The Law Continues To Crawl In Weerawansa Saga
by Nirmala Kannangara
The saying ‘all are equal but some are more equal than others’ appears to be a reality today when considering the alleged passport frauds of MP Wimal Weerawansa and his wife Shashi Weerawansa.
The husband and wife duo are accused of using fraudulent travel documents, but questions have been raised as to why the law enforcement authorities have not taken swift action against these two law-breakers and brought them to book. Would this inaction apply to ordinary citizens of this country as well?
According to Assistant Controller (Legal), Department of Immigration and Emigration, Lakshan de Soyza, using an inactive passport to travel overseas is an offence but the department does not usually take action against the passport holder as such cases are considered oversights. However De Soyza said obtaining a passport by producing forged documents is an offence and those guilty of this would face imprisonment of not less than two years and not more than five years. “In case of an attempt to travel abroad with an inactive passport, we ask the passport holder to bring the legal travel document. But if a person continues to do so, he or she will be dealt with severely,” De Soyza said.
Wimal Weerawansa was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in October last year for using an inactive travel document (passport) to leave the country. He was later given bail by the Additional Magistrate, Negombo.
According to De Soyza, the diplomatic travel document Weerawansa was in possession of while attempting to leave the country on October 23, 2015 had been inactivated earlier as the former Minister had obtained a new diplomatic passport claiming that he had lost the previous travel document.
“In such cases, when we issue another passport in place of the lost one, we inactivate the previous passport in our system. When Weerawansa produced this ‘lost’ passport to our counters at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), the system showed that he was using an inactivated passport and he was asked to bring the legal passport,” De Soyza said.
De Soyza further explained how Weerawansa had come to the Department of Immigration and Emigration the following day with a copy of a police complaint made the same morning. Claiming the second passport too was lost, he requested that another new passport be issued.
“Our department once again issued another diplomatic passport to Weerawansa and requested him to get the visas stamped in the newest travel document. But he did not heed our instructions and once again tried to leave the country with the newest passport together with the inactivated passport since the visa was stamped in it. Since Weerawansa had violated the Immigrant and Emigrant Act, he was immediately arrested and handed over to the CID and was later produced before Additional Magistrate, Negombo, Thilakaratne Bernard where he was released on cash bail of Rs. 10,000 and two sureties of Rs. one million each,” De Soyza added.
Weerawansa’s wife, Shashi Weerawansa was also arrested by the CID in February last year on charges of obtaining a diplomatic passport fraudulently. She was accused of possessing two passports bearing two different dates of birth. No sooner the news spread that the CID was to arrest her for obtaining the diplomatic passport with forged documents, Shashi Weerawansa got herself admitted to a private hospital in Malabe where she was arrested.
Shashi Weerawansa had applied for the diplomatic passport in 2010 by submitting false personal information which was different to what appeared in her previous passport that expired on 24th May, 2009.
Although her birth and marriage certificates, copies of which are in the possession of this newspaper, carry her name as Ranasinghe Randunu Mudiyanselage Sheerja Udayanthi Ranasinghe and her date of birth as February 1, 1967, her diplomatic passport issued on September 13, 2010 carries her name as Randunu Mudiyanselage Shehasha Udayanthi and her date of birth as February 2, 1971.
Sheerja Udayanthi Weerawansa was issued the standard passport bearing No: N1284124 on May 24, 2004 giving the passport holder’s date of birth as February 1, 1967 and the National Identity Card (NIC) No: as 675320233V. The application number was N041308865 and the address was A/9 MP’s Quarters, Madiwela and her place of birth, Wellampitiya.
Mrs Weerawansa’s diplomatic passport bearing No: D3642817 had been issued on September 13, 2010 for a validity period of ten years. Contradicting with her first standard passport, in the diplomatic passport her name appears as Randunu Mudiyanselage Shehasha Udayanthi Ranasinghe and her date of birth February 3, 1971 and the NIC number 715344696V.
According to the birth certificate of Weerawansa’s daughter Wimasha Wishwadari which was issued on September 18, 2002 a copy of which is also in the possession of The Sunday Leader, the mother and father both had got their dates of birth changed on December 10, 2008 and March 28, 2011 respectively. Originally in their daughter’s birth certificate, the father’s date of birth was given as March 7, 1965 but had been changed to March 7, 1970 and mother’s date of birth as February 1, 1967 which had later been changed to February 3, 1971. Mrs Weerawansa had also got her name changed from Ranasinghe Randunu Mudiyanselage Sheerja Udayanthi Ranasinghe to Randunu Mudiyanselage Shehasha Udayanthi Ranasinghe on March 28, 2011.
“According to the Weerawansas’ daughter’s birth certificate, the parents’ dates of birth and the mother’s name had been changed following the legal process on December 10, 2008 and March 28, 2011. But how could Shashi Weerawansa obtain a diplomatic passport in 2010 under the name and date of birth which was legally changed only in March 2011? Misleading government departments with forged documents is a serious offence,” an official at the Registrar General’s Department told The Sunday Leader.
According to sources, Wimal and Shashi Weerawansa have misled and cheated the Department of Immigration and Emigration as well as the Department of Registration of Persons by producing forged documents to get a counterfeit NIC and passport. It is up to the respective departments to take immediate legal action against Shashi Weerawansa for misleading them which is an offence under the penal code.
De Soyza further said that Shashi Weerawansa’s case should come under the fraudulent document category since the personal details on both travel documents contradict each other although the photograph is of the same person.
According to Section 45 of the Immigrant and Emigrant Act No: 20 of 1948, any person who without lawful authority uses or has in his possession any forged, altered or irregular passport, has in his possession more than one travel document shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and shall on conviction be liable to rigorous imprisonment for a term of not less than two years and not more than five years.
With the law thus clearly stated, the delay in taking legal action against them is puzzling to say the least.
Be that as it may, Weerawansa and his wife have also been grilled by the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) as to how they have acquired four properties. A complaint had been lodged by villagers in Hokandara on May 5 and the ‘B’ report has already been filed in Kaduwela Magistrate Court (B 40/2015) on May 14 and the deeds of the lands in question have been obtained from the Land Registry in Homagama.
Attorney-at-Law Namal Rajapaksa who contested the 2015 presidential election has several questions regarding the Weerawansas’ wealth. “How can an owner of a small telecommunication centre become a millionaire within a short span, after extending support to the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when his sole income was the ministerial salary and the other perks a government minister is entitled to? He owns a mansion worth over Rs.70 million at Mangala Mawatha in Hokandara South. From where did he get the money to construct two houses in Hokandara? Who gave money to Weerawansa’s wife so she could own a garment business? Where did the money come from for Shashi Weerawansa to own shares of a production house in Polwatte, Pannipitiya?” Rajapaksa queried speaking to The Sunday Leader. Rajapaksa says he is ready to prove the allegations against Weerawansa if proper investigations are initiated under the Money Laundering Act.
“Before extending his support to the Rajapaksas in April, 2008, Wimal Weerawansa owned only a small communication centre in Mawaramandiya. His wife’s family gave them money for their day-to-day expenses. Up to the time he defected from the JVP and extended his support to Mahinda Rajapaksa, he had to give his MP salary to the JVP funds. He was able to keep his salary for himself only after crossing over to the government,” Rajapaksa said.
The FCID has also filed a ‘B’ report at the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court (B 26907/03/15) against Wimal Weerawansa for allegedly misusing a sum exceeding Rs. 60 million by giving away houses to his family members from Mattegoda and Kahatuduwa Housing Schemes constructed by Ocean View Development (Pvt.) Ltd., which came under Weerawansa’s purview when he was the Minister of Housing in the former Rajapaksa regime.
Ocean View Development Company (Pvt) Ltd of No: 25, Ocean Tower Building, Station Road, Colombo 4 is a government owned construction company. Fifty seven per cent of its shares belong to the National Housing Development Authority and 43 per cent shares are owned by the Urban Development Authority.
The sale price of lot 16-D house of the Mattegoda Housing Scheme was Rs. 9.954 million, and the lot 10-B house was Rs.10.178 million. The sale prices of the Kahatuduwa Housing Scheme houses were lot 10-B4 Rs. 8.5 million, lot 5-B4 Rs. 8.5 million, lot 35-B3 Rs. 9.8 million, and lot 36-B2 Rs.10.2 million. No easy-payment scheme had been offered to pay for these houses and 10 per cent of the value of a house had to be paid to reserve one and after paying 75 per cent of the total value, the house could be occupied while the rest had to be paid on monthly installments within two years without any interest added.
However Weerawansa using his ministerial powers had given six of these houses to his and his wife’s siblings.
Out of these houses, lot 16-D had allegedly been given to Vadachcharige Hemasiri, Weerawansa’s sister’s husband. Lot 10-B had allegedly been given to Palleperuwa Gamage Ananda Priyadharshana, husband of another sister of Weerawansa. From the Kahatuduwa Housing Scheme, lot 5-B5 had allegedly been given to Hewa Geeganage Wathsala Kumarasinghe, Weerawansa’s eldest sister’s son’s wife, lot 10-B4 had been given to Isuru Tharangamala Muthu Ranaweera, Weerawansa’s brother’s wife. Lot 35-B3 had been allegedly given to Palathegedara Vasantha Rupasinghe, Shahsi Weerawansa’s brother’s wife, and lot 36-B2 was given to Priyantha Milinda Ratnayake, the Media Manager of the former President’s Media Unit and presently the Media Manager to the Urban Development Authority. This house had been given on the instructions of the former President’s wife Shiranthi Rajapaksa and is now under investigation.
Details of how these houses in Mattegoda and Polgasowita were not sold at the market value but were given away for a down payment of 10 per cent waiving off the balance secretly, have now come to light.
Meanwhile sources from the FCID said that with the appointment of the new Attorney General last week they are now in a better position to accelerate their course of action not only against Weerawansa but against many more politicians and public officers.
“There was a time when the Attorney General’s Department dragged their feet without giving us permission to take legal action. With the new Attorney General taking up duties, we are confident we can take action against those individuals. In regard to Weerawansa, action could be taken against him for money laundering as he cannot explain how he acquired such a large wealth despite not having other businesses or inherited wealth,” sources claimed.
At the time of going to press, attempts made to contact Weerawansa had failed. Although a text message was sent seeking a comment, Weerawansa did not respond to it nor returned the call from this newspaper.
Weerawansa’s Coordinating Secretary Bandara however when contacted said he could not make any comment.
“When baseless allegations are levelled at our leader I cannot make any comment,” Bandara said.