17th February 2002, Volume 8, Issue 31

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Murder suspect is CJ's crony

Victor Ivan, Editor of the Ravaya newspaper has written to Speaker Joseph Michael Perera on February 13, 2002, and made a formal complaint against Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva for aiding and abetting a murder suspect on a warrant evading arrest.van says the CJ knowing very well that the suspect concerned is a dangerous criminal, has allowed the suspect to be employed in an institution connected to the judicial service, thereby creating an

opportunity for the  suspect to associate with judges and influence them and make inroads into the judiciary and the administration of justice.

The firebrand editor of the Ravaya  says he has made his complaint to Speaker Joseph Michael Perera since parliament has the power to remove a judge from the higher judiciary. The complaint against Sarath Nanda Silva is made on the basis that parliament is the sole authority vested with power to initiate proceedings through a majority of members of parliament. Therefore, Ivan asserts he is bringing this matter to the notice of the speaker and members of parliament in order that the members of the House may take steps as provided under article 107 of the constitution to impeach the holder of office of the chief justice of Sri Lanka.

An appalling relationship

The story that unravels in connection with a murder, the relationship of the murder suspect and the chief justice is appalling. The chief justice while being well aware that the person is an underworld character in the country has got him employed in an institution closely connected to the judicial service. Sarath N. Silva is not only in close association with this person but also provides him with the opportunity of coming into contact with judges thereby creating a situation where the criminal is able to influence the judges.

The criminal concerned, while capitalising on his association with the chief justice, develops his contacts with other judges. The criminal having associated himself with several crimes, also adopts ways and means to provide cover and assistance to other criminals known to him.

Wanigarachchige Don Rohana Kumara who carries on in this close association with the CJ is involved in a number of criminal and fraud cases.

The fourth child of nine brothers and sisters, Rohana Kumara was born on March 24, 1962, in Meemana, Pokunuwita. He received his education at the Sirimevan Vidyalaya, Pokunuwita up to Grade 9. He married in 1987 and is a father of two children. He was employed at the Ceylon Tobacco Co. Ltd., Hettiyawatta (Kotahena, Colombo 13) from 1983 to 1988 as a machine operator. He lost his employment in 1988. Since then he has made a living by involving himself in nefarious activities. He was indicted by the attorney general on a false insurance claim and the case was heard before Justice P. Wijeratne at the Colombo high court.

In another case, the then Attorney General Sarath Silva, before he came to know him, indicted this person before the high court of Kandy (1218/97) for selling machinery and equipment worth 1.1 million from a garment factory which had been requisitioned by the National Development Bank. There was another case of attempted murder at the Horana magistrate courts in addition to number of other cheating cases.

It is learnt that Rohana Kumara befriended Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva through Attorneys Jayampathy Wickramaratne and Gaston Jayakody who had a close association with the chief justice, the president and her Secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi. Wickramaratne has in fact appeared as the lawyer for Rohana Kumara in several of his cases. Rohana Kumara has been in-charge of preliminary renovations of the official bungalow of the chief justice after he assumed duties as the chief justice and decided to start a judges training institute at his official bungalow.

After the repairs to the building to facilitate the training programme for judges, Rohana Kumara assigned himself a separate room with all facilities in the official bungalow of the chief justice, and continued to live there. Rohana Kumara thereafter functioned as the caretaker of the training institute for judges and was in charge of supervising catering services provided at ceremonies and workshops held at the institute. 

He established himself as a confidant of the chief justice and was able to maintain a favoured position within this institute. He also made sure that he came into contact with judges of courts all over the country who came there to attend seminars/workshops etc and established close friendships with these judicial officers and built up a reputation of personally knowing judges all over the country. It was common knowledge among the employees of the supreme court that one of the persons who could enter the chambers of the chief justice without prior notice/permission was Rohana Kumara.

A person of influence

When some of the employees of the supreme court addressed the chief justice as his lordship, they have got into the practice of addressing Rohana Kumara as sir. There is evidence that the chief justice is in the habit of handing over complaints received by him or the judicial service commission against district judges and magistrates to Rohana Kumara to find out the bona fides of such complaints. He has used vehicles with the nametag judges institute on his vehicle. Due to the close association of this person with the chief justice, he was considered as a person who could influence the attorney general's department and judges.

A complaint against the chief justice signed by 77 members of parliament with regard to the inappropriate and hideous association between this criminal and the chief justice was part of the impeachment motion which was presented in parliament on June 6, 2000. Since the impeachment motion against the CJ was presented in parliament last year, certain events have taken place. Rohana Kumara who was on an open warrant was arrested by the Piliyandala police while in his hideout at Kesbewa on December 29, 2001. He was wanted in connection with the Malwatte murder case. He was the 4th accused in this case. A woman who was the 3rd accused in the Malwatta murder case was with Rohana Kumara in the same house at the time of his arrest.

At the time of his arrest, Rohana Kumara had requested that he be allowed to speak to the chief justice. The officer-in-charge of the police party, Sub Inspector Tennakoon, had refused permission. Police records reveal that at this moment Lakshmi Kusumalatha, the 3rd accused in the Malwatte murder case who was close by, had taken a telephone call to the chief justice from her hand phone and informed the chief justice that Rohana Kumara had been arrested.

When the sub inspector questioned Rohana Kumara at the time of his arrest as to why he was evading arrest when there was an open warrant, Rohana Kumara's reply was that he was in hiding temporarily on the advice of the chief justice. Police investigations have revealed that the vehicle used by Rohana Kumara when he was on an open warrant belonged to the ministry of justice. There were three framed photographs with the chief justice and Rohana Kumara hanging on the walls of the house from where Rohana Kumara was arrested.

During this period he had spent about a week at Roshan hotel, Kataragama in the early part of November with Lakshmi Kusumalatha, and hosted a party at this hotel which had been attended by a magistrate, divisional secretary, two officers-in-charge of police stations (OIC Deniyaya, Sarath Perera, and OIC Kataragama, Athula Silva) and some lawyers. The hotel bill amounting to Rs. 140,000/= was paid by Rev. Ratmalane Siddhartha, the chief incumbent of the Vedihiti Kanda Viharaya, Kataragama.

In a separate incident, a murder was committed at the botanical gardens, Peradeniya, on February 5, 2000, at about 10:00 a.m. The person who ran the restaurant, Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon, was on the verandah of his restaurant when a criminal who appeared before him shot him at point blank range. An employee who came to the help of Wijekoon was also shot and the criminal attempted but failed to shoot the wife of Wijekoon, Claudia Mary Rees. The assassin along with his accomplice who tried to flee from the scene was apprehended by the employees of the botanical gardens.

The pistol used by the assassin for the assassination and a mobile telephone (no: 077-794884) and another pistol in the possession of the assassin were taken over at the time of the arrest. When inquiries were made in respect of the bills pertaining to the mobile telephone used by the assassin, it was revealed that frequent calls have been made from telephone nos: 08-225801 and 077-768161. Telephone no: 08-225801 was owned by the 3rd accused in this murder case, Lakshmi Kusumalatha which was installed in the room she was using at the Kings Park Hotel owned by her. Telephone no: 077-768161 is the mobile number of the telephone used by Rohana Kumara.

According to a copy of the bill for the period 21/02/15 to 14/03/2001 sent by Dialog Ltd., in respect of the mobile telephone used by Rohana Kumara, he made several calls to the mobile telephone used by the assassin Nupul Kumara. No calls have been given by Rohana Kumara to the assassin after this, indicating he was in some place in the botanical gardens witnessing the act of the assassination.

This clearly shows that he has refrained from calling the mobile phone as he came to know that the assassin, his accomplice, had been taken into custody with his pistol and the mobile telephone. Rohana Kumara had not called anyone over his mobile for nearly one hour from the time of the assassination. It can be assumed that it would have taken about one hour for the arrest of the assassin after he shot Wijekoon.

Apprehending a criminal

While the assassin was on his heels, the gate keeper at the main gate closed the gate and the assassin tried to escape by jumping over the parapet wall while firing at the crowd chasing behind him. However, the onlookers had been successful in beating up the criminal and apprehending him. It is believed that Rohana Kumara was watching the scene from a vantage point.

After the arrest of the assassins, the first call given by Rohana Kumara was to Lakshmi Kusumalatha. Rohana Kumara then made the following telephone calls. He phoned telephone no. 034-50084. This phone is in the name of P.N. Perera of Panadura. It is not clear what connection Rohana Kumara has with Perera. He then made two more calls to Lakshmi Kusumalatha. He thereafter telephoned Nishan Muthukrishna, coordinating secretary to the minister of justice on 077 365765. He also telephoned the legal section of the foreign employment bureau and Jayampathy Wickramaratne, PC, on 884315.

Rohana Kumara then phoned the official residence of the chief justice on 695634, twice. He also called Pokunuwita where his wife and children live and Lawyer Kingsley Ranawaka on mobile no. 077 355777. Rohana Kumara had once again telephoned the CJ on 422124 on March 8, 2001.

Police investigations have found possible reasons for the murder of Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon.

Some time back Ranjith Bandara was employed as a driver in Switzerland and Lakshmi Kusumalatha was employed as a house maid in Italy. They fell in love in 1987, and got married on October 25, 1999. After returning to Sri Lanka they jointly started a hotel business utilizing their funds. They purchased a land in extent of 01R-10P on Sri Sangaraja Mawatha, Kandy and commenced the building of the present Kings Park hotel, for which they obtained a loan of Rs. 33.8 million, mortgaging the above land to the Bank of Ceylon.

Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon was the managing director of Kings Park Hotel & Travels (Pvt) Ltd., and a member of the board of directors, while his wife Lakshmi Kusumalatha was also a member of the board of directors. As a result of disputes surfacing in their family life, Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon, without obtaining a divorce from his legal wife, got married to Claudia Mary Rees on May 8, 1995. Thereafter, with political patronage he received from the PA government, he obtained the management of the restaurant of the Peradeniya botanical gardens and carried on business there while being a shareholder of the Kings Park Hotel.

After the separation from his wife, while Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon tried to keep the management powers of Kings Park Hotel, Lakshmi Kusumalatha also tried to take control over the management, resulting in animosity between the two which gave rise to a situation where they were driven to seek legal remedy. Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon was charged by the Kandy frauds bureau for bigamy before the Kandy magistrate (Case No: 47036/96). He pleaded guilty to both charges. The magistrate postponed sentence to June 24, 1996, to allow time to call for record of previous convictions and finger-printing. He was released on bail of Rs. 1000/=.

For reasons not known, the magistrate called the accused to her chambers on July 29, 1996 which was a day prior to the calling date and without obtaining record of previous convictions and fingerprints was fined Rs. 1,500/= and released. The action of the magistrate aroused suspicion in the mind of Lakshmi Kusumalatha, and she was under the impression that the magistrate had been bribed by Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon.

In the CJ's bad books

After Sarath Silva assumed office as the chief justice, Kusumalatha came to know that the magistrate was in the CJ's bad books and she got a court employee by the name of Malcolm Silva to write a petition dated May 01, 1999 and sent it to the chief justice. The conduct of the preliminary investigation with regard to this petition was assigned to Rohana Kumara by the chief justice, and it is in the course of these investigations that contact was made by Rohana Kumara with Lakshmi Kusumalatha. Lakshmi Kusumalatha had connections with some high-ranking officers of the police but not with the judiciary. Rohana Kumara filled that vacuum.

It is possible that Rohana Kumara, as in other instances, would have posed before her as a secretary or confidante of the chief justice. In addition, he would have displayed his connections with judges in Kandy before Kusumalatha. Rohana Kumara allegedly had close connections with the Kandy High Court Judge, I.M. Abeyratne, Leon Seneviratne, the present additional district judge, then Magistrate Kandy, C.V. Rajapakse, one time Teldeniya Magistrate and presently one of the Kandy Magistrates, and Additional Magistrate, Kandy, Pradeep Hettiarachchi.

According to information gathered from employees of the courts, it is revealed Rohana Kumara often came to meet these judges and he participated in parties and often took part in picnics. There is no doubt that in the eyes of Lakshmi Kusumalatha, Rohana Kumara, who had close connections with the chief justice and judges who were hearing her cases, was a saviour and a hero.

On the other hand, to Rohana Kumara, who was a notorious character, Lakshmi Kusumalatha would have been a very useful contact as she had sufficient means. She was of upper middle class position. She was a pretty lady. She was going to be the sole owner of the Kings Park Hotel after the demise of her husband. The special treatment Rohana Kumara got from this lady, made him take her as his mistress and he frequented her hotel.

Police believe that in order to settle the property disputes between Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon and Lakshmi, they would have thought that the short cut to the solution would be to kill not only Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon but his new wife too. It would have been the misguided expectation of Rohana Kumara that with his connections with the judiciary, judges and some high ranking officers of the police, this murder could be carried out without anybody getting into trouble.

But things did not happen the way they expected. Only Ranjith Bandara Wijekoon could be eliminated. The attempt on Claudia Rees was not successful. Though it was thought that the assassins could get away from the scene of the murder without any difficulty, that too did not materialise.


A reason to celebrate

 

By J. S. Tissainayagam reporting from Muttharipputhurai

Murunkan is a measly, dismal-looking village now. It has shrunk from what it was: the prosperous nerve centre of the Wanni in the paddy transporting and whole-selling business, which was a lucrative trade when times were good and commerce thrived.

Ironically, with the ceasefire in operation, Murunkan looks more rundown and inconsequential than when military operations were going on. When both the LTTE and government troops were at war, there was an air of vigilance, suspicion and stealth among the military and police manning the bunker lines and checkpoints, which, however daunting, gave the area character.

But no longer. On Thursday, February 6, just a clutch of  policemen lounged by Murunkan junction where the Vavuniya - Mannar road branches to Arippu. They were unarmed and stared with undisguised consternation at the vast concourse of vehicles - vans, lorries and tractor trailers laden with village folk - trundling down the road to Muttharipputhurai.

"We feel cheated. When Interior Minister John Amaratunga visited Vavuniya he promised that we would be given long leave to go home. But it is three weeks now since he made the promise but nothing has happened," grunted a police Non commissioned officer, guarding Sector 10 on the Vavuniya - Mannar Road, who wished to remain anonymous.

He said he was in Vavuniya for the past 10 years without a break, braving the enemy, the torrid weather and hostile people. There were 10,000 of them stationed in the Vavuniya Division, most of whom had served long stints and waiting for their turn to go home on leave.

"The commanding officer of the area has managed to work up a transfer, but we of the lower rungs remain," the NCO continued. His colleagues agreed, nodding their heads dispiritedly, their eyes still following the procession of vehicles moving past them.

"Tamil is our spirit"

The time was around 3.00 p.m. and the road was beginning to fill with traffic and take on a festive air as never seen in the area since ethnic war began to escalate in the early 1980s. A banner slung across the Murunkan junction said what all the buzz was about: Thamil engal uyir; avuyir Pirapakaran (Tamil is our spirit; that spirit is Prabhakaran).

The Thamil engal uyir celebration was organised at Muttharipputhurai. The ponguthamil elurchchi early last year served to mobilise Tamils to agitate for the lifting of the proscription on the LTTE and begin political negotiations. Its unexpected fallout was the defeat of the EPDP at the last general election. The Thamil engal uyir celebration this year was to celebrate Tamilness and its integral link to the LTTE leader.

The road from Murunkan to Muttharipputhurai is around 20 kilometres long. But the tar and the carpet have long disappeared and the road has deteriorated to an uneven dirt track that is interspersed by puddles of water. The vehicles raise clouds of dust when travelling on the dirt track and splash mud when negotiating the puddles.

Both sides of the road are mantled by thick foliage and undergrowth. At one on point the road spans Aruvi Aaru (Malwattu Oya), intimately connected with Sri Lanka's ancient history. The forest hides a secret. Before the war began they were dotted by little hamlets - Jeevanagar, Pariyarikandal, Aruvi Aaru, Silvathurai, Alliranikottai and others.  These villages thrived on agriculture, though those closer to the sea engaged in fishing. But today most of their residents are displaced and only an isolated group of huts may be spied through the vegetation.

What however transformed these scenes of desolation and hopelessness were the people who had come out of their huts to the see the cavalcade of vehicles with their babbling and effusive occupants. Among those little clumps of humanity - men, women, children standing dressed as trendily as they could afford - there remained life, a freshness and an eager curiosity that war, deprivation and death had not conquered.    

Despite the state of the roads, there were decorations on either side. Triangular flags of maroon and gold cloth lined almost the entire way from Murunkan to the venue of the gala. They were interspersed by  gokkola streamers and banners proclaiming, "Thamil engal uyir; avuyir Pirapakaran."

A relaxation of militarism

"The organisation of the event was decentralised. We gave different tasks to the various voluntary and social service organisations in the area. For instance the MPCS was contracted to provide light and sound at the venue," said an official involved in putting together the festival.

The entire venture, including the logistics to transport the people from the 'cleared' areas and the overall co-ordination, was undertaken by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members of parliament and their respective party cadre.

The road from Murunkan leads to Alliranikottai that fronts the ocean. It is flat land with sparser vegetation than in the interior. The horizon is dominated by a tower that had once been used as a lighthouse. Mutthuraripputhurai that is three kilometres  from Alliranikottai, was famous for its pearl fishery. Alliranikottai boasts of a ruined fortress that was the Dutch governor's residence during the pearl fishing season when the island was under Dutch imperial power. 

The commitment of the organisers of Thamil engal uyir; avuyir Pirapakaran, was first seen at Alliranikottai. The entire three kilometre distance from there to Mutthuraripputhurai was lined by red and gold poles bedecked by garlands made of multicoloured polythene. What was eye-catching, although the material used in making these adornments was non-biodegradable, was the labour that had gone into turning out something that was simple, yet wonderfully attractive.

The celebrations proper took place at the Roman Catholic Mixed School, Muttharipputhurai. By 4.00 p.m. a considerable crowd had already gathered there. Most of them were organisers, but it included others too.

"We have a big problem with filling vacancies for teachers in the Mannar Education Zone, " said B. S. Emilculas,  Assistant Director  of Education, Mannar Zone, who was among those gathered there.

He said that most vacancies were for English teachers, while there were also places in the science and mathematics streams as well as in the primary section. He said though the provincial ministry of education had been appraised of the problem, it had not been satisfactorily resolved.

Otherwise, the ceasefire had facilitated a relaxation of militarism, which had been pervading the area during the past years. Schools such as the Maha Vidyalayam at Vannamottai had been occupied by the security forces, forcing students to study at Uyilankulam. "But with the ceasefire, the principal, staff and students are hoping to return to Vannamottai and make a new beginning." Emilculas said. Similarly, the Sri Lanka army that was occupying St. Anthony's Church premises in Thalaady had agreed to leave the area on a directive ordering that places of religious worship had to be vacated. Mass had not been said at St. Anthony's for the duration of the military's occupation, but the place was now open to the public.

"A problem is simmering with the recruitment of volunteer teachers for schools in the area. Though applications have been called, interviews are yet to be held, causing restiveness among the applicants," said K. Perimbathasan who is an assistant director of education in the same zone.

By around 5.00 p.m. the celebrations proper began. The formal opening was with the procession winding its way from Alliranikottai to Mutthariputhurai. Standing at the entrance to the Musali divisional secretariat office, the vanguard of the procession seemed innocuous enough. There was the van with the loudspeaker shouting instructions to the procession.

The van passed and behind it came the public. And they came and they came and they came. Crowds poured into the venue even past midnight. It is estimated that more than 20,000 persons attended the Thamil engal uyir function. They spent the night there braving the chill and getting drenched by the dew.

One reason for their late entrance was logistical. It appears that nobody expected such a multitude to turn up, including the organisers. The public transport system in Mannar, fragile at the best of times, found it very difficult to cope with the demands made on it.

"When I arrived at the Pesalai bus stand to come to the function at about 2.00 p.m., there were about five bus loads of people waiting for transport. I was lucky because I was able to get a school bus, the others were not so fortunate," said Charles Navaratnarajakulas from Pesalai.

Some people from places like Thaalvadu, Vengalaipaadu and Mannar, realising that waiting for public transport was futile, came to the venue in fishing boats.

As the crowd grew in size, problems of chanelling such a large number towards the venue became a problem. Although at no time did it appear that the multitude was beyond control, an expedient had to be devised to make its entrance onto the grounds more orderly.

"Women and children first"

"Please pay attention. Since there is such a large number of people waiting to enter the venue, women and children will go first. Mothers with their children may start moving forward now," the public address system announced.  Although it had to be repeated a few times, the ranks of advancing humanity parted, allowing the women and children to enter first. The males would follow later.

In southern Sri Lanka, controlling crowds by giving preference to women and children is hardly heard of today. At least it has not come to the attention of this writer. It is said that in the good old days "women and children first" was a command in passenger liners when tragedy compelled the captain to abandon ship. But whether it is practised anywhere in the world in these modern times, is debatable. But in the backwoods of Muttharipputhurai it served as an admirable method of crowd control.

The deprivation and hardship suffered by the people of the area have made them modify familiar institutions and put them into innovative use. In a part of the country where the police does not undertake any civilian functions but is seen as an agency of the state tasked to oppress  the public, who looks after traffic control?

The job had been entrusted to the boy scouts. "Whenever officials ask us to help out in a difficult situation we so do," said Jayatharan Lambert of the 4th Rover Scouts, Vengalai.

He said there are five troops of rover scouts totalling around 150 in the Mannar district. They compliment the approximately 400 scouts attached to the schools in the district. The scouts are called upon to lend a hand in various ways at religious, cultural and other events including giving first aid. Their upkeep is through the monies collected from the public.

"We get involved during the annual Madhu feast day when there are massive crowds coming to Mannar. There are also other events where we offer our services," Lambert said.

The meeting itself was politically less pugnacious than what many expected. In the front row by the stage were senior officials both from the provincial council and central government. This included divisional secretaries, grama sevakas, departmental heads and school principals, clad formally in silk vertis or saris as they would at an official function.

"It is remarkable the way the organisers have given the Thamil engal uyir celebrations a semi-official air with government officers seated here as if for a state function," remarked an analyst wryly.

While the presence of these government and local government workers gave the event a semi-official touch, there was another presence, also from the government, which was not so welcome by the organisers. It was known that agents from the security forces and police would mingle with the crowd and use the opportunity to take pictures or gather other data useful to them. However, the organisers did not seem to see it leading to a major breach in security. 

A celebration of common identity

"Thamil engal uyir  shows that military oppressions have not broken the spirit of Tamils," said N. Sivasakthi Anandan (TNA - Wanni District) in the only politically significant speech that evening.

Though there was little overt political propaganda from the stage, there was plenty in the leaflets that were distributed. In essence the Thamil engal uyir; avuyir Pirapakaran put forward demands for self-determination and a traditional homeland for the Tamils. It called for the military and Sinhala settlers to leave the homelands of the Tamils. What is more, it demanded the repeal of the PTA and release of those detained without trial under its provisions. It asked that the laws prohibiting fishing and imposing an economic ban on the Tamil areas be withdrawn.

But what spoke more eloquently than public addresses and the leaflets was the symbolism that went with the event. At times it was subtle, at others not, but carried a potent message of what the powers that be in the area felt and thought. The symbolism was supplemented by the messages embedded in the song, dance and drama that were to follow on the heels of the speeches. (See box)

The Thamil engal uyir; avuyir Pirapakaran festival was the continuation of the ponguthamil eurchchi that was successfully celebrated in many parts of the north-east. It was essentially a proclamation of a common identity. But the celebration of a common identity necessarily needs a root. That root is the struggle for self-determination and a homeland, epitomised by Velupillai Prabhakaran.

 

Symbolic presence of Prabhakaran

 

What hit one between the eyes at the Thamil engal uyir; avuyir Pirapakaran celebrations was the significant watering down of sentiments associated with enmity. Though there was harking back to the atrocities committed against the Tamils by depicting and referring to suffering and loss, there was no overt demonisation of the Sinhala. It might have been because of the ceasefire or because there are moves to de-emphasise it as part of a different policy. Whatever it was, the effort was deliberate and conscious.

Even the slogans did not cast any derogatory remarks on the Sinhalese. Neither was there a blatant attempt at spitting venom at the security forces, or even in caricaturing them. The idea seemed to be to give vent to the suffering the Tamils have undergone through song, dance and drama as part of a process of catharsis rather than pour invective on the 'other.'

The second set of symbols (or a lack of them) is associated with militarism. Firstly, there was not one armed or uniformed fighter of the LTTE seen. There was a complete absence of them. This produced a very agreeable effect among those from the south. This lack of visible presence was supplemented in symbolism associated with the festival. There were no illustrations of uniforms, weapons or any other military hardware to be seen. The grimness of war was of course depicted, but in stylised illustrations of death, injury and loss.

The presence of the LTTE was however portrayed in a different way. All the streamers and flags that fluttered that evening were red and gold, an unequivocal reminder of the Tigers. However, there was no Tiger flag seen anywhere that made these associations obvious. 

The third set of symbols is closely connected to the second. Though there was an emphasis on the civil rather than the military and a complete absence of armed Tiger fighters, the festival celebrating Tamilness - Thamil engal uyir; avuyir Pirapakaran - traced the spirit of Tamilness to one man - Velupillai Prabhakaran. It was as if the individual bestrode the civil and the military worlds and in that sense breathed life onto being Tamil. And whatever association made between the event that was essentially civilian and the LTTE was through the symbolic presence of Prabhakaran.


Illegal land grab in Kotte

By Frederica Jansz

Presidential Secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi and former Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, have allegedly joined forces to illegally own a government land at Madiwela, Kotte, and construct a building for commercial purposes, which monies will be diverted to a bogus NGO they have formed.

Another party to the scheme is W. K. Kumarasiri, Secretary, Ministry of Lands and Somapala de Silva, former Chairman ICTAD who is also a member of this group.

Balapatabendi, de Silva and Kumarasiri have one factor in common. They all hail from Rahula College, Matara.

The three old boys in order to secure the government land, formed an organisation called the Ruhunu Sanskrutika Mandiraya.

The address of the organisation is 72/42, Edirisinghe Road, Mirihana, Nugegoda, which we found is the private residence of W. K. Kumarasiri who incidentally was the former government agent for Colombo and is now secretary to the ministry of lands.

The organisation is completely non-functional. Two telephone calls to the above address were answered by Kumarasiri's relatives at home who said each time that he can be contacted at the lands ministry.

The paddy land in question is situated between Kimbulawa junction and the Sri Jayawardenapura hospital at Madiwela, Kotte. The paddy field in fact is approximately 100 meters away, as the crow flies, from the palatial new President's Palace that is being constructed at Madiwela, Kotte.

This land known as 'Divalakumbura' in 1983 was taken over by the government and tabulated as such in a gazette notification dated August 3, 1983. The land was taken when parliament was constructed at Sri Jayawardenapura and kept as a protected marsh cum paddy land for water drainage purposes.

The original owners to whom this land belonged, handed down over the ages as ancestral property, were farmers who were left with no option but to accept the government decision and a paltry handout as compensation when the state insisted the land could be used only for public purposes.

In fact, a huge circular area of land was acquired by the government in this manner in 1983 for security reasons, in order to protect the environs of the new houses of parliament.

On October 18, 1991, a fresh gazette notification once more detailed that the extent of marsh and paddy land known as 'Divalakumbura' at Madiwela, Kotte, was to be maintained as government land and used for public purposes only.

The old boys from Rahula College were undeterred. Balapatabendi and Chandrananda de Silva using the considerable powers they wielded under the former political administration after the PA came into power in 1994, ensured that this land was written to the name of the bogus organisation they claim to be members of. Not only have they committed a fraud in illegally taking over government land, they have also cheated the original owners of this land. Balapatabendi and Chandrananda de Silva meanwhile enlisted the support of two stooges at the Urban Development Authority, namely, Nihal Fernando and W. Rupasinghe, to help them construct at 'Divalakumbura' using funds and building materials allocated for the presidential palace project.

Large amounts of waste and earth cleared from the area in which the presidential palace is being built were dumped on this paddy land and a base for the water logged area set. In November last year, during the probationary period of the PA government, a foundation stone was laid in preparation for the construction of a two storey building on this land.

Subsequently, the land has been re-filled with huge amounts of quarry dust and concrete materials carried over from the area in which the presidential palace is being built.

The entire operation so far has been overlooked and paid for by the UDA. A description of the plan drawn by the UDA states that this is a 'Madiwela government project.' The lease, the UDA however states, is in the name of the Ruhunu Sanskrutika Mandiraya.

Our investigation has found that the Ruhunu Sanskrutika Mandiraya is a totally private organisation consisting of individuals who served high posts in the PA government and who hail from the same school down south.

The UDA meanwhile has allegedly allocated some eight million rupees to help construct a 10 feet wide drain plus a culvert across the roadway which will be 2.5 metres high and 1.5 metres wide. The monies have been taken out of the special projects department at the UDA, which is handling only the construction of the presidential palace at Madiwela. Both the drain and the culvert are essential in order to divert water that used to be retained on this land.

W. D. C. Rupasinghe, coordinating consultant for the president's palace project, UDA, said, a strip of this particular land was filled by the UDA on a special request made by members of the Ruhunu Sanskrutika Mandiraya.

He said, the members of this organisation namely, K. Balapatabendi and Chandrananda de Silva, had asked if waste substance from the construction area of the presidential palace could be discarded on the 'Divalakumbura' land and placed there in order to fill a section of the land for construction purposes. The request, Rupasinghe says, was initially made to the lands division of the UDA. He admitted that the UDA had been aware that this organisation needed approval from the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC) to fulfill such a purpose. He said however, that he cannot be certain this organisation secured such approval. Despite this, the UDA went ahead and complied with the request that came from the top, namely, Kusumsiri Balapatabendi and Chandrananda de Silva.

Rupasinghe maintains that the right hand side of the area from Kimbulawa junction upto the Sri Jayawardenapura hospital is not a retention area and people he said, are allowed to fill this land and build on it.

Why then this land was not returned to its original owners who were paid a pittance as compensation by the government when it was taken over in 1983 and 1991, Rupasinghe could not explain. What was the justification to hand over this land to Presidential Secretary K. Balapatabendi, Chandrananda de Silva and some of their cronies is a question nobody seems able to answer, including the secretary to this bogus NGO. (See box).

The details of security and flood drainage where this particular land is concerned Rupasinghe said has been gone into by the SLLRDC. He added that this area is now earmarked for development and is not included in the flood detention area. He contradicted himself however by saying that the Ruhunu Sanskrutika Mandiraya requires permission from the SLLRDC to construct on this land as a section close to the boundary needs to be retained as marshland for flood detention purposes.

Rupasinghe insisted that the UDA was having a problem in finding space to dump waste materials from the area in which the presidential palace is being built and as such, "We have obliged certain private parties."

Rupasinghe had no idea what the Ruhunu Sanskrutika Mandiraya actually does. Hazarding a guess he said, "It is probably something to promote cultural activities."

The Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation meanwhile have got wise to the scheme. On Wednesday, February 13, 2002, the SLLRDC wrote to K. Balapatabendi and the UDA, stating that no more construction work or landfill must take place on this area of land until a box culvert and drain is constructed. The letter states that it is of absolute priority to ensure that a proper drainage system is in place, along the boundary of this land for the free flow of water. 

A bogus NGO

W. K. Kumarasiri, Secretary of the Ministry of Lands, when contacted said the Ruhunu Sanskrutika Mandiraya is a non-governmental organisation promoting cultural affairs in the southern area.

He said Kusumsiri Balapatabendi is President of this NGO while Chandrananda de Silva and Somapala de Silva are Executive Board Members. He admitted they are all old boys of Rahula College, Matara.

Kumarasiri denied that the UDA had helped fill a strip of this land. He claimed that the land was filled, "Ourselves with quarry dust soil."

Kumarasiri asserted that the UDA had dumped waste material on this land which had to be removed as it was all peat and not suitable for building purposes. He said they, (the Ruhunu Sanskrutika Mandiraya) plan to build a cultural centre on the land.

Asked how the Ruhunu Sanskrutika Mandiraya came to acquire this land, Kumarasiri said, "I do not know. We made an application to the UDA who thereafter leased it out to us." 


Trader cartel exploits Jaffna consumer ruthlessly

"The UNP in Jaffna was led by ('kerosene') Maheswaran, who during the earlier UNP regime had made a fortune using his connections to smuggle essential items to the LTTE controlled areas"

- U. T. H. R. (J) bulletin no 28 of February, 01, 2002

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

 

The United National Front government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has undertaken a series of steps to relieve the economic hardship undergone by Tamil People of the north-eastern provinces during the short period it has been in power. The chief among them is the process set in motion to lift the economic embargo imposed on regions controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.Wickremesinghe when in the opposition had severely criticised the ban saying that food and medicine should not be used as a weapon of war.

Political connotations

There is no denying that while the supply of essential items to Tamil areas is primarily a humanitarian gesture, it has political connotations too. Redressing a long standing grievance of the Tamil people will be an effective confidence building measure. It would demonstrate that present government will not deprive the Tamils of essential items and food. The way to Tamil hearts and minds is through their stomachs, it is felt. It is hoped that a conducive climate for direct dialogue with the LTTE would be created through this approach.

Paradoxically while the problems of the Wanni Tamils are being systematically addressed, the Tamils in Jaffna peninsula are becoming irritated at the new government. There are a host of problems from the fishing ban to the question of missing persons that demand attention from the new regime today. Even though some of these issues were not caused by the new government, it was elected to office in the hope that it would. Although no significant breakthrough has been achieved on any of these, the Jaffna people are not impatient as they know some time is required to resolve these. There is however one issue that is causing great concern and hardship to the people at large that needs urgent attention. The longer this government delays tackling this issue the greater the process of alienation between it and the Tamil people.

Supply shortfall

This issue is none other than the shortage of essential goods in Jaffna and consequent rise in prices. This is particularly felt in the sphere of fuel and some food items like potatoes. The cost of living in Jaffna is much higher than in the rest of the country due to security and transport problems.

The quantum control adopted and heavy costs of air and shipping freight has led to a supply shortfall as per demand. Thus, prices rise. The Jaffna people expected the cost of living to be reduced gradually after the peace mandated UNF government took over. Instead the opposite has happened.

Prices in Jaffna, particularly fuel and potatoes are in short supply and also exorbitantly costly.

In that context the responsibility is on the UNP's solitary MP from Jaffna district and Hindu Affairs Minister, Thiyagarajah Maheswaran to alert his premier and government of this situation and urge immediate steps to alleviate Jaffna's misery and suffering.

It would also be natural for the Jaffna residents to inundate 'engadai amaichar' (our minister) of this problem and seek remedial measures through him, even if he is not the minister directly connected to this problem. Particularly the fuel crisis. Yet, that is not happening. Maheswaran is not being seen as taking any action on this account while the people themselves are not approaching Maheswaran on this. This is because Maheswaran is not seen as problem solving, but as problem exploiting potential. Rightly or wrongly Maheswaran is perceived as part and not solution to the problem. This situation is contributing not only to Maheswaran's unpopularity but also by extension to the UNP's.

This is extensively felt in the fuel shortage sphere particularly 'Man ennei' or kerosene. This public perception has led to a widespread acceptance of the prefix 'Manennei' before his name. Maheswaran was referred to derisively in alliterative style as 'Man Ennei Maheswaran' by former Eelam People's Democratic Party parliamentarian Thavarajah. That name caught on because of Maheswaran's 'historic' connections to fuel business in Jaffna. The shortage and price hike in kerosene during recent times and the popular belief that Maheswaran is exploiting that situation to his commercial advantage has resulted in the label 'Man ennei' Maheswaran gaining wide currency.

Fuel items like kerosene, petrol and diesel are only allowed in restricted quantities to Jaffna, despite it being under army control. The rationale is that, excessive quantities may be siphoned off to the LTTE. Compounding the problem is the duration and costs involved in transporting fuel by ship to the north. Thus the fuel prices in Jaffna were much higher than in Colombo.

There was always a chronic shortage that was offset by a blackmarket thriving such sales. The problem however was not a grave one for several years, as prices though high were nevertheless at manageable levels. The lack of sustainable electricity in Jaffna had led to greater dependency on kerosene for households. It is estimated that 1.3 million litres of kerosene is required every month for Jaffna. The amounts coming in, though late at times were adequate to contain prices from rising.

Economic embargo

This changed in October last year when the tigers attacked a fuel tanker and naval gunboat off Point Pedro coast. It was said in official circles that the fuel, particularly kerosene was meant for the Jaffna public . The grapevine however buzzed that it was meant for the armed forces. A tragic consequence of that incident was the creation of a sudden and acute shortage of fuel particularly kerosene in Jaffna. The buffer fuel stock in petroleum corporation storage facilities were seized by the armed forces. It was also announced that no fuel would be released from army stocks for security reasons. With Parliament being dissolved and a fresh election scheduled in December a conspicuous lethargy overwhelmed the bureaucracy. No effective measure was taken to get down kerosene urgently to Jaffna.

By December fuel prices had risen to very high levels in Jaffna. The imposition of the economic embargo for the first time by the Premadasa -Wijeratne UNP government in 1990, had led to the enterprising Jaffna people developing a 'vegetable oil' as an alternative. This oil required a certain amount of kerosene or petrol to be mixed with it for maximum utilisation. This was the staple fuel in the days of LTTE control. After 1996, the manufacture of vegetable oil had decreased as more regular fuel was becoming available. Last year's crisis saw even the price of vegetable oil escalating to over 60 rupees per litre.

As is usual in times like these profit motivated traders got to work. While the petroleum corporation moved slowly on the matter of leasing tanker ships and transporting fuel in bulk, traders acted individually and collectively in transporting fuels in barrels to Jaffna. These were only in limited quantities and also incurred high insurance costs. The fuel thus brought in, helped alleviate the problem to some extent but at tremendous financial burden to the people. Unscrupulous blackmarketeers manipulated the prices. This was also not enough to meet full needs of the people. The current rupee prices per litre according to a Jaffna resident are, petrol Rs. 125 - 140 , kerosene Rs. 75 - 85 and diesel Rs. 70 - 80. The officially allowed prices before this crisis in Jaffna were Rs 78 for petrol, Rs 24 for kerosene and Rs 38 for diesel. If Jaffna prices even during the best of times were so high in comparison with the rest of the country, the current prices are massively cruel. If the inadequacy of kerosene supplies continues to perpetuate the shortage crisis in Jaffna, faulty distribution schemes have compounded it further. The petrol and diesel brought this year though not enough, have helped ease the burden considerably. Likewise, the limited quantity of kerosene (estimated at 400, 000 litres) that came in this year for civilian use though woefully inadequate, could have eased the problems of the people, had a more equitable system been implemented. This, however was not done. The cause for this was political interference and the alleged culprit T. Maheswaran.

Kerosene crisis

The kerosene crisis became acute for two reasons. Firstly, it was not distributed widely through the cooperative societies. Secondly, the civilian authorities failed to impose a regulatory rationing system that would have enabled the people at large to receive kerosene equitably. Instead what happened was that through political influence the kerosene was given to registered agents in the private sector and not the cooperative societies while the district administrators were forbidden to introduce a rationing system. This was due to Maheswaran's political clout it is stated. As the leading Tamil daily, 'Virakesari' observed on February 3, "Minister Maheswaran's political interference resulted in agents receiving continued supplies of kerosene while the people receive nothing". Thus, fuel in general and kerosene in particular was being sold through the private sector at very high prices.

The kerosene crisis compelled consumer protection committees seek legal redress as a desperate resort. Jaffna district Judge T. Wiknarajah responded sympathetically to the consumer council plea and ordered that private sector traders be prevented from selling kerosene. He ordered that kerosene be sold through the cooperative societies on a ration system basis. He also ordered that private sector traders should sell fuel at the official price and instructed price control authorities to take action against anyone selling above that level. The action by Judge Wiknarajah came as a welcome relief and was hailed by the suffering Jaffna public.

That euphoria was not to last. A scheming business class aided by corrupt public servants and abetted by political elements saw to it that no effective follow up action was taken in terms of the judicial ruling. The private sector traders have signs that no fuel or kerosene is available, but a rapacious and clandestine black market has sprung up selling the stuff at astronomical prices. Sadly kerosene prices have nearly doubled after the ruling. It is estimated that blackmarket traders are now making five times the profit they could have made by sticking to legal norms. Authorities are kept in check from not controlling this menace through the time tested carrot and stick method. The 'carrot' being bribes and the 'stick', political clout. Jaffna today is in the grip of a vicious cartel of traders who dominate the distribution and manipulate the sale of goods into the peninsula. The security situation prevents traffic by road and goods can be brought in only through sea and to some extent air.

The delay involved prevents credit being given to any trader by the wholesalers in Colombo as the process involved takes several weeks thus tying up capital. The two private shipping lines that transport goods also charge very high prices. Thus the small trader is unable to compete in this set up. This has created a cartel of big time traders who buy and transport the goods in bulk, hold a virtual monopoly. T. Maheswaran himself, was a trader until he took to full time politics. It is widely rumoured in Jaffna that about 1000 barrels of the fuel that came in to Jaffna belong to circles close to Maheswaran.

Impartial probe

Maheswaran's family owns Mahalakshmi stores in Jaffna town. His rise in business has been through the modus operandi of supplying items in shortage because of the war. An impartial probe of his antecedents would reveal that he fits the description 'profiteer through war' appropriately. He became known as 'Manennei' Maheswaran, because he allegedly made his money through selling smuggled kerosene in Jaffna during the Premadasa regime. What is happening now is that Maheswaran along with a group of traders many of them hailing from Karainagar, comprise the cartel that controls Jaffna prices now. Maheswaran has lent his political weight in a big way to this group. Maheswaran himself is not engaged in business directly as he is now a minister. Yet his family, kinsfolk and associates are. Some of them are allegedly Maheswaran's 'Benamies' or fronts who own and operate businesses 'legally' on behalf of the 'real' owner.

 Maheswaran has been implicated in a number of shady business operations in the past. Even now, some of his professedly public oriented proposals are seen as one more profit making venture. His plans for extra Colombo -Jaffna air services and a ferry service from Talaimannar to Kurikattuvaan in Pungudutheevu etc are highly suspect in this regard. On the other hand, it is alleged that large quantities of food items are being transported to Jaffna on his behalf and sold at high profit. The extent of his wealth and that of his family and kinsfolk is not known but it is obvious that a probe of assets would reveal interesting disclosures. The Tamil weekly 'Thinamurasu' of January, 27-February, 2, charged that in January, seven lorry loads of potatoes and 1000 bags of sugar were transported on the 'pride of south' vessel. Another five lorry loads of potatoes were sent to Jaffna on the 'Ruhunupura'. The paper alleges that all these were for Maheswaran and that the sacks in question now lying in the Jaffna warehouse 'Ambika' have the sign 'ML' (Mahalakshmi). It points out that potatoes and sugar sell in Colombo is at the retail price of Rs 40 and 30 rupees per kilo respectively.

Mr. Clean

In Jaffna they are sold at 200 Rs and 50 rupees per kilo respectively. This indicates the extent of profits made by the Jaffna carte at the expense of the average Jaffna resident. What should be of particular concern to 'Mr. Clean' Ranil Wickremesinghe is the phenomenon of rising prices in Jaffna after the UNP's rising star in Jaffna, Maheswaran was re-elected and became a minister to boot. Apart from fuel almost every item brought from Colombo has had massive price increases.

A beleaguered Jaffna that looked to a new government for relief is faced with rocketing prices and shortages taking the cost of living level to astronomical heights. The only government man from Jaffna is perceived as part and parcel of this problem. A troubled people are constrained from appealing to this government as a government minister is regarded as a ruthless economic exploiter. It is also well known that strong segments of the business community in Jaffna supported Maheswaran's candidature and that he is beholden more to them than the common people.

When Rehabilitation Minister Jayalath Jayewardene visited Jaffna during Thai Pongal time, extra care was taken to prevent the popular minister meeting forthright citizens representatives who could have informed him of the cartels ruthless hold and rapacious exploitation of the people. Instead Jayewardene's agenda was manipulated and dominated by Jaffna traders recently reincarnated as UNP stalwarts. The famous 'Thai Pongal' celebration enjoyed by the minister that was screened on national TV was not conducted by a community organization of the people. It was undertaken by a prominent Tamil businessman. Also Jayalath Jayewardene reportedly enjoyed the hospitality of another big time trader. Jayewardene is immensely popular among Tamils because of his humanitarian approach to their problems. It would indeed be a tragedy if he fritters away that support by associating with inhumane exploiters of their own brethren.

 The once flourishing cooperative movement is being systematically throttled. It may not entirely be an accident that former MP Sivamaharajah and ex-Municipal Commissioner C. V. K. Sivagnanam failed to get elected to parliament on the Tamil national alliance ticket. Both men have strong links to the cooperative movement and would not have allowed the blackmarketeers to run rings around that sector. It is possible that vested interests could have deliberately prevented their victory to ward off this threat. The MPs elected from Jaffna on the TNA ticket do not seem to have any responsibility or commitment in this respect. Many MPs also maintain links with the powerful traders.

Flourishing blackmarket

After the new government came to power artificial shortages and consequential price rises have become the order of the day in Jaffna. The flourishing growth of the blackmarket in Jaffna will no doubt be a serious blackmarket on Wickremesinghe's government. It would equally be a blemish for the LTTE too. The Jaffna public has been made aware by the traders that the Tigers have imposed a heavy tax of 15% percent on all the items transported from Colombo. They say that the LTTE checks the manifest of all vessels and know what exactly is being transported. Therefore they cannot hide anything from the Tigers and have to pay up. So they have no choice but to raise the prices in order to pay the taxes, is the version.

This argument however has two flaws. One is that despite this so called LTTE tax the traders can easily make a profit without increasing the prices. Secondly, the price increases in Jaffna are not commensurate with the alleged tax increase. The new prices suggest profits of enormous scale going far beyond that surcharge. It is the poor Jaffna consumer who is being made to bear the cost of increased prices. The traders are only making more money because of the LTTE tax.

Sordid saga

At the same time the LTTE too is duty bound to act more responsibly towards the well being of the Tamil people. Recent developments have arguably made the Tigers the acknowledged 'sole representatives' of the Tamil people. Today the Tamil people back the Tiger demand for de-proscription because they feel that the premier Tamil politico-military organisation should not be regarded as illegal in negotiations. An organisation enjoying such support from a persecuted people owes them something tangible. At the very least, it must ensure that rapacious traders do not exploit them ruthlessly on the grounds that the Tigers have taxed them.

It is indeed tragic that the ordinary people of Jaffna are being subjected to such rapacious exploitation by their ethnic brethren. The role of Maheswaran in this sordid saga is reprehensible because he is an elected representative of the Jaffna people. It is callously cynical for him to profiteer out of their misery, as alleged. This however does not absolve others too of blame. Blaming the Sinhala 'oppressor' for all Tamil ills has become a practice in recent times. In this case who is to blame? 

Concessions and concerns

After The Sunday Leader  exposed the interest concessions allowed on settlement of facilities to President Chandrika Kumaratunga's close friend and confidante, businessman Ronnie Peiris, the Bank of Ceylon issued a press release on December 4, 2001 after Peiris himself authorised the release of information to protect the good name of the Bank of Ceylon.

Subsequently, General Manager, Bank of Ceylon, A. Sarath de Silva sent a letter  dated February 8, 2002, to the Editor of The Sunday Leader  seeking to amplify matters further to you and your reading public.

We publish below the letter of Bank of Ceylon General Manager A. Sarath de Silva and our response to de Silva’s letter, in the public interest.

Settlement of facilities by Mr. Ronnie Peiris and related entities

We write with reference to the several articles that have been published in your newspaper in regard to the interest concessions allowed on settlement of facilities granted to Mr. R.S. Peiris and related entities at our London Branch.

As you are aware, banks cannot respond to media reports or third party queries relating to its customers since banks are bound by the Secrecy Provisions in the Banking Act and in the case of Bank of Ceylon, by the Bank of Ceylon Ordinance as well.

However, in this instance, the customer concerned had authorised us to release information to protect the good name of the Bank of Ceylon following which the Bank issued a press release on 4th December 2001.

In view of the several articles that have been published despite the press release referred to above, we are constrained to amplify matters further to you and your reading public.

1. Prior to Mr. Ken Balendra assuming duties as Director/Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon, the Management and the Board, after protracted negotiations with Mr. Ronnie Peiris, agreed on a rescheduling of the debt which included the waiver of 75% of the accrued interest (which included a penal component as well) and the repayment of the balance capital over a period of three years provided an up-front payment of the balance interest and 20% of the capital was made by 30th November, 2000.

2. The basis of the settlement envisaged above was prudent, legitimate and within the regulatory frame-work of the Bank in view of the fact that:

 a. There was an element of risk, expense and further delay involved in the realisation of the debt in U.K.   from the sale of the collateral.

 b. One of the companies under the umbrella of the borrowers was in liquidation.

 c. The customer was making counter claims on the Bank on alleged lapses which could have resulted in expensive litigation in the U.K.

3. After Mr. Balendra assumed office on 1st December 2000, in the backdrop of the customer not keeping to his part of the agreement referred to above, the Management did even better by realising on 30th July, 2001 a full and final settlement which included the payment of the entirety of the capital outstanding plus 25% of the normal interest accrued without rescheduling the repayment of 80% of the capital over a 3 year period as agreed to earlier and thereby running the further risk of default by Mr. Peiris. In this process the funds collected earlier than originally envisaged were available to the Bank for its day to day banking activities.

4. As you are aware, negotiated settlements of this nature are not uncommon in banking practice and also in trading business and in this instance it was in the best interest of the Bank to ensure the immediate recovery of the capital lent together with 25% of the normal accrued interest.

We shall be grateful if this letter is given adequate publicity in your newspaper.

Yours faithfully,

A. Sarath de Silva

(General Manager)


BoC: Questions that need answers

 

13th February 2002

 Mr. A. Sarath de Silva

General Manger,

Bank of Ceylon

4, Bank of Ceylon Mawatha

Colombo 1.

 

Dear Sir,

We refer to your letter dated 8. 2. 2002 addressed to the Editor, The Sunday Leader   under the caption - Settlement of facilities by Mr. Ronnie Peiris and related entities, stating that your Bank will be grateful, if your letter is given adequate publicity in our newspaper. In conformity with our normal journalistic practice and ethics, we are pleased to give your letter equal publicity in our newspaper; of course with our responses thereto, in the public interest.

Significantly, we have noted that your customer concerned, i.e. Mr. Ronnie Peiris, has authorised your Bank to release information to protect the good name of your Bank, and hence, that you are not bound by any secrecy provisions in the Banking Act and the Bank of Ceylon Ordinance. 

Accordingly, your release of information to the public ought to have been a full disclosure of all relevant and pertinent facts and not parts thereof, moreso particularly in the context of public concern that has already been raised in this regard, lest your public statement, being only parts, be lawfully interpreted to be a false statement, which undisputedly would blemish the good name of your Bank, which you have sought to protect.

Therefore, we pose the following questions and trust that you would promptly afford your answers to the same to be published, so that the totality of the facts would be disclosed to the public in the public interest. 

1. Your letter dated 25. 5. 2001 addressed to Mr. R.S. Peiris bears the caption - Credit Facilities granted to Mr. R.S. Peiris and Mrs. R. Peiris and Glen Express Travel Pvt. Limited. (published in full in The Sunday Leader  of 7.10.2001). Accordingly, would it be correct that Credit Facilities and/or Loans had been granted by your Bank jointly and/or severally to these persons?

What were the Credit Facilities and/or Loans granted to the aforesaid persons jointly and/or severally, and what were the security and/or collateral given to your Bank in respect thereof ?

For what purposes were such Credit Facilities and/or Loans granted to the aforesaid persons and what were the sources of the re-payment of such Credit Facilities and/or Loans ?

Did  the abovementioned Credit  Facilities and/or Loans  include a Loan  of  about UK  Pounds 650,000, and if so, to whom was it granted ?

What was the security and/or collateral and the value of such collateral for such considerable Loan granted ?

2. When did the aforesaid persons open Bank Accounts with the London Branch of the Bank of Ceylon ?

When were the abovementioned Credit Facilities and/or Loans afforded to the aforesaid persons?

In the context of your reference to banking practice, does your Bank afford such Credit Facilities and/or Loans to customers, who have recently opened Bank Accounts?

Does not your Bank, as is the normal banking practice, require having had a banking relationship with customers for a requisite period of time, prior to granting Credit Facilities and/or Loans ?

Or, is it that a walk-in customer could open bank accounts with your Bank and promptly obtain such considerable Credit Facilities and/or Loans?

Also, as is the normal banking practice, who were the parties who signed and introduced the aforesaid persons as the customers to the London Branch of your Bank?

Were they also customers of the London Branch of your Bank?

3. Were the abovementioned Credit Facilities and/or Loans granted to the aforesaid persons to pay-off their debts due to the State Bank of India in London?

Were the Credit Facilities and/or Loans of the aforesaid persons at the State Bank of India in London in default and/or overdue?

If so, in such circumstances, is it the normal banking practice of your Bank to give Credit Facilities and/or Loans to persons to pay their owings to other Banks, moreso, if such owings had been overdue and/or in default ?

4. Prior to having approved the abovementioned Credit Facilities and/or Loans to the aforesaid persons, were any Bank and/or Credit references obtained, as is the normal banking practice?

If not, why?

If yes, from whom were such credit references obtained?

5. What were the sources of income and/or earnings of the aforesaid persons to have repaid such Credit Facilities and/or Loans to have justified granting them the abovementioned Credit Facilities and/or Loans?

Is it not the normal banking practice to have evaluated such relevant factors, vital to substantiate the re-payment abilities of prospective borrowers?

Does your Bank make any exception to the above normal banking practice?

Who were the Chairman, the Directors and General Manager of the Bank of Ceylon at the time the abovementioned Credit Facilities and/or Loans were granted to the aforesaid persons?

6. In Paragraph (2)(b) of your said Letter dated 8.2.2002 you state that - one of the companies under the umbrella of the borrower was in liquidation. Is this Company Glen Express Travel (Pvt) Ltd., referred to in your aforesaid Letter dated 25.5.2001?

Were the annual profits of Glen Express Travels (Pvt) Ltd. of UK referred to in your aforesaid letter dated 25.5.2001, UK Pounds 1755, UK Pounds 175 and UK Pounds 2065 for the years 1993, 1994 and 1995 respectively? If not, what were the profits?

When did this company go into liquidation and when did your Bank carry out credit evaluation granting Credit Facilities and/or Loans to the said company ? What was the quantum of such Credit Facilities and/or Loans?

How is it that your Bank did not anticipate the liquidation of such company in your Bank's credit evaluation?

In your aforesaid letter dated 25. 5. 2001 did you not refer to the appropriation of funds available in Suspense Accounts Creditors amounting to UK Pounds 250,488?

Is it not the duty, obligation and the responsibility of your Bank to have identified sources of such funds in conformity with international banking practice and conventions signed?

7. Why is it that having had collateral as referred to in paragraph (2)(a) of your said letter dated 8.2.2002, that you did not seek to enforce the sale of such collateral?        

Could not such enforcement have been concluded expeditiously in the UK?

Was legal opinion obtained in such regard in UK, prior to your Bank making such decision in that regard? If so, from whom was such legal opinion obtained?

Is it the normal practice of your Bank to consider risk, expense and delay in enforcement of the sale of collateral?

9. What were the counter-claims made by the aforesaid persons against the Bank referred to in paragraph (2) (c) in your said letter dated 8.2.2002

Were the said claims legally made? If so, when and through whom?

Was legal opinion obtained in such regard in UK, prior to your Bank making decision? If so, from whom was such legal opinion obtained?

Is it the normal practice of your Bank to settle with a default customers, every time counter-claims are made for alleged lapses on the part of your Bank?

10.  Is it not the normal banking practice to consider interest concessions and/or interest waivers, where borrowers have got into genuine difficulties for reasons beyond their control and are unable to repay?

Is it the normal banking practice to grant interest concessions and/or interest waivers, in this instance as much as 75%, where the borrower/s are able to repay, and in addition, as you have admitted, the Bank having had enforceable collateral by way of security?

Do you not admit that in this instance, the borrower/s has had ability to repay the total outstanding as a lump sum and was therefore not a borrower/s who ought have been entitled to such interest concessions and/or interest waivers ?

Other than the Loans obtained and interests paid thereon, what is the value of the total business given by the aforesaid persons to the London Branch of your Bank and over which period?

11. Was it not the duty, obligation and responsibility of your Bank to have ascertained the source of funds of such sudden substantial repayment ability of a borrower/s in default in the context of international norms and banking practice and conventions, particularly in relation to the money laundering, where Sri Lanka is a signatory to international conventions in that regard, moreso particularly your branch being in London and thereby also being subject to the banking practices and requirements in the United Kingdom?         

Did your Bank carry out such due diligence ? If not, why? If yes, what was the source of funds of such sudden lump sum repayment?

12. Who were the Chairman, Directors and General Manager of the Bank of Ceylon at the time that the aforesaid once and for all lump sum payment was accepted?

13.  Significantly, in paragraph (1) of your said Letter dated 8.2.2002 you state - Prior to Mr. Ken Balendra assuming duties as Director/Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon, the Management and the Board after protracted negotiations with Mr. Ronnie Peiris agreed on a re-scheduling of debt which included the waiver of 75% of the accrued interest. At paragraph 3 of your same said Letter dated 8.2.2002 you state that, Mr. Ken Balendra assuming office on 1st December 2000..

Your aforesaid letter to Mr. R.S. Peiris restructuring and rescheduling  the aforesaid debts, which said letter was published in full in The Sunday Leader  of 7.10.2001, had been dated 25.5.2001 i.e. nearly 6 months after Mr. Ken Balendra assumed office as the Chairman/Director of Bank of Ceylon on 1.12.2000. Are your statements themselves not patently contradictory?   

We trust that in the public interest, you would promptly respond to the foregoing, now that you have been authorised by the customer concerned, to release information, moreso particularly, as a State Bank, you and your Board of Directors would be accountable and responsible to the public of this country.

As your are aware, in terms of the Bribery Act, the Bank of Ceylon is a Scheduled Institution. Section 70 of the Bribery Act was amended by Act No. 20 of 1994 to define corruption, inter-alia, to include the causing of loss to the government and/or the conferring of a benefit favour or advantage to any person.

Yours faithfully,

Lasantha Wickrematunge

Editor,

THE SUNDAY LEADER  

 

 

 

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