated the investigation and the Police Media Spokesperson SP Ajith Rohana claimed not to know the exact amount stolen from Wickramasinghe’s residence saying, “There were only a few foreign currency notes among the robbed Rs. 4 million.
Wickramasinghe was to go overseas in a few days and those were the monies he planned to take with him,” SP Ajith Rohana said.
However, a senior police officer on condition of anonymity confirmed that the thieves had stolen US$ 11,500 and Sterling Pounds 10,500 from Wickramasinghe’s residence when he and his family were away last week.
“This is completely against the Exchange Control Act. According to this Act no one can retain more than US$ 2000 or any other foreign currency equivalent to that amount. The police department too is surprised as to why no action is being taken against Wickramasinghe who has blatantly violated the Exchange Control Act. Is it because he is the brother of the First Lady?” he asked.
That, is a question we would all dearly like answered.
In Sri Lanka this is what being part of the First Family can do for you. One can violate exchange control laws – play hide and seek – pressure the police into keeping mum – and literally flaunt one’s ill- gotten gains be it by way of currency or shiny gold watches.
For all Mahinda Rajapaksa’s spouting on good governance he is bounden to explain how his brother-in-law (his wife Shiranthi’s brother) was hoarding 4 million rupees worth of foreign and local currency in his house.
This incident in fact only mirrors what this newspaper has been consistently saying – that corruption is at an all time high in this country – the people are being taken for assess – while those walking the corridors of power are stealing from beneath our very noses.
With additional reporting – by Nirmala Kannangara
Police At A Dead End
Police Spokesperson SP Ajith Rohana said that the intruders had entered through a fanlight in a bathroom when the house was empty.
“Up until now no one has been arrested nor have the stolen articles been recovered. However a special police team from the Mt. Lavinia police has been deployed to carry out investigations,” he said.
According to SP Rohana, the Police Finger Print Bureau was able to collect “scientific evidence” including fingerprints of the burglars.
“Although we collected scientific evidence, the police sniffer dogs were not able to trace the intruders. We have questioned the neighbourhood and other suspects in the area but have not yet been able to make a breakthrough,” SP Rohana said.
He declined to give any details of the stolen items but said that goods worth Rs. 8 million have been taken away from Wickramasinghe’s residence.