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19th December, 2004  Volume 11, Issue  23

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Spotlight

From self immolation to the murder of innocence

It was to be the final hurrah in the Temptation show. The mood was upbeat, Priyanka Chopra was on stage for the song Le Ja Le Ja (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham) with star attraction Shah Rukh......

More...


Chandrika and her Kommis Kaakka

By Frederica Jansz

President Chandrika Kumara-tunga who has been accusing all and sundry including the judiciary of corruption has well and......

More...


Fraud and corruption reign supreme at BOC


From self immolation to the murder of innocence

It was to be the final hurrah in the Temptation show. The mood was upbeat, Priyanka Chopra was on stage for the song Le Ja Le Ja (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham) with star attraction Shah Rukh Kahn later recalled.

Khan was to be joined by the two other star performers for the finale, when an explosion was heard from the open area separating the stage from the crowd. By then the area about five meters in length was occupied by eager Khan fans who wanted a closer look.

Soon after the explosion, some of the performers and most in the audience thought that the sound was from the fireworks going off at regular intervals. The performance continued for several minutes after the blast, but Chopra later said that she knew something was wrong when she saw fallen bodies near the stage.

Then all of a sudden the lights on the stage and the billboards were turned off and it was complete darkness. Those in the back of the audience were left clueless, while some in the front lay writhing in pain due to injuries. Khan, Chopra and co. had by then been bundled into vehicles and were speeding towards the airport. The large screens at the Race Course grounds started playing pre-recorded videos of the Indian stars practising, then the public address system said "show over." The show heralded as the biggest blast in Sri Lanka came to an abrupt end leaving two youth dead on the grass and another unborn killed in the mother's womb.

Initial investigations

The ground was cleared soon afterwards and police, STF and forensics arrived at the site to commence investigations into the attack. Eye witnesses said soon after the blast  the location where the grenade had exploded was cordoned off, but people were still walking all over it.

Initial investigations showed that the grenade had been thrown over the Rs. 10,000 ticket area and was one used by the military. Investigators soon recovered the pin, but progress has been painfully slow ever since. 

From the outset investigators were working with their backs to the wall. Head, Colombo Crimes Division (CCD), SSP Sarath Lugoda who was at the site within minutes of the blast was baffled as to how a grenade could be smuggled in when 1,500 police and military police were on duty.

Though the main stars had been evacuated to the airport, a rattled dance troupe was still behind the stage when the first forensic experts commenced examining the crater left by the grenade explosion.

The explosion was a tragic end to two campaigns that ran parallel. One to let Khan rock the local crowds, the other to rock the Khan concert out of its planned date, December 11, the first death anniversary of Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero.

Two days before the concert, monk followers of Ven. Soma Thero converged near the Race Course. They erected a stage of their own just outside the Race Course and started a protest campaign urging the organisers to shift the concert date.

The initial threat from the monks was that if Khan and co., got on to the stage on December 11, they would set themselves on fire. 

Shah Rukh Khan in all his glory
with a fellow artiste

Graffiti on the wall - "We will 
kill you Shah Rukh"

Water cannon tries to disperse protestors

Angry protestors break barricades as they march towards the Race Course

A protestor being manhandled
by the police

Initially police barricaded the access roads to the protest and even prevented journalists from reaching it.

By Saturday, December 11 morning, the road barriers had intensified as had supporters of the protestors who could be seen near the barriers. They had been set up in a perimeter on the access roads.

One was erected near St. Bridget's Convent, others were near Colombo University and along Bauddhaloka Mawatha. By 10 a.m., 10 hours before Khan was to set foot on the stage traffic was a nightmare around the Race Course. Bumper to bumper traffic was clogging the roads. Inside the vehicles in the sweltering heat, curses were directed at both the performers as well as the protestors.

By mid day, JHU spokesman Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thero arrived at the protest site. By then the JHU had decided that the party would get directly involved with the protests. "The protests were started by some monks who have worked with us in the past. We decided that we had to get involved since the protests lacked leadership," Ven. Ratana Thero said later in the day.

Ven. Ratana Thero held discussions with the organisers of the concert who applogised for holding the concert on that day and confirmed that Khan would observe two minutes silence before the show.

With that assurance the protesting monks stepped down from the stage, and in double quick time the police dismantled it. The monks and their supporters thereafter moved towards the Alexandra Place junction near St. Bridget's. It is here that trouble began.

The protestors claim the police attacked them unprovoked, while the officers of the law said that they tried to breakthrough barriers and run towards the concert venue. Police used tear gas and water cannons.

The protestors now separated into two groups were on either side of the Viharamahadevi Park with police in riot gear staring at them.

The Special Task Force (STF) was also inducted as a buffer between the angry protestors and police. On the Town Hall side of the park the protestors argued with the STF officers saying that the very people they had donated blood to had aimed tear gas and water cannons at them. JHU MP Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero was hospitalised soon after the police charge due to tear gas inhalation.

Trying to control

It was into this melee that Ven. Ratana Thero drove in. Addressing protestors near the Town Hall he said that disruptive elements had infiltrated the protestors. It was clear however that the JHU monks were finding it difficult to control some of the younger protestors. "I know that we are being criticised by some of you who are young. But you have let us take the leadership," Ven. Ratana Thero appealed to the crowd.

"Ven. Ratana Thero used to come in the bus and now he comes in a car. He cannot control us," a feisty monk among the protestors later told a police officer trying to keep the calm.

During the clashes with the police 12 protestors were arrested and the JHU monk said that their first task was to get them released. The JHU then held discussions with DIG Sirisena Herath and SSP Premalal Ranagala from the Colombo Central Police regarding their release.

Ven. Ratana Thero also told the crowds to move to the Viharamahadevi Park premises where a separate programme had been planned to commemorate Ven. Soma Thero's death. His efforts however did not have the intended effect with the crowd remaining on the road. He left soon afterwards promising the protestors that he will back with the 12.

It was in his absence that the crowds again became restless. They this time aimed their wrath at public and private property. Even earlier while retreating from Alexandara Place they had tried to set fire to a petrol bowser and attacked a vehicle showroom.

The protestors who had spilled over to Dharmapala Mawatha from the adjoining Sir Marcus Fernando Road by now had stopped a bus travelling to Kesbewa and attacked it. A passenger in the bus was injured and hospitalised while the others were saved by the intervention of the STF.

The riot squad which was stationed did not fire this time even after several rocks were thrown at them. Some among the crowd were hell bent on getting the police to fire back but fortunately till the return of Ven. Ratana Thero police held back.

Bomb blast

Ven. Ratana Thero told the crowd that the JHU had decided to call off the original protest following the apology and the two minute silence. However, the party would not disperse the crowds until the 12 in custody were released.

He told the crowds that the JHU would be launching a fresh death fast campaign in Nugegoda the following day based on four demands, namely a proper commission to investigate the death of Ven. Soma Thero, suspending the new online lottery, implementation of the anti-conversion bill and banning the sale of alcohol at supermarkets.

Ven. Ratana Thero however told The Sunday Leader at the site of the protests that there would be no change in the conditional support extended by the JHU to the UPFA government. However, Saturday night's tragedy totally took the focus off the JHU's new protest and the party was left defending its position in the wake of a public outcry.

The release of the 12 youth held in the Cinnamon Gardens Police saw the angry protestors "happily" dispersing, but not before one supporter ran to the midst of the crowd with his prized possession - a ticket for the concert. It was just one ticket and the rest of the crowd while saying it could only permit one person inside, also maintained that they would have to choose one person to go in.

However, the protestors went their separate ways with several agitated bhikkus returning to their scheduled bana sermons, which were delayed due to the protest.

The thought that things were now back on track was not to be.

At precisely 11.20 p.m. the news of the grenade attack on the concert that took the lives of two innocent fans including a two month pregnant woman, took centre stage.

All hell broke lose with the news. The majority of the injured admitted to hospital were police and other security personnel.

While the stars were being escorted to the airport amidst heavy security, forensics experts, CID and other police personnel kept arriving at the scene of the crime, baffled as to how anyone could have managed to carry in a grenade with thousands of security personnel deployed.

The police marked the scene of the blast with a yellow tape, but people had to walk to and from the scene to carry the injured to hospital.

Preliminary investigations conducted at the site did not provide the police with any leads to go by, except for the pin of the grenade, which was taken by the Government Analysts Department to conduct several tests.

The CCD, which began the inquiry on the attack and the assailant is yet to make a breakthrough.

While the CCD is continuing with its investigations, the CID too has been assigned to investigate the attack or rather the external factors that led to the attack.

With the only piece of evidence - the grenade pin - still with the Government Analyst, according to the police it has left them with nothing to go on.

The CID in a bid to determine the outside elements that lead the attack began questioning the 12 protestors arrested on the day of the show.

By Thursday, the CID had questioned four protestors and planned to question the others in the coming days.

The CID maintains that considering the fact that their investigations began early last week, they would need more time to comment on the real progress on the inquiry. Even the state of security on the day of the concert was an issue and everyone preferred to remain tight-lipped.

Acquiring videotapes from electronic media institutions, the CID began to watch the video footage of Saturday's protests and the concert to see if there were any familiar faces at both locations.

"We have interviewed so many people, but we still do not have any solid evidence to make any arrests," SSP Lugoda said.

Stalemate

As for the security personnel deployed at the venue of the concert last Saturday, Lugoda observed that he cannot comment on that as his investigations would only revolve around the attack and the actual attacker.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Deputy Government Analyst Gunatilleke said that after conducting the preliminary tests, the evidence collected at the scene of the blast was handed over to the CCD  and it is now up to the CCD to present them to courts.

"She was two months pregnant"

At the post mortem of 25 year old telephone operator from the Taj Samudra Hotel, Dilani Maheshika Edirisinghe, her grieving family has confirmed  that she was two months pregnant.

Maheshika who was recently married had been an ardent fan of Shah Rukh Khan.

"She was determined to go for the show and was so happy when she received a complimentary ticket at the last moment," said a friend.

Maheshika who is a resident of Ganemulla had been worried  the whole day because she did not have the tickets. When she received the tickets she had asked her husband Dilan to join her. But he had been on duty and had told her to go because she was such a great fan of Shah Rukh Khan.

"She was an efficient employee and had a smile for everybody. She did not imagine even in her wildest dreams that the Saturday night she saw Shah Rukh Khan was going to be her last night," said a friend in tears.

Maheshika had been a very creative person, excelling in creative writing and poetry in her spare time.

Her husband had promised to come and pick her up after the show, but just as the show drew to a close, Dilani Maheshika Edirisinghe was gone forever.

Shah Rukh's SMS to Arjuna

Upon arriving at the Mumbai Airport at 3 a.m., Shah Rukh Khan sent a text message to Arjuna Ranatunga, which read: "Thanks for everything.Don't take this personally..We share in this grief..and the Lankan hospitality is etched in our hearts..Sorry had to leave like this. But give my love to all. Love, SRK

 

His camera was blocked

The camera belonging to Lanka Jayasundera had been 'blocked' and he did not have a camera to take for the show.

"Not only the camera, he was not even assigned to cover the show, but he badly wanted to go," said a superior. But Lanka Jayasundera had no camera and no ticket. Somehow fate pushed him to acquire both. "We do not know how he got into the place," said a colleague.

"When he told me that he wanted to go for the show, I warned him to be careful and not to go near the stage. He was such a keen learner. He always wanted to know how to take some picture or the other."

On the day of the show, Lanka had been with other photographers and had told them "Mama poddak issarahata yanawa" (I will move forward a little bit) and then gone towards the stage.

Lanka Jayasundera from Hakmana was 21 years of age. He had been a keen photo journalist who had a determination to reach greater heights.

At his home in Hakmana his mother and sisters waited for him to come home for the weekend as he usually did. But this weekend Lanka Jayasundera went home in a coffin.

 

Black smoke on a colourful night

November 11 was a date to remember; for it was a day when fans saw their hero Shah Rukh Khan in flesh and blood. But the unexpected happened and they got to see blood during a performance.

The man whom Time magazine claims is popular enough to 'start a religion' was shocked beyond belief here in Sri Lanka when his show became the stage for an angry outburst by an unknown quarter.

Long before Shah Rukh Khan appeared on the gigantic open air stage on November 11, fans began to chant "Shah Rukh! Shah Rukh! Shah Rukh!" in a frenzy. The show, which was scheduled to commence at 7 p.m. was taking too long. It was 8 p.m. and the stage was empty. Fans read Shah Rukh Khan into everything - the helicopter flying over, they imagined, carried Shah Rukh Khan, the shadows on the dark stage they imagined were Shah Rukh Khan, but in reality, they were only the cleaning men preparing for the show.

Outside, fans had to go through two check points, one at the main entrance, and the other at the entrance to the grounds. Military men in camouflaged gear added a sense of importance to the event and the security men clad in black uniforms were easily mistaken for some special task force.

They did not search the VIPs and the Rs. 10,000 patrons but some others were frisked and searched.

The delay in commencing the show sent fans to the soft drinks stands. Some anxious fans in the absence of Shah Rukh Khan resorted to comfort eating.

There was a sudden silence as Shah Rukh Khan's voice lulled the restless audience. His words were apologetic, he spoke of the revered Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero and requested the audience to pay respect to him by observing a few minutes of silence. It brought about  a sense of goodwill and respect in the minds of the audience about the  show ahead.

But when the show began it was not Shah Rukh Khan who came on stage.

The themes had lust and love among them and the scantily dressed women dancing to the sounds emanating from the massive speakers took the audience to a world beyond.

Preity Zinta and starry eyed Priyanka Chopra coupled with the sexy Saif Ali Khan gave life to the theme titled lust.

The show raged on, with glitter and glamour. But there was no applause like that for Shah Rukh Khan. His appearance, clad in white, initially facing back stage, sent the audience into raptures - the girls were crying, some of them holding their chests.

Suddenly Shah Rukh Khan was seen driven around in an open vehicle and fans screamed at the mere shadow of him falling over them. In his white open sleeved T-shirt, it was not so much Shah Rukh's glistening muscles that the audience was interested in, but a glimpse of him.

Then Shah Rukh sprung back to stage again. The beautiful fireworks continued to light the skies and the sparks came from Shah Rukh Khan on stage. As he broke into a popular song from the film Khabi Kushi Khabi Gham, there came another sound, nobody cared. Everybody mistook it for a fireworks display or part of the sounds of the show.

Actually the sound came from near the corner of the stage where Shah Rukh was performing and just then members of the audience saw other fans fallen down. Some felt a wetness in their limbs, and in the darkness of the night, from the glittering lights on stage they discovered that it was their own blood, the horror was confirmed as the ecstasy was overtaken with hurt and pain.

Young children who were standing on chairs to reach out to the height of the adults to view Shah Rukh Khan were badly hit. Pieces of shrapnel pieced through them and real Sri Lankan sounds as "Budu Nangiye, Budu Puthe," began to pierce the skies. It was then that the lights were turned off and a shocked Shah Rukh Khan taken away from the stage.

Frightened fans tried to push barriers and get away from the scene, while the plastic chairs were overturned in the stampede that ensued to get out of the race course grounds. In a bid to get out of the grounds, people forgot to help those who had fallen down. It was the security men who went up to the fallen fans and discovered that they were dead.

 

Now, JHU says sorry

The mega show Temptations 2004 concluded with a tragic end and trading of insults - with the government accusing the JHU of instigating mob attacks during the show and the JHU in return alleging the state of attempts to discredit the all-bhikku party and its failure to provide adequate security to the Indian performers.

Following the grenade attack, the state media reported ad nauseam about the presence of two leading JHU monks near the Race Course grounds where the Chinthana Foundation - a pro-Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero organisation held a fast unto death.

Responding to the state media broadcast allegations that Vice President, JHU, Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobitha Thero and Spokesman, JHU, Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thero were instigating people to attack the evening show, Ven. Sobitha Thero said that it was the worst possible excuse that a government which dismally failed to maintain law and order could come up with to cover up its own guilt.

Denying any attempts to provoke people "who were already enraged" due to the bad date chosen for the show, the Thero also disassociated the JHU with the monk group involved in the fast unto death.

The Thero told The Sunday Leader that the JHU members were instrumental only in attempting to amicably settle the issue and prevent bloodshed which sadly could not be prevented due to police action.

"It is due to our appeal that the fast was called off. That is something the law enforcement authorities together with the government should have done but failed to do. For doing what they should have done, eventually we were labelled the spoilers of the show," the Thero added.

Strangely, the scholastic monk who originally denounced the show for the promotion of "ragaya, kamaya and surawa" on the day Ven. Soma Thero passed away, said that the protesting that claimed two lives and injured 16 people was not geared towards insulting the artistes or to spoil Indo-Lanka relations.

In a letter extending JHU's apologies to India's High Commissioner in Colombo, Nirupama Rao on December 16 for the ugly incidents, the Thero has stated that the arrival of Indian artistes was viewed by his party as a visit by an Indian cultural group in furtherance of cultural ties established centuries ago and this certainly was not the welcome Sri Lanka intended to extend to some of India's finest artistes.

 

"I felt ashamed to call myself a Sri Lankan"

Playing a significant role in assisting the injured to be taken to hospitals and getting the Indian artistes out of the venue on the fateful night was Deputy Industries, Tourism and Investment Promotion Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, a personal friend of Shah Rukh Khan. In fact, he believes that fate was kind and saved him from the grenade attack, as Ritu Shastri an Indian organiser of the show who walked a few paces ahead of him was injured in the grenade attack.

"I went to speak to her and we were walking back to our seats. I slowed down to answer a telephone call. Ritu walked ahead and there she was, terrified and injured before my eyes," he said.

"I felt so ashamed to be a Sri Lankan that night. The insult to the artistes and the destruction to life appeared so calculated to bring this country to disrepute.

"We used to be a peaceful nation, but we have hit an all time low in human quality. Shah Rukh and others are simply artistes who arrived here to entertain. They are not violent people or politicians," he said, sounding shocked.

Ranatunga also showed a saved text message from Khan to him and said the investigations should be facilitated to the maximum to prevent any repetition.

He explained that the Tourist Board did not spend money on the show but the publicity the show generated was worth over Rs. 400 million.

"I would love to extend an invitation for a second show - a different show sans bloodletting to show what Sri Lankan hospitality is all about," he added.

As for the perpetrators themselves, Ranatunga feels that the parties could range from unhappy politicians to disgruntled organisers of previous shows who failed to get Khan emphasising that whoever who did it, certainly had no love for their motherland.

 

"One rotten egg won't change our plans for Sri Lanka"

Will Sri Lanka face a barren period of international entertainment with foreign artistes boycotting the island following the grenade attack at the Shah Rukh Khan concert? Well the organisers of Temptations 2004 that featured Shah Rukh Khan say "No."

Vice President, Showdiff Worldwide, Jayvear Panvar Singh, the Indian entertainment company that organised the concert say the "unfortunate" ending of the musical concert was an "isolated incident."

"One rotten egg cannot spoil our plans for Sri Lanka," said Singh to The Sunday Leader. "We love Sri Lanka and will continue to bring down international acts in the future as well," Singh added. He also said that even Shah Rukh Khan and the rest of the Bollywood stars who accompanied him to Sri Lanka would come back if the opportunity arises.

Showdiff was also responsible for bringing down Bryan Adams and Micheal Learns To Rock to Sri Lanka this year. The entertainment company is headed by former Indian cricketer Ravi Shastri who's wife was among those injured in the attack at the Race Course grounds in Colombo.

Jayvear Singh says the company is sad and concerned for those affected by the grenade attack and that nobody expected the unfortunate incident to take place within the grounds.

 

Ministry and Board:  a classic case of passing the buck

THE Tourism Ministry steadfastly maintained it had no involvement with the show naming the Tourist Board - an institution nevertheless coming under its purview as the key player. The Ministry officially declined any responsibility in putting the show together despite Deputy Minister, Arjuna Ranatunga - a friend of Shah Rukh Khan gracing the occasion and being instrumental in handing out many official invitations.

The "key player," the Ceylon Tourist Board (CTB) too has declined responsibility for organising the show, confining its role to "facilitation."

The word 'facilitation' has been given new meaning by the board which, according to inside sources was instrumental in getting "all matters" organised to welcome the stars ranging from making hotel reservations, flight arrangements to co-ordinating publicity campaigns etc., despite shying away from being labelled as key organiser.

CTB Chairman, Udaya Nanayakkara on Thursday morning said that he had spoken to the Editor of The Sunday Leader and explained his involvement with the show and had no wish to explain matters any further.

The invitation to Shah Rukh Khan and his entourage, according to highly placed sources was extended in May.

Nanayakkara has gone on record that the board would always facilitate entertainment programmes of this nature as it helps boost the tourism industry.

He however added that facilitation did not mean that the board played the role of organiser.

 

Who let the grenade in?

Was there enough security for the Shah Rukh Khan concert? Were all the fans checked? How was a grenade slipped in to the grounds? These are some of the questions the general public are asking after the grenade attack at the Colombo Race Course grounds concert on the 11th.

Secretary, Public Security, Law and Order Ministry, Thilak Ranaviraja says there was a serious lapse in security at the concert specially when taking into consideration the incidents that led up to the concert. Vice President, Showdiff Worldwide, Jayvear Panvar Singh speaking to The Sunday Leader said that a private security firm was entrusted with the security within the grounds while the police was handling security on the outer perimeter of the ground.

Although most people were checked before they entered the grounds there were many who were not. One female fan who went around 6 p.m. to the Rs. 5,000 section said that she was body checked by a female officer. However, a male fan who went around 8.15 p.m. to the Rs. 2,500 section with a few friends said he was not checked except for his ticket.

"I could easily have taken in a bomb if I wanted to," he said. So who's responsibility was it to check everyone entering the ground? The chairman of the private security firm,  Avante Guard handling security within the grounds said it was not their responsibility. Nishantha Senathipathi said that the organisers had asked him to check the tickets of the fans entering the ground, ensure they do not jump from section to section and prevent them from embarking on the stage.

"We had around 100 security personnel in place inside the ground and we had no authority to body check anyone. We stuck to the duty entrusted to us," he said. Senathipathi said that there were a number of police and STF officers within and outside the ground to handle the body checks.

Colombo Range DIG H. M. S. Herath said that approximately 3,000 police and MSD personnel were on duty within and outside the Race Course ground on that eventful day. He said that there was no way anyone could have slipped inside the premises through the fence prior to the start or during the concert as there was tight security in place around the perimeter of the ground.

So the security lapse seemed to have been at the gates. DIG Special Protection Range S. A. D. B. R Solangarachi told The Sunday Leader that although the private security firm had no right to body check anyone they were requested by the organisers to assist the police to check everyone entering the ground. But he shied away from taking the responsibility for a grenade entering the premises saying his main duty was the personal security of the Indian artistes which he noted was done successfully.

However, he did say as there was a delay to open the gates following the clashes that took place at Town Hall that evening there was a tight rush when the gates were eventually opened. "Nearly 20,000 fans were rushing in and the officers at the just could not check everyone," said Solangarachi. "During the rush it was possible for someone to slip in a grenade," he noted.

Asked if he was happy with the security arrangements and how he thought the grenade may have been slipped in Showdiff Vice President Jayvear Panvar said that he did not wish to comment on that as an investigation was underway.

"Let's wait till the investigations are over before we point fingers," he concluded.

Reports By Amantha Perera, Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Easwaran Rutnam, Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema And Ranee Mohamed


Chandrika and her Kommis Kaakka

Ronnie Peiris and Document incriminating Ronnie Peiris in the golf course deal

By Frederica Jansz

President Chandrika Kumara-tunga who has been accusing all and sundry including the judiciary of corruption has well and truly blotted her own copybook having backed to the hilt one of her cronies to pick up big bucks in a billion rupee project. If ever there was a case book study of the pot calling the kettle black this is it.

Our investigation found documents belonging to the Urban Development Authority (UDA) which clearly reveal Ronnie Peiris's involvement in the golf course project at Battaramulla. This is despite the fact the Ronnie Peiris never at any stage was a director or shareholder of the investor company.

Deeds of rectification

In August 2001, deeds of rectification signed between the UDA and Asia Pacific Golf Course (APGC) state in black and white that APGC's representatives/coordinators who were present at this signing ceremony included Shantha Wijeysinghe, Siva Selvaratnam and Ronnie Peiris. Wijeysinghe and Selvaratnam at the time were shareholders and directors of APGC but not Peiris.

The signing of the Deed of Rectification at which Ronnie Peiris was also present took place on August 9, 2001. Deed of Rectification No. 821 attested by S. Jayamaha, Notary Public on this occasion released to APGC Lots one, two, three, four and six in Plan No. 1456 dated 12.03.1999 made by Licenced Surveyor, Tudor Siriwardena. All the 'licenced property' was to be used for flood detention arrangements with compatible uses including a public playground, nature parks, access roads and food centre.

After this signing ceremony the UDA handed over vacant physical possession of the land to APGC in August 22, 2001. The UDA Chairman at the time was Dr. C. K. M. Deheragoda.

We have consistently maintained that Ronnie Peiris, a close friend and confidant of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, has been involved in this project from its very inception. And that in fact it is due to this involvement that Kumaratunga has now called a halt on this project after APGC changed hands and Chief, Access Holdings, Sumal Perera took control. A dispute over an additional commission to Peiris is what has led to Kumaratunga cancelling this deal.

Ronnie Peiris figured prominently during the entire period that this project was being mooted and sealed when the directors and shareholders of APGC were Shantha and Susan Wijeysinghe, Siva and Suwaneetha Selvaratnam. At the time Peiris picked up a multi million rupee commission to the tune of Rs. 30 million for having served as broker securing necessary approvals from the President to release 136 acres of state land to APGC. This was later increased to a total of 225 acres.

Documents prove that in January 2002 as well, Peiris was present together with the UDA and other representatives including Shantha Wijeysinghe and Siva Selvaratnam when the final drainage plan and project approval were obtained from the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLR and DC).

Thereafter, Sumal Perera entered the scene paying a massive Rs. 143 million to Wijeysinghe and Selvaratnam for their total share in the company. They have reportedly paid Peiris 40% of the Rs. 143 million received from Access by cheque in installment.

On record

Both Selvaratnam and Wijeysinghe are expected to soon go on record detailing Ronnie Peiris's involvement in this deal and the commissions he picked up as a result.

Since Access Holdings took over the project, Sumal Perera has invested an estimated Rs. 1 billion to develop and construct an 18 hole-golf course plus high rise apartments, clubs, public theme park and luxury villas.

Having invested in this project in January 2002, Access Holdings took on the responsibility of meeting the BOI target investment of Rs. 1.5 billion within five years. As to date the total project cost is close to Rs. 1.8 billion.

At the time Kumaratunga stepped in and abruptly ordered the project be halted, Access Holdings had completed 85% of canal excavation, 50% of lake and upstream pond excavation, 75% of overall improvement of water retention areas, 60% of the establishment of an 18 hole golf course and 65% building a perimeter fence demarcating UDA land.

Additionally work had commenced in August this year to construct a public theme park as well as cricket and football grounds. The opening of the club and nine hole golf course was completed by end November, this year. Approximately 78 agreements have already been signed by the UDA to transfer freehold titles to buyers of land and villas.

A report by the UDA on the current status of the project maintains that the current construction work complies fully with the main EIA report as only buildings approved in the EIA have been constructed. The UDA asserted there is no violation of the permitted fill area and that SLLR and DC approval was obtained to fill the land for the villas by reducing an equal volume of fill. The UDA is still the project proponent although the project approving agency which was originally the Housing, Construction and Public Utilities Ministry and its successors has now changed to the Central Environmental Authority (CEA).

The two public figures involved in this deal from its inception in 1997 have been President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mangala Samaraweera. Behind the scenes, Ronnie Peiris has played a pivotal role. A fact, for which there is now documentary evidence.

Corrupt practice

While we have no objection to state land being alienated in a transparent manner to genuine investors, it is needless to say, a totally unacceptable and corrupt practice to alienate land to personal friends so that they could in turn sell it to genuine investors at a huge premium. As has been so is this case.

The Diyawanna Oya golf course deal brokered by Ronnie Peiris revealed that the promoters sold their Rs. 15 million share for Rs. 143 million giving them an 853% return on their original investment.

It is the President and Mangala Samaraweera who pushed for and secured all necessary approvals in order to ensure this project was handed over to Asia Pacific Golf Course Limited, of which the Selvaratnams and Wijesinghes were directors and shareholders until January this year. Ronnie Peiris has openly spoken of his involvement in spearheading this initiative. Not only had Peiris spoken of his involvement but recently complained bitterly that Access Holdings had cheated him.

It is in this backdrop that despite having officially mooted this project in 1998, and consistently defended its cause, President Chandrika Kumaratunga suddenly in July this year attempted to cancel agreements with Asia Pacific Golf Course Limited.

With the available documentation it is clear that President Kumaratunga by her cabinet paper of July 28, this year, not only lied and misled cabinet, but has succeeded in getting the entire cabinet of ministers including the JVP, to take responsibility for an act which is illegal. Kumaratunga's attempt to cease all activities in connection with this project is against legal advice from none other than the Attorney General himself. In addition, Presidents Counsel, H. L. De Silva has also given an expert opinion expressing detailed observations on the illegality of the President's attempt.

While the truth will out on the reasons as to why Kumaratunga has now decided to cancel agreements with APGCL it is indeed a sad indictment on Sri Lanka that a head of state for her own selfish and corrupt reasons is not only capable of distorting the truth but we also have a cabinet of ministers including the JVP who will willingly rubber stamp such illegal and unlawful actions for the sole reason of assisting a Presidential crony - Ronnie Peiris.


Fraud and corruption reign supreme at BOC

Large scale fraud and corruption within the Bank of Ceylon (BOC) has forced the bank to shoulder multi million rupee losses. An amazing lack of foresight by senior bank managers approving multi million rupee overdrafts with little or no security has resulted in massive financial losses to the bank.

We find that senior managers employed at the BOC have been dispensing funds as loans to private companies in the most lenient terms allowing cunning borrowers to escape having defrauded the bank for millions of rupees.

Not blacklisted

All this while the Credit Information Bureau (CRIB) does absolutely nothing to blacklist borrowers of this nature. Instead, they continue to function as company directors and chief executive officers.

A classic example is where the BOC is currently being forced to shoulder a massive debt amounting to Rs. 247 million after its Metro Branch granted an overdraft of Rs. 240 million to Page Electronics (Pvt) Ltd., and it's Chief Executive Officer, Christopher Frances Peries.

It has been found that the monies were approved to help part-finance a government project but have been used instead to secure a huge life insurance policy for Peries. 

BOC - A tower of corruption

The overdraft was approved by the bank after Peries had met with the Assistant General Manager, BOC Metro Branch, P. S. Kulatunga and informed him that the company had recently been awarded a tender on electrical work for low cost houses to re-settle displaced families in the north. Peries had produced a letter to this effect from the Rehabilitation and Re-settlement Ministry. Even the authenticity of this letter is now under question.

On August 29, 2003, Peries faxed a letter to the bank requesting an overdraft of Rs. 240 million for which he attached a letter of guarantee issued by the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC) for Rs. 250 million. He stated the facility would be used for financing electrical installation on low cost houses in the Northern Province.

As a result, on September 9, 2003, Kulatunga presented a memorandum to the general manager seeking approval for granting a facility of Rs. 240 million to Page Electronics.

On September 17, 2003, the bank's credit committee approved the facility asserting that the letter of guarantee issued by the SLIC was acceptable.

Thereafter, on receiving oral instructions from the bank's former Deputy General Manager, Corporate and Offshore Banking, N. V. Moorthy, the Metro Branch issued cheques to Page Electronics amounting to Rs. 4.9 million. This was done before security documentation for the loan facility had even been completed. Moorthy has since been promoted and is presently DGM, Finance and Planning at the BOC.

On September 15, 2003, Kulatunga, once again acting on Moorthy's instructions told credit officers to feed into the computer and overdraft limit up to Rs. 240 million to the current account of Page Electronics bearing number 0618-02-0002981-3.

Later, on September 24, 2003, four cheques were presented for payment through the clearing system. They amounted to a total of Rs. 200,000,000. The BOC Union branch collected all these cheques on behalf of the SLIC to their account number 430002003029.

Life policy

What has now transpired is that Page Electronics and Christopher Peries while maintaining Rs. 240 million was required to finance the setting up of electrical installations for low cost houses in the north, in fact used the monies to pay a lump sum life insurance premium to the SLIC.

Four cheques amounting to Rs. 200,000,000 were paid to the SLIC having been issued by the bank. On September 15, 2003, three cheques were issued bearing numbers, 999052, 999053 and 999054. The cheques were written for Rs. 125,000,000, Rs. 25,000,000 and Rs. 38,000,000 respectively. On September 29, 2003, a fourth cheque for Rs. 12 million was written bearing no. 999058.

By this time, on September 23, 2003 the SLIC had issued a life policy bearing no. 1253249 to the tune of Rs. 304 million on maturity with an immediate surrender value of Rs. 50 million instantly to Christopher Peries. No further payment was required and the policy carried up to maturity with an accrued interest on the lump sum of Rs. 200 million.

The bank possesses only the surrender value of an assigned portion of this life insurance policy of Rs. 304 million as security.

Additionally, the BOC in December last year issued an International Credit Card (Master Card No. 517661200000-2989) to Christopher Peries to the tune of Rs. 1 million.

The present position is this. Peries owes the BOC a total of Rs. 331 million. The SLIC meantime has disclaimed all responsibility on the letter of guarantee claiming they never issued such a letter in the first place.

Losses

Moorthy when contacted would only say, "We are not supposed to divulge information regarding our clients."

Moorthy can now well take cover for his actions behind a confidentiality clause. But the fact of the matter is this. Insiders who requested anonymity maintain the BOC will be forced to write-off this debt. Christopher Peries was unavailable for comment. The Sunday Leader was told he is presently overseas.

And if this is not bad enough there is worse. Unable to muzzle corrupt individuals within the bank, the bank also has to bear other massive losses amounting to millions of rupees. During the year 1989 senior managers at the bank's Metro Branch granted with little or no security loans to Black Tea Ltd., to the tune of Rs. 84 million, to Endev Apparels Ltd., Rs. 93 million and to Mahinda Offset Printers Ltd., Rs. 125 million. To date these loans have not been recovered and it is alleged that steps are currently underway to write these off as bad debts from the books of the bank.

Separately, the BOC has had to also bear a loss amounting to 2.2 million sterling pounds.

The Auditor General's Department in August this year finalised a damning report on the disposal of the BOC building in London in September 2003, which has resulted in a multi million pound loss.

The report observes that "the persons who were involved in this transaction have cheated the bank on a large scale." The transaction took place during the tenure of former Chairperson, BOC, Sumi Moonesinghe and the current General Manager S. N. P. Palihena.

Since the Auditor General's report the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) summoned the present management of the BOC on November 30, 2004. COPE questioned the management in detail about the leasehold rights of the BOC premises of No. 22-24 City Road, London obtained in September 2003 under dubious circumstances.

The Sunday Leader has previously carried in detail the purchase and sale of this property having conducted a full investigation. Our report has been confirmed by that of the Auditor General who has only further validated our findings.

Losses overseas

The BOC purchased this property in November 1986 for a remaining lease period of 235 years. Its purchase price has been shown in the accounts at Rs. 79,150,225 (E 1,945,703). However, a telex message from the then chief manager of the London branch sent to the General Manager, BOC states that the actual purchase price amounted to Rs. 89,494,900. Accordingly, the value of the property had been understated in the accounts by Rs. 10,344,675.

According to data of the BOC, London Branch, losses had been incurred relating to the transactions of the above lease property in every year up to 2002 except the years 1997 and 1998. As a result, the bank branch had been shifted in 1996 to the premises purchased for the bank to No. 1 at Devonshire. Even though the lease property had resulted in losses continuously, the decision for its sale had been taken only in 1999.

Furthermore, an agreement had been entered into with a company for this purpose only in June 2001. The space utilised by the bank branch had not been used for the purpose of earning an income from the date of shifting up to the date of sale of the property.

The report by the Auditor General states that the bank had failed to submit evidence to prove that they had taken an initiative to sell the property through other avenues such as the national press, auctions and home estate agents. Instead, they had entrusted it to a private company called G. V. A. Grimly International.

Instant profit

The property was sold for 200,000 sterling pounds less than the market value of 600,000 sterling pounds. Thus resulting in a loss to the BOC of Rs. 65.3 million which has been written off by the bank to its profit and loss account for 2003.

It was subsequently revealed that the company which purchased this property for 200,000 sterling pounds in a matter of one and a half months sold it for its true market value for 615,000 sterling pounds. Thus the company made an instant profit of 415,000 sterling pounds.

The Auditor General in his report has noted that the operation of the sale activity of this property had been entrusted to a non-national employee recruited on a contract basis as chief financial officer. The board of directors at the bank he asserts had granted approval for such an officer serving on a temporary basis to deal with this transaction which "can have a large impact on the finances of the bank."

Being a non national chief financial Officer he does not appear to have considered the other options which were available to the bank such as redeeming the lease to the owner, or sale of the freehold of the building with the consent of the freeholder which would have been beneficial to the bank.

- Frederica Jansz  


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