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8th January, 2006  Volume 12, Issue 26

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

 Throwback to 2003

Questions over Navy's shady weapons deal

We reproduce this week an article that appeared in The Sunday Leader two years ago on July 13, 2003 highlighting the shady Bushmaster cannon arms purchase deal negotiated by the Sri Lanka Navy with Israel. It is reproduced in the public interest in light of the current controversy ..........

More....


 More Spotlight

  > Maharaja assassination plot thickens

  > The Sunday Leader expos‚ that could have saved the......


Throwback to 2003

Questions over Navy's shady weapons deal

Defense Minister Tilak Marapone, Navy Commander Daya Sandagiri and Defense Secretary Austin Fernando

We reproduce this week an article that appeared in The Sunday Leader two years ago on July 13, 2003 highlighting the shady Bushmaster cannon arms purchase deal negotiated by the Sri Lanka Navy with Israel. It is reproduced in the public interest in light of the current controversy surrounding the weapons deal

By Frederica Jansz

THE Sri Lanka Navy is to negotiate and spend an estimated US$ 12.3 million to purchase 15 units of cannons from Israel when America has offered the same cannon of also 15 numbers at US$ 7 million less than the Israeli price.

Yet, Navy Commander Daya Sandagiri is determined to make the purchase from Israel, insisting the navy has traditionally purchased its weapons from Israel and that the 

Israelis are thus that much quicker in providing the weapons. Also that the Israeli weapon will conform to existing mounts on naval boats. 

The cannon in question, the Bushmaster 30mm single barrel cannon was recommended for the navy's Fast Attack Crafts (FACs) by a specially appointed needs assessment team from the United States last year. A convoluted sequence of events has finally resulted in the navy's requirement for 30 units of this weapon being divided between Israel and America.

The two offers

The Israelis have offered the navy 15 units of the single barrel cannon, which is known as the MK 44 Bushmaster cannon system for a total price of US$ 12.3 million, which includes US$ 33,000 for installation.       

The American firm ATK Ordnance and Ground Systems which manufactures the Bushmaster cannon system has offered the navy the same unit for a total of only US$ 4.4 million. The difference in price is US$ 7 million.

Sandagiri's insistence on purchasing from the Israelis is being done despite senior officers in the navy advising to the contrary.  The Navy Commander's argument is that since the navy has over the years purchased its weapons and systems from Israel any weapons component from the USA at this point in time would hinder the replacement of spare parts in view of a complete new system different to the Israeli system.

His argument does not seem to carry much weight given the fact that this particular purchase is only for cannons to be fitted on to the existing mounts on the navy's FACs.

On November 24, last year, Rear Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Rear Admiral L.D. Dharmapriya were sent to the USA for five days to inspect defence related products - one being the Bushmaster cannon system for the navy's FACs.

The visit was arranged with the assistance of the International Programmes Office (IPO) in Washington by the Sri Lanka Embassy in the USA on a request made by the navy.

This initiative was instigated by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Soon after his government took office in early 2002, Wickremesinghe decided that the navy's fire power required significant strengthening. During the Premier's official visit last year to Washington and at his meeting with President George Bush, it was decided that the United States would send a series of needs assessment teams to Sri Lanka to evaluate the military requirements of the different armed forces.

At this meeting between the US President and Premier Wickremesinghe, it was decided and agreed to list Sri Lanka onto the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.

This effectively means that Sri Lanka's security forces could purchase weapons at a cost price from the USA on a government to government basis. An added benefit would be that each time US forces place any specific weapons order, if Sri Lankan forces have any requirement to buy the identical weapon their requirement for a much lesser number would be incorporated together with the US order and purchased at cost. 

The decision to incorporate Sri Lanka onto this programme was unprecedented because never before has Sri Lanka been allocated such weapons procurement benefits due to a previously poor human rights track record.

Thus, when Karannagoda and Dharmapriya went to the US, they were told during discussions at the IPO that funding for military purchases could be made available for the Sri Lankan government through certain banks on favourable terms.

By this time an American led needs assessment team that had evaluated the firing capability of the Sri Lanka Navy had recommended that existing naval cannons on the FACs be upgraded and replaced with the Bushmaster 30mm cannon which is manufactured in the USA.

On November 15 last year, Karannagoda and Dharmapriya were taken to the ATK gun systems facility in Arizona where the well known Bushmaster guns are manufactured.  At this facility, a presentation was made of different models and calibres of Bushmaster guns and the Night Hawk Fire Control System.

Interesting revelations

The two naval officers in their report to the Commander subsequent to their visit on November 24, 2002, wrote that during the presentations and discussion that followed, it was obvious that the US Navy, Air Force and Army use different models of Bushmaster guns and in some instances they were coupled with the Night Hawk Fire Control System.

According to the naval officer's report, they stated that another interesting revelation was the competitive price of the Bushmaster gun at a cost of only US$ 170,000 (cannon only) and US$ 700,000 for the complete gun with stabilised mounting.

What is astounding is that the Israeli's have offered a price of US$ 640,000 per unit for this same system for only the cannon, minus the gun or the stabilised mounting.  And it is this offer, which Daya Sandagiri is determined to take.

Karannagoda and Dharmapriya meanwhile also pointed out that ATK in the USA had offered the navy ammunition for a mere US$ 20 to 25 per round when all along the navy had been purchasing this type of ammunition for an exorbitant price of US$ 125 per round.

The manufacturers of Bushmaster guns claim that the life span of the Bushmaster barrel is four times of any other known gun in the 30mm category.

Meanwhile, what was presented to the navy delegation on this occasion was what is authorised to the general public.  This means that both Karannagoda and Dharmapriya were not provided with more details of the weapon in question as they were told by ATK that they did not have the required clearance from the US State Department for more information on the weapon to be released.

What is of great significance is that the two naval officers informed Sandagiri that the US government is willing to provide these items at the prices the US armed forces purchase them, which means at wholesale prices as they buy large quantities.  Therefore the two naval officers in their report asserted "the prices could be even lesser than that indicated" to them at their meeting in Arizona.  Both Karannagoda and Dharmapriya had been shown different varieties of the Bushmaster cannon system.

Sandagiri's fax

Be that as it may, on May 11 this year, Sandagiri sent a fax to the Sri Lanka Embassy in the USA reiterating the Bushmaster cannon could not be purchased.

In this fax Sandagiri notified the embassy that the MK 46 Bushmaster cannon does not permit installation on board the navy FACs in view of the weight of the mounting being 1.41 tonnes. According to the navy, the FACs cannot hold a cannon mounting system that exceeds the weight of one tonne.

Sandagiri added that the MK 44 cannon variety, which comes with mounting with a single operator and without armour protection cover, "appears to be a lesser weight that the MK 46 mounting." However, the important details required, he asserted, had not been furnished yet by the USA.

The issue of mounting does not really figure as high ranking naval officers confided that what is required is only the cannon which can be fitted onto the existing Rafael mounts already installed on the FACs.

In fact, even the Israelis are selling only the cannon without the mount or the gun for an exorbitant US$ 640,000 per unit as against the US price of only US$ 193,800 per cannon.

If, however, Sandagiri's argument that the existing mounts on the FACs are unsuitable to carry the American cannons, it is curious why then the navy is still going ahead with the purchase of 15 cannons from America.

 In that case the navy's requirement of a total of 30 cannons should be purchased only from Israel.

Navy Spokesman, Captain Jayantha Perera confirmed the navy is to negotiate the purchase of 15 cannons from Israel and 15 from the USA.

Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando when contacted and asked why the navy is going ahead with purchasing 15 Bushmaster cannons from the USA if according to Sandagiri they are unsuitable for the existing Rafael type mounts on the FACs, replied, "I have no answer. Don't ask me that question."

No comparison

What in fact is to be purchased from Israel is the Swiss made KCB Oerlikon 30mm cannon for US$ 640,000 per unit.  The American offer is also for the 30mm cannon but of Bushmaster make.  Both cannons are similar in specifications except that the ammunition differs and the Bushmaster ammunition cannot be fired from an Oerlikon cannon.

A senior US diplomat who requested anonymity however pointed out that to compare the 30mm Oerlikon cannon with a 30mm Bushmaster is like trying to compare a Tata to a Jaguar.

According to Director General, Naval Operations, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera the navy is seeking the entire system from America and not just the cannon.  Weerasekera pointed out that the American offer would have to include the cannon, gun mount and an integration system into the existing Fire Control Systems. He said the ATK offer must come through the US government for the navy to consider the proposal as unsolicited proposals made independently to the Defence Minister cannot be accommodated.

Meanwhile, Defence Attach at the US Embassy in Colombo, Richard S. Girven on May 12 wrote to Sandagiri with regard to details of the 30mm Bushmaster cannon where Sandagiri had sought precise details on the weapon's mounting and compatibility with the Sri Lankan fast attack craft.

Search for a compatible system

Girven pointed out that following an initial Letter Of Request (LOR) for 15 30mm guns for Sri Lankan naval vessels, initiated a process by which the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency is seeking to match a compatible 30mm system to the navy's specific needs.

"You provided detailed information on your vessels so that US engineers and contractors could determine which gun, if any, with which fire control system and mounting can be configured on your vessels.  Once the process is complete and a gun/mount/FCS has been found to fit your request, you will be offered the system in a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA)," Girven asserted.

The American Defence Attach added that he could not provide details of the MK 44 gun mount "as I do not know how it would be specifically configured for each of your vessels, what the cost would be, etc.," he stated.

Girven further reiterated that Sandagiri's letter indicated he needed the details by May 13 to take a decision and had hinted that a tender for 30mm weapons purchase is still a possibility pending a decision by the Commander.

Girven stated in no uncertain terms that "the US government cannot be in competition with a US defence contractor.  If there is an open tender for 30mm cannons, the LOR will be cancelled and the FMS case closed so that US firms may participate in the tender."

The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme does not allow for the US government to participate in a tender process but US weapons manufacturing or selling companies can do so by making an offer.  This offer effectively cancels any special benefits the US government will allow the Sri Lankan government under the FMS scheme.

Subsequent to this letter, Sandagiri did in fact float a tender calling for the purchase of 30 units of 30mm cannon systems for the navy. Soon after he did, however, the tender was cancelled following discussions between the Premier, Minister Milinda Moragoda and Sandagiri held at Temple Trees where it was agreed the US offer on the FMS scheme must be accommodated on board.

Annoyed

Girven of course was annoyed when he heard about the tender as only two months earlier on March 3, Defence Secretary Austin Fernando had written to the US Ambassador in Colombo and placed a firm order for the procurement of 20 units of 30 mm Bushmaster cannons with stabilised mounting and fire control systems.

Fernando's letter on March 3, to US Ambassador in Colombo, Ashley Wills stated, "The government of Sri Lanka has a firm requirement to procure 20 numbers of 30 mm automatic cannons complete with stabilised mountings and fire control systems with minimum effective range of 3,000 meters or above to be installed on existing Sri Lanka Navy Fast Attack Crafts."  This is the Letter Of Request (LOR) Girven was referring to in his response to the Navy Commander on May 12.

Meantime, also on May 12, Sri Lanka's Defence Attache in Washington, Brigadier R.M. Jayasinghe also wrote to Sandagiri, copying his fax to Girven as well.  In this faxed letter, Brigadier Jayasinghe pointed out that there seemed to be a misunderstanding pertaining to the MK 44 and MK 46 weapon.

He said the MK 44 30mm Bushmaster is the nomenclature while the MK 46 is the entire system, which includes electro-optical sights and the mounting.  He asserted that this is still a brand new system which the US is considering other options with the same 30 mm gun.

On July 2, the US manufacturer of the Bushmaster cannon system, ATK, put their offer in writing to Defence Minister Tilak Marapone offering the MK 44 Bushmaster cannon system for a mere US$ 193,800 per unit.

Director, Programmes and Operations, ATK, David Measures asserted that since the company understands the navy requires early delivery of the guns, it is willing to provide an accelerated delivery schedule starting with three to five guns five months after receipt and acceptance of a contract.  The balance cannons they have pledged will be delivered within 12 months.

Measures has stated to Marapone that the navy may choose to perform, on its own, the cannon integration into the existing mount.

Whichever approach is finally selected, ATK Ordnance and Ground Systems has said it will provide interface documentation and technical support as required. Estimates for training and tools as well as operation and maintenance have also been submitted to the Defence Minister.

This letter Marapone has copied to Sandagiri. Yet, the Israeli purchase for US$ 7 million more is to be made. Navy Commander Daya Sandagiri could not be contacted for comment as he is away in Jordan and Israel.

The Israeli offer

Bushmaster MK 44 cannon system US$ 640,000 per unit

Installation             US$ 33,000

Logistics and support package            US$ 2.2 million

Total     US$ 12,370,000 million

 

The American offer

MK 44 cannon system US$ 193,800 per unit

Training in Mesa Arizona US$ 71,400

Special tools            US$ 310,000

On board special tools            US$ 128,685

Manuals            US$ 10,000

Hardware            US$ 1 million

Total     US$ 4, 427,085 


Maharaja assassination plot thickens

Chandra Fernando, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Dilan Perera and Prince (middle)

Maharaja's letter to the IGP

By Sonali Samarasinghe

Even as the misinformed government Spokesperson Minister Nimal Siripala Silva was waxing eloquent at the cabinet press briefing last Thursday, that no official complaint had yet been made to the police with regard to the alleged threat on the life of the chairman, Sirasa/MTV/Shakthi TV and Maharaja Organisation,  Assistant Superintendent of Police, Kumarasinghe was recording the complaint at the Criminal Investigations Head Office in Colombo.

Furthermore while spokesperson Silva was spouting piffle at this cabinet meeting with no grasp of the facts of the matter, IGP Chandra Fernando had already received an urgent letter from the Maharaja Group the previous day (January 3) with regard to the inquiry. But more of this interesting letter and its aftermath anon.

Of all this the official government spokesperson was for whatever reason, ignorant.

In fact the ill-informed Silva did not seem to know anything, even though at a press conference held Wednesday (4) by the Maharaja Group following The Sunday Leader expose revealed the police and a spokesperson for the group had arranged to make a statement the next day.

While the ill-advised Minister Silva, who is also a lawyer, was castigating The Sunday Leader that the plot exposed by this newspaper was just another spot of mischief, the Colombo Magistrate's Court was already making order to conduct a full investigation.

Last Thursday (5) the Magistrate granted permission to the CID to record the statements of T. M. D. A. Ilangaratne and Sergeant Sumith Jayasinghe of the Mirihana police. The magistrate also ordered that a report be filed in court on January 18.

Contractor

Ilangaratne, prisoner No. X3903 is an inmate of the Magazine Prison now detained in Mahara and was the prisoner allegedly contracted by underworld kingpin Niroshan Fernando to carry out the assassination. (See The Sunday Leader of last week). Ilangaratne who is also a police informant passed on this information to Sergeant Sumith Jayasinghe of the Mirihana police. Consequently an employee of Maharaja Organisation was given this information which he passed on to the chairman.

The Sunday Leader learns that The Maharaja Organisation was told of this possible threat to its chairman during the  last week of November 2005. The tip off which came through an employee of the organisation was immediately conveyed to President Mahinda Rajapakse by the chairman of the Maharaja Group.

However the first information received by the Maharajas was that the plot was allegedly masterminded by a southern politician.

 Meanwhile police sergeant Sumith Jayasinghe on Thursday confirmed to the CID in a statement that Ilangaratne had indeed tipped him off on the murder plot.

 However, it is obvious that the plot thickens even as we write. For the first information received by Maharajas was at variance with the information received by The Sunday Leader and in fact caught on hidden tape (in the possession of The Sunday Leader), at the time prisoner Ilangaratne was making his statement on December 18, to the prison authorities on the alleged plot.

 Even more intriguing is that the 'official' statement recorded under the hand of the Mahara Prison Superintendent was further at variance and omitted many salient and shocking revelations which surfaced in Ilangaratne's statement electronically recorded at the same time. (See The Sunday Leader  of January 1 for full details).

 One of them was that it was Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who had allegedly given this contract according to Niroshan Fernando as charged by Ilangaratne.  An allegation the Prime Minister vehemently denies while welcoming a full and transparent investigation into the matter.

 Be that as it may, once the initial information was received, the chairman was to telephone President Rajapakse to apprise him of the information.  Rajapakse expressed alarm at the news and was to promptly telephone the Inspector General of Police Chandra Fernando who in turn called the Sirasa boss to glean from him what information he had received. The IGP also promised the chairman that he would put the CID on to the matter. However nothing happened.

Meanwhile in the prisons a lot was happening. The inmates in with the news, were buzzing with the possibility of making a quick though humongous buck with the price on the head of the chairman going at a colossal Rs. 120 million. Even as the IGP was possibly attending to more pressing matters with Christmas round the corner prison authorities were taking no chances.

At the behest of its Commissioner General, Rumi Marzook, inmate Ilangaratne's statement was recorded on December 18 and the very next day a copy of the 'official' statement together with a covering letter by the Commissioner General was sent to Deputy Minister of Justice, Dilan Perera for necessary action.

Again however in the true  spirit of non-investigation and suppression, nothing came of it.

Therefore while the official government spokesperson Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva was treating the matter as child's play and the IGP and the Justice Ministry was ignoring the threat to the independent media who have been constantly in the line of fire, many were realising that being a journalist in this country or for that matter an owner of a media organisation was no walk in the park.

Thus the entire media fraternity, civil society and a large number of religious leaders last week expressed shock and dismay at the alleged plot to murder the chairman, Sirasa/MTV/Shakthi television and radio stations exposed exclusively by The Sunday Leader.  Diplomats and foreign press organisations called upon the government of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to investigate this matter as it showed a dangerous trend to curtail media freedom.

 Secretary General of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, Elizabeth Smith O.B.E. in a statement dated January 3, to Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in Britain, Kshenuka Seneviratne urged the government to do all in its power to protect media freedom. They stated they were dismayed to read of threats to the life of the chairman of MTV and MBC Networks and pointed out there had been a number of such outrages in the past and the government must take strong preventive measures to avoid anymore.

 Alas however, even while diplomats and foreign organisations were aware of this alleged plot and reacting with shock, Police Chief Chandra Fernando was claiming ignorance in oxymoronic style.

 Waiting for chairman

When the Sirasa news director was to call him at 9.01 a.m. last Tuesday (3) the IGP said he only got a copy of The Sunday Leader late Monday (2) night and had read it. He was waiting to talk to the chairman of the Maharaja Group on the matter.  He also said the police was duty bound to investigate any such matter concerning any citizen. The IGP said that earlier when this information was received (in the first week of December last year) it was he personally who had spoken to the chairman and at that time was told to hold on till he gave him the green light to inquire into the matter.

 At 10.44 a.m. the same day he told Sirasa News that it was the chairman of the Maharaja Group who told him to desist from inquiry until he gave him the OK. He revealed that a certain person in high office had told him in fact to inquire into this matter and it was because this person in high office had told him to do so that he had called the chairman.

 IGP Fernando asserted that the chairman had then told him "hold on Chandra I will let you know."

 At 11.57 a.m. on Tuesday (2) IGP Fernando again confirmed to Sirasa News that he would be speaking to the chairman on whether he was amenable to an inquiry as he could not act on a newspaper article as there had to be fear of threat expressed by the complainant himself for criminal intent to exist.

 However a spokesman for the Maharaja Organisation denied their chairman asked the IGP not to inquire into the assassination plot until further notice. 

The spokesman told The Sunday Leader, that in fact the Maharaja staff were threatened and harassed to such a degree in the run up to the presidential polls last November the chairman had many times written to the IGP to take immediate action.

 A history of threats

 The whole country was privy to the threats and intimidation meted out to the Maharaja Organisation by Deputy Minister of Labour and southern political thug, Mervyn Silva. He spewed out racist venom calling upon the para demalu to go back to India as they came to Sri Lanka to wash toilets.

 But as far back as September 9, the family of the head of the Maharaja owned Tamil Language Shakthi TV channel and popular Tamil talk show host, Sri Ranga was subjected to intimidation over which Sri Ranga's mother had made an entry in the Vavuniya police station. 

Talk show host intimidated

 On two separate occasions on September  9 and 11, two men on a motorcycle No. 154-3231 had visited the home of Sri Ranga's mother Mangaleswari Jeyaratnam and made threats in relation to Sri Ranga's employment with the Maharaja Group.

 On September 11 two men on motorcycles had visited the home of Maharaja Graphic Designer, Saliya Liyanaarachchi and threatened his wife in relation to his employment with the group.

 IGP  notified

 These matters were brought to the notice of IGP Chandra Fernando in writing on September 15, by the Maharaja Group Human Resource Director, Priantha Serasinhe and copies of this letter were sent to the then Deputy Minister of Media, Dilan Perera and to Sunanda Deshapriya of the Free Media Movement.

 The letter also stated: "We believe that both these incidents are attempts to pressurise the independent media and since there are some allegations which I am sure may be unfounded, that state intelligence agencies may be involved, I earnestly request you to look into these matters...."

 But the letters received by the IGP did not stop there. On October 18, 2005 chairman, Maharaja  Group himself was to write to Chandra Fernando.

The  chairman whose staff  had been receiving threatening phone calls, was prompted by the attack on the press of The Sunday Leader and Irudina Newspaper Group in early October to request the IGP to provide permanent security to them as unruly mobs had been demonstrating outside the Maharaja premises and they feared an attack of this nature was imminent.

 The chairman reminded Fernando that though he had written to him earlier regarding threats to his staff no action had yet been taken. He pointed out that a group of persons was going around destroying their billboards and attacking the free media to muzzle them before the election.

  The chairman also reminded the IGP that a few years ago his station was destroyed by fire and subsequently on two separate occasions grenades were found on their premises. He sent copies of this letter to then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, then Minister of Public Security and Deputy Minister of Defence, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and to the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe.

 On October 28, the chairman was to write to IGP Chandra Fernando once again. This time in relation to an alleged threat made by Minister of Trade and Commerce, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle to burn down the Maharaja establishment after the presidential election was concluded on November 17.

 This threat was allegedly made by telephone at about 11.30 p.m. on Monday, October 24, 2005.  He states that at the time of the threat he was made to understand that Colombo District MP, T. Maheswaran had been allegedly present. The chairman as in his earlier letters urged Chandra Fernando in the light of previous attacks and threats to take appropriate action and again he copies the letter to both Mahinda Rajapakse and to Ratnasiri Wickremanayake.

Jeyaraj on the rampage

 However, this was not the first time Fernandopulle was to make vitriolic statements against this media organisation. At an election rally at the Colombo Municipal Grounds on November 7, 2005 he incited the crowd with racist comments and allegations of terrorist links against the Maharaja Group, an overwhelming majority of which organisation happen to be Sinhalese.

With shameful and ignorant racial references he stated that Maharajah was not a Sinhalese but was born in Jaffna. He said the leader of the LTTE was also born in Jaffna and his village was Valvettithurai. The Maharajas' village is also Valvettithurai and Pirapaharan and Maharaja are relations he told the crowd.  He also alleged that Maharaja has taken it upon himself to carry on the activities of Pirapaharan in Colombo.  He has taken it upon himself to defeat Rajapakse, Fernandopulle charged.

While the election itself and the LTTE engineered boycott of the poll in the north and east showed that it was in fact Ranil Wickremesinghe the LTTE wanted defeated, Fernandopulle is not well known to think before he speaks while the unruly mob especially in this country has never been known to have enough brain to discern an election gundu from an ahas gundu.

 Be that as it may, these were the constant threats under which this organisation and indeed other independent media institutions were working to keep the public truly informed.

 It is only after The Sunday Leader expose on January 1 that the authorities got activated with other media institutions and civil society urging the government to take action.

 IGP exposed 

In fact on January 3, even while IGP Chandra Fernando was trying to explain to the Sirasa news director that he was prevented from inquiring into the threat by the chairman of the organisation himself, (an assertion a spokesman for the Maharaja says is false) the  Group Human Resources Director, Priantha Serasinhe had already fired another letter to the IGP dated January 3.

 Letter tells all

This letter copied to Secretary to President Rajapakse, Lalith Weeratunge and to Senior Defence Advisor to the police, H. M. G. B. Kotakadeniya, is indeed revealing and states thus: 

"I write with reference to the expose made in The Sunday Leader of January 1, 2006 about a plot to assassinate our chairman/managing director. This matter was brought to your notice as far back as the first week of December last year by the President and you had thereafter called our chairman and promised to have this matter investigated. In fact you had also said you would be getting the CID involved in this.

 "Upto the time of writing neither our chairman nor anyone in our group has been officially informed by the prison authorities or the police about this serious threat. 

"In fact our chairman had attempted to call you as there was no response from you following your communication with him and thereafter he had sent a text message to you on your mobile phone requesting you to call him to which there had been no response to date. I am officially forwarding you this letter wanting to know the status of this inquiry as this constitutes a serious threat to our chairman's life and limb and the employees of our group have been disturbed and are concerned that no action has been taken hitherto."

 Vital paragraph 

"It is astonishing that you had informed our news director that you did not want to investigate this as you were waiting for our chairman to revert to you to continue with the investigation, despite the President's directive."

 Indeed, one wonders what the country is coming to if a public official as important as the Police Chief, on his own admission, were to be dictated to by the likes of chairmen of large businesses rather than by his uniform, his conscience and in this particular case by the highest in the land, the President of the country.

 In fact IGP Chandra Fernando himself admits that it was because of directions from a person in high office that he in the first week of December called the chairman of Maharaja on this issue.

 What makes the statement of the IGP even more shocking is that he is the head of an institution that the public at large should have faith in. If, as its chief, he acts according to the dictates of businessmen and not according to law then one is perhaps entitled to wonder how many more investigations he may have delayed/stopped on the dictates of other parties.

 Surely as a public official the IGP should know that he does not need the permission of the victim in a criminal case to investigate the matter. Already an official statement had been taken by the prison superintendent - also a public official. Thus the matter was for all intents and purposes in the official realm.  What is more, President Rajapakse himself had ordered him to commence investigations.

 Anura concerned

While the Police Chief was hemming and hawing on the issue, on Tuesday (3) Minister of Tourism, Anura Bandaranaike on reading about the alleged plot, was to call the chairman of the Maharaja Group and extend his support, inquiring if anything could be done and expressing deep concern.

 The very next day on January 3, President Mahinda Rajapakse who had  heard of Bandaranaike's call from a media contact was to call the chairman and voice his concern as to why there was no investigation into the matter as yet even though he directed the IGP that one be conducted as far back as the first week of December.

In the final analysis the issue is this. Why has the IGP not taken any action on this matter even though he knew about it since early December by his own admission?  Even if the IGP's assertion that he did nothing because he was told to hold on until the chairman  gave the green light were true, it does not absolve him of blame.

For IGP Chandra Fernando as a public official has a duty to the public to investigate such matters and to root out undesirable elements in society through due process of law. He must be even more vigilant with the police increasingly being connected to the underworld and to the drug mafia with police officers themselves recently taken into custody on suspected drug offences.

 Presidential order  ignored

 IGP Fernando has ignored a Presidential order to investigate an alleged assassination plot which is serious in itself.  For lesser misdeeds greater men have been sacked.  It is now upto President Rajapakse to conduct a full inquiry not only into the plot to murder a media organisation owner but also a possible cover up and the failure of his Police Chief to act on his directions given as far back as early December. 

 Thus whether there is truly media freedom and justice in this country as envisaged by the Mahinda Chinthana will depend on what action President Rajapakse takes against the police top brass for not inquiring into the plot even though he had given express instructions to do so.

 Let us hope that unlike ongoing investigations that have been stopped for political mileage, at least this inquiry is conducted in a transparent and just manner befitting a true democracy.

Prince denies any involvement

Subsequent to The Sunday Leader expose last week Rienzie Column, the uncle of underworld character Prince together with Prince Column's wife Sitthy Naima visited The Sunday Leader office carrying a message from Prince who is currently incarcerated on several counts. Prince denied any involvement in a plot to assassinate the Maharaja boss and instead called for a full investigation to be conducted.

 Prince was named by inmate Ilangaratne as one of the persons co-opted by underworld kingpin Niroshan Fernando to carry out the deed. (See last week's The Sunday Leader)


The Sunday Leader expos‚ that could 
have saved the government Rs. 400 mn.

Mahinda Rajapakse and Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Amantha Perera

The Sri Lankan government could have saved Rs. 400 million if it had acted upon a disclosure in The Sunday Leader made in July, 2003 (see opposite page) on the controversial navy deal to acquire guns for its fast attack crafts.

The Sunday Times last week reported that President Mahinda Rajapakse had wanted the gun deal stopped because the product was said to be ineffective. Full details of this deal was exposed in July 2003 by The Sunday Leader and then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe initiated a probe into the deal but the UPFA government of then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse proceeded to seal the deal in December 2004.

As is the usual case with governments, it was the newspaper that was criticised at the time for exposing the scandal and no action followed. It is in the same vein this newspaper was accused of falsehoods for˙exposing the existence of a Karuna camp in a government controlled area, which too has now been proved correct by an investigation carried out by the defence authorities no less.

Back to the limelight

Be that as it may, the gun deal promoted by former Navy Commander and present Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Daya Sandagiri has come back to the limelight following the report in The Sunday Times newspaper last week that the government has finally cancelled the deal to purchase 15, 30mm guns. The cancellation now however, according to the report, will cost the government Rs. 400 million by way of the advance paid.

Ironically almost two and half years before last week's report, The Sunday Leader of July 13, 2003 broke the story on the deal and Admiral Sandagiri's persistence that an Israeli company, Rafael be awarded the deal. It also laid out in detail another offer, below the Israeli price. (See page 12 where the full article is reproduced)

Following The Sunday Leader story then Defence Secretary Austin Fernando directed Sandagiri in writing that any purchase of the guns from the Israeli manufacturer should meet strict conditions, including a certificate from the original manufacturer, information on shelf life of the barrels, year of manufacture, test firing and local sea trials. There is no evidence to suggest that any of these were met.

Then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also initiated a further probe into the deal through a cabinet sub committee after Lands Minister in the then UNF government Rajitha Senaratne raised objections on the deal which had the tacit blessings of the Defence Minister Tilak Marapone. Senaratne made his objections when the committee met on August 25, 2003.

Deal pushed through

However, with the take-over of three ministries including the defence portfolio by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga in November 2003, Fernando's conditions and the scrutiny of the deal were removed. And with Wickremesinghe and the hawk eye of Austin Fernando out of the way, Sandagiri pushed the deal to a conclusion with the new administration .

Thereafter the deal with the Israelis was officially finalised in December 2004 when the PA-JVP alliance was in power with Mahinda Rajapakse as prime minister. An advance of Rs. 400 million was also paid. The first shipment was to arrive in the country in June 2005.

The Sunday Leader expos‚ of July 2003 also revealed the move was on to purchase from the Israelis when the same calibre weapon was available from an American manufacturer at a cheaper price, which would saved the country a further US$ 7 million.

Present Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda was part of the navy team that inspected the guns offered by the Americans and presented a report. He had not favoured the Israeli deal right from the onset.

It is unfortunate that disclosures by The Sunday Leader have been bracketed as politically motivated and no follow up action initiated. If this was done, the waste of Rs. 400 million as an advance too could have been saved.

The reasons for President Rajapakse now ordering the suspension of the deal was a complaint made a week after he assumed office by a rival supplier of the deal. This complainant had offered American guns initially, but had been frustrated by what he saw as favours offered to the Israeli suppliers and had also drawn the President's attention to The Sunday Leader expos‚ of July 13, 2003.

The complaint˙again highlighted the advantages of the Bushmaster 30mm guns offered by the American company against the Israeli weapons. The complaint said that the Israeli offer was in fact for used guns, obtained by the navy under the guise of "repairing/ upgrading" of guns presently with the navy.

It also said that the offer by the American company was dropped after then Sri Lankan Ambassador to the US, Devinda Subasing-he˙informed the˙principals in the US that the local agent's behaviour had not been to the liking of the then Prime Minister. Wickremesinghe had said he made no such comment on the local agent. It was thereafter that the Israeli offer had been˙pursued.

Complaint

Last November's complaint also said the Orelikon cannons offered through Rafael were refurbished units, that they could not achieve the effective target range of 3,000 metres and fell below the required hit probability of 50%. According to the complaint the hit rate was a miserly 20%.

The complainant who˙was peddling the American weapon said the Israeli weapon had inherent hydraulic system defects, would have needed frequent replacement of the barrel after every 5,000 rounds and used expensive ammunition.

It was following this complaint that action was initiated to probe the deal by Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse.

However, though reports last week indicated the government had scrapped the deal, at last week's security council meeting chaired by President Rajapakse, attention was focused more on figuring out how the story leaked and preventing any more embarrassments to the new administration.

For it is only after the fact that the new administration realised the deal was signed under the UPFA administration of the PA-JVP in which Rajapakse was prime minister.

Thus, at the security council meeting on Wednesday, the focus was more on keeping a lid on the issue now rather than probing it further and cancelling the deal.

In fact Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse was ordered to inquire˙as to how the details had leaked to the media and ensure such leaks do not happen in the future.˙There˙were also discussions on how to minimise future exposure of the deal.

Nothing was mentioned as to whether the deal was in fact scrapped and action˙initiated to recover the Rs. 400 million advance.

The President was to specifically request the authorities to speak to Iqbal Athas (The Sunday Times), Lasantha Wickrematunge, Frederica Jansz (The Sunday Leader) and Shamindra Ferdinando (Island) to refrain from publishing any more details of this deal in this week's Sunday papers.

Inquiry

What the public would expect from the new dispensation however is to not silence the media from highlighting this issue but appoint a presidential commission of inquiry to probe and bring to book those responsible for sealing this deal.

That Rajapakse was prime minister of the government that finalised the deal should not now be a deterrent since his own credibility would then be at stake.

In the midst of all this, a representative of the British government was in the island last week and was to meet with Defence Ministry officials. On the agenda for his discussions was the possibility of selling to Sri Lanka guns removed from British naval crafts on a government to government basis.


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