The Sunday Leader

Gem And Jewellery Or Cave Of Corruption!

By Nirmala Kannangara

The National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA), which issues gem mining licences, has been accused by its employees of being converted into a den of corruption during the former regime. The NGJA is now facing allegations of issuing illegal gem mining licences to persons with ‘right connections’ to the subject minister and the family.

Saminda Lakmal Premajayantha, son of former Environmental and Renewable Energy Minister Susil Premajayantha, has been accused of being involved in obtaining gem mining licences to those who were loyal to him and obtaining his ‘share’ unofficially.

It was in 2013 that The Sunday Leader exposed how Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Premajayantha’s predecessor, and his wife were allegedly involved in getting illegal gem mining licences, by producing forged and fraudulent documents, to parties who do not have any right but simply because of their friendship to the subject minister. When this was exposed, the then newly-appointed Environment Minister Premajayantha thanked this newspaper for exposing the frauds and ensured that under his purview no one would be allowed to obtain illegal gem mining licences and interdicted the then Head of the Legal Division for her alleged involvement in the racket.

Environment Ministry Secretary’s letter to Chairman, NGJA not to issue mining licences to lands where partition cases are pending

Although the promise was such, it has now been revealed how Saminda Premajayantha was also involved in the same racket with the same groups that were involved in the alleged scam with former Minister Yapa’s wife. However, Saminda refuted the allegations levelled against him and added that he had inherited enough of wealth and there was no necessity for him to acquire wealth illegally. “I was not involved in any gem mining licence scams,” Saminda told The Sunday Leader.

Gem mining is a lucrative, money spinning business and it is alleged that junior Premajayantha got his ‘share’ from the parties he had allegedly secured licences. The latest mining licence fraud Premajayantha’s son is involved in has been reported from Eheliyagoda, Pohorabawa where fraudulent documents have been produced to obtain a licence to a paddy land.

According to the stakeholders of the Dikdandawa paddy land, W. M. Rathumenike has submitted an application for a mining licence supported by letters of consent from stakeholders for the applicant. However, these stakeholders have claimed that they have not given their consent to Rathumenike for the Dikdandawa paddy land, but only to Purana, which is also a neglected paddy land and accused Rathumenike’s son Jagath Bandara and Ravi Somathilake, a close relative of Saminda Premajanatha’s wife, of producing forged documents to obtain the mining licence.

“The stakeholders of the Purana paddy land gave their consent to Rathumenike for a mining licence. By forging the name of the land – from Purana to Dikdandawa, Somathilake and Jagath Bandara have used the stakeholders consent letters to obtain the mining licence for Dikdandawa. Since Saminda was behind the scene and controlling the NGJA officials including the former Chairman Gamage, the forged documents Ravi Somathilake and Jagath Bandara submitted were not scrutinized and the licence was issued without any hassle,” sources added.

However, the rest of the stakeholders have been surprised that all their written objections to the NGJA were thrown away without considering the facts. Be that as it may, questions have been raised as to why the former Chairman of NGJA, Amitha Gamage issued the licence to the land in question in the Eheliyagoda electorate where a partition case is pending in the Ratnapura Magistrate’s Court for the past 20 years. In addition, there is a ministry directive that gem mining licences cannot be given to any land if partition cases are pending in courts.

The then Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy B. M. U. D. Basnayake, in a letter dated November 15, 2013 to Gamage, has clearly instructed not to issue mining licences to parties that fail to prove the legal ownership to a land and also to lands where partition cases are pending in court. The letter further states as thus, “When an application is submitted to your authority for a gem mining licence to a land for which the ownership is not established or where there is a case pending for ownership in court, the Minister has instructed that the permit should be given only with the consensus of all parties who claim ownership to the land. I kindly request you to adhere to the instructions”. Despite this ministry directive, former Chairman/ Chief Executive Officer, Gamage on April 8, 2014 has issued a gem mining licence to W. M. Rathumenike for the Dikdandawa land where there is a pending partition case in the Magistrate’s Court in Ratnapura (case number 12273). The licence was suspended temporarily the following day due to a strong protest by the legal stakeholders, but was re-issued on August 14, 2014, amidst controversy, to please the Minister’s son. Reliable sources at the NGJA said that they were surprised as to how the former Chairman instructed the then Eheliyagoda Deputy Director (Land and Regional Development) H. P. Karunathilake to issue the mining licence to Rathumenike even before the objection period had lapsed.

Although 14 days have been given to submit objections for any mining licence, the parties that objected to Rathumenike’s application had time till April 9, 2014 from March 27. However, the NGJA had hurriedly issued the licence one day before the objection period lapsed disregarding the rules and regulations. “It is a known secret that the licence was issued on the ‘directives’ of Minister Premajayantha’s son but wasn’t it the duty of the authority Chairman to follow the rules and regulations. Gamage bent the rules not only to the subject minister but to the minister’s son who had no ‘say’ with NGJA work,” sources said.

“We had the time till April 9, 2014 to submit our objections but on the 8th the licence was issued by the then Chairman Gamage. When asked the then Deputy Director Eheliyagoda H. P. Karunathilake as to why the NGJA issued the licence on April 8, Karunathilake said that it was granted by the Chairman on the request of Rathumenike,” H. D. Padmachandra, one of the stakeholders added.

Padmachandra further said that it was only after they showed their deeds and submitted affidavits that Rathumenike’s licence was withheld temporary. As a result of cancelling the licence temporarily, Rathumenike filed a Fundamental Rights case in Supreme Courts (SCFR 115/2014) but it was later withdrawn in fear of a detrimental order. “After seven hearings, Rathumenike withdrew the case in fear of an unfavorable judgment. They knew that had the judgment gone against them, they will not be able to get back the licence with the forged documents by hook or by crook with the involvement of junior Premajayantha,” added the sources. Because of this withdrawal, the protest group then lodged a complaint with the Ratnapura Crime Investigation Department (complaint number 52/2014) which was later referred to the Avissawella Magistrate’s Court (case number B 5329/ 2014).  “Similar to the NGJA, who ignored our claims and granted the illegal licence to please Premajayantha jnr, the Ratnapura Fraud Bureau also took Rathumenike’s side and accused the stakeholders of giving evidence against ‘a fraud that has never taken place’. The Officer in Charge of the Ratnapura Fraud Bureau Dineth Dharmadasa and Sergeant Waduge accused those who went to give evidence against Rathumenike and warned them of putting them behind bars for 10 to 15 years if false evidence was given,” Padmachandra said.

With all objections and affidavits to prove that the documents submitted were forged and fraudulent, the Officer in Charge of the Fraud Bureau in Ratnapura has sent a letter to H. D. Padmachandra of Pohorabawa, Parakaduwa on August 8, 2014 stating that he has investigated into the complaint lodged by the stakeholders against the alleged fraud carried out by Rathumenike and that he has not found any forged or fraudulent documents submitted by the applicant. Hence he has informed the matter to the Avissawella Magistrate and has got the case withdrawn. He has further asked Padmachandra to solve the matter with the NGJA.

Meanwhile, sources at NGJA said how the former Chairman had taken away the licence inspection work from NGJA lawyers and had given it to Thilak Kulananda who is not a lawyer but a law student. “This is a joke. Kulananda is yet another stooge of Premjayantha jnr and can get any work done through him unlike with the other senior lawyers in the Environment Ministry Lumbini Kiriella or NGJA Legal Officer Priyanthi Jayasinghe. Neither the Chairman nor the Minister’s son could influence Kiriella or Jayasinghe and hence a protest was organized by Ravi Somathilake and a party connected to the minister’s son on July 24, 2014 in front of the Ratnapura regional office demanding the removal of Kiriella and Jayasinghe from land investigation and inquiry work. As a result the former Chairman vested powers on Kulananda to carry out land investigations in future. This has created a chaos in the ministry and the authority and this situation would lead to a dangerous situation. Since the gem mining licence issuing will now be carried out completely by political stooges, it would be certain that in future all gem mining licences would be given to those who are closer to the junior Premjayantha but not to the rightful owners,” the NGJA sources confirmed.

Meanwhile, reliable sources at the Environment Ministry said that although former NGJA Chairman had wanted to shred the powers vested on their legal officer in conducting inquiries on licenses, it will not be fruitful as Gamage does not have the powers to give instructions to the Ministry legal officer. “The Ministry legal officer is responsible to the Ministry Secretary but not to anyone else. It is the sole authority of the legal officer to check whether these mining licences were given to the right person who has got the majority shareholders consent. Just because a businessman and a former lawyer who was sacked by the NGJA for her involvement in giving licences for political stooges staged a protest to remove our lawyer and the NGJA lawyer from all their work, Gamage had no authority to take the work away from our legal officer,” the sources added.

When The Sunday Leader contacted the Legal Officer NGJA, Priyanthi Jayasinghe to find out as to why she approved the fraudulent documents to give the mining licence to Dickdandawa land, Jayasinghe refused to make any comment claiming she has no authority to speak to the media and also that she is not aware of any such details.

Legal Officer of the Environment and Renewable Energy Ministry Lumbini Kiriella when contacted also refused to make any comment in this regard. When asked about the allegations levelled against her at the Ratnapura protest, Kiriella said that the parties who could not get undue support from her are making such allegations. “Up to now I have discharged my duties to the best of my ability without getting involved in fraudulent activities. I know the parties that have slang mud at me in Eheliyagoda but by threatening, they still cannot get any unnecessary favours from me. I am a lawyer and they cannot force me to do illegal work,” said Kiriella.

Deputy Director H. P. Karunathailake, when questioned about how he had given his approval to forged documents which were clearly visible and also the applicant has signed two different signatures on two papers which is clearly noticeable and a clear evidence about the fraud, Karunathilake said that his recommendation has been accepted by a committee comprising Operations Director Thilak Kulananda, Director Personal Pradeep Thenuwara, the Internal Auditor, a company lawyer and the then Deputy Director Ratnapura Mr. Samarasinghe. “I have followed the rules and regulations and have not done any wrong,” said Karunathilake. When asked why he did not check whether they were forged documents, he said none of the documents issued have been forged nor have they been altered using tipex.

Meanwhile, Saminda Premajayantha said that he was not involved in getting mining licences to any party as accused by the NGJA officials and protestors.

“Since allegations were levelled against the former ministers and their family members of being allegedly involved in getting gem mining licences, my father Susil Premajayantha wanted me not to engage in any unwanted issues with anyone at the NGJA. I have only spoken to the former NGJA Chairman, the DG and one Director but do not have any connection with any other officials. Although many people came to my office at the Ministry to tell their grievances, I was unable to help them as I did not want to get my name unnecessarily tarnished,” Saminda said. When informed that senior officials at the NGJA bear testimony on how he had obtained illegal mining licences for personal gains, Saminda Premajayantha wanted these officials to come forward and level the allegations. “Why do they level these allegations against me with you? Let them come and tell it openly. I did not have any connection with Ravi Somathilake or anyone else as I never visited these gem mining areas. I hardly went to the ministry but most of the time I was involved in my own businesses. I am born rich and have inherited enough of wealth and there is no necessity for me to rob money,” Saminda Premajayantha said. Nevertheless, we have published scanned copies of the documents along with this article. The final decision is now up to our readers.

3 Comments for “Gem And Jewellery Or Cave Of Corruption!”

  1. carlos

    IF HE WAS BORN RICH, ASK HIM TO PROVE IT, IF ITS FROM HIS FATHER TEN ASK HIS FATHER TO PROVE WHERE HE GOT HIS RICHES.

  2. Don

    New allegation which were not available for the last 6 months and before, are now being leveled because an election is pending. People are now sick of this type of reporting and hate to read these false news in support of the political parties close to the newspaper tycoons and editors.

  3. Poor Lankan

    Both the Ministers who are General Secretaries of the UPFA and the SLFP carried out a lucrative business by giving gem and mineral mining licences to their kith and kin and their supporters and collected a colossal amount of money.
    One Minister built a mansion in his village at Gangodawila and any valuer will not dispute that it is worth 70 million.This minister got a road laid with concrete to his mansion from the Kotte Municipality where his brother is a member. His wife , son and brother the Municipal member were in his ministry and all were given state vehicles as well as fuel allowances as well as lucrative salaries. How can this minister’s son claim that he inherited wealth from his parents as the father was a petty officer who worked at the Bank of Ceylon before entering politics.
    The other minister struck a deal with a local company to sell a graphite mine and this mine has now been sold to a Canadian mining company collecting commissions twice.
    After the elections I suggest that the new government should appoint an independent commission to unravel these shady deals.
    The former Chairman of NGJA is the owner of a jewellery shop in the Nugegoda area and it is no secret that both he and his wife were frequent visitors to Temple Trees and had had dined and wined with the Former President..
    Both these ministers headed the Petroleum Resources Ministry and it is not a secret that during their tenure they imported sub standard fuel and awarded tenders to the former President’s cronies involved in money laundering.
    All hese matters should be investigated and if proved the two ministers and their kith and kin should be severly punished.
    People were afraid to expose these rogues due to fear that they will be eliminated under the white van culture!!!!

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