Impunity is Strongest Incentive for Crime and Profit
"He has committed the crime who profits by it" - Seneca
Lalith Kotelawala is probably going to win the legal tap
dance which will ensure that he gets bail. Even though
the Merchants' Ward is hardly uncomfortable, it is
surely less than he has become used to all these years.
The whole point of course is to buy time with as little
personal inconvenience as can be arranged, because
justice delayed is not only justice denied, it is the
essence of profitable crime. Similarly, Mrs. Kotelawala,
like the more down to earth Sakviti Ranasinghe, will
only have her conscience to trouble her in whatever
salubrious clime she has chosen to reside.
meantime, the duped investors and a few idealists will
agitate for redress; some will actually hope that
justice will prevail in the end. But, the simple yet
devastating question remains, why should we get justice
in this case when we haven't in any other, in this
climate of complete and utter impunity? The AGs office
will pursue the case in its usual desultory manner, a
modus operandi over which it has a perfect record, and
time will pass, healing some wounds and deepening
questions will remain or receive unsatisfactory
responses: what has happened to the money taken from
9000 customers? How can they even begin to be paid back?
How did such blatant illegality take place under the
Nelsonian eye of the relevant regulatory bodies, and is
there no accountability at that end? And, in good time,
as a country, we'll move on to marvel at other
injustices, other scandals, scarred by this travesty but
no closer to resolving the underlying issues that make
these frauds possible.
these unresolved issues do more than create such
possibilities: they provide every incentive for the
further perpetration of such illegal and immoral acts.
Whether investors were foolish or greedy is irrelevant.
So too is our incredulity about how some of these people
earned the money that they have deposited with Golden
Key. This is the legitimate purview of another
investigation by the Inland Revenue Department, but it
does not mitigate the crime perpetrated by the
Kotelawala Empire one little jot. The state is committed
to ensuring that its laws are respected, that potential
violations are nipped in the bud. The state must do its
job, whatever the consequences, whoever the
personalities, but this is what it simply will not do.
a basic principle of our legal system that the
decision-makers at both the subsidiary, Golden Key,
where the fraud took place, as well as the leadership of
the main company, Ceylinco, should face a
properly-prosecuted trial as expeditiously as possible.
And, that redress is provided to all aggrieved parties.
Forgive us our cynicism in doubting the modicum of
political will that is required to make this happen.
And, even if it does provide some form of redress to
investors, that is only one aspect of the problem that
this scam has brought to the surface.
Firstly, issues remain about the Central Bank's role and
responsibility in all this. It is manifest that the
supervisory and oversight functions of the Central Bank
have not been discharged satisfactorily, or, indeed,
impartially. Who will take responsibility for this? Who
is accountable? This is not an isolated case of
negligence and unconcern, moreover.
Secondly, of concern is Mr Kotelawala's skill in keeping
the press at bay. For the longest time he basked in the
mass media's glow as a knight in shining armour who
provided succour to the deserving poor and needy. His
munificence, always lavishly publicised transformed him
into a cult figure. Now he seeks to silence the press
with outrageous libel suits directed at individual
reporters, not the newspaper itself. Whether it is due
to threats or charisma, or a careful combination of both
ingredients, the entire case has not been publicised as
much as it deserves. We leave it to you to work out the
reasons for this state of affairs.
Kotelawala claims ignorance as his defence, but what he
describes is idiocy. The fact that Golden Key Credit
Card Company has not had its accounts audited in three
years, nor had a board meeting in four is nothing short
of scandalous. Kotelawala could not have been unaware of
this state of affairs. Twenty six billion rupees do not
crystal clear that systematic fraud has taken place over
a number of years, and that deposits have been
misappropriated and misused. The AGs office will, no
doubt, require a great deal of time to find out what has
happened to the money collected. Given the tangled web
of 400-or-so companies within the Ceylinco Group, there
will be plenty of opportunity for inordinate delays and
debilitating obfuscations that will, in effect, create a
mockery of justice.
Kotelawala has long presented himself as a
philanthropist with only altruistic motives of the
highest quality. Long have TV viewers and newspaper
readers been fed on a surfeit of his deeds of charity
and magnanimity. Many were shocked by his fall, some
even hope for another explanation, but there is no one
we have found who supports or condones the way he has
responded to this crisis.
expressing outrage and claiming blissful ignorance of
any wrongdoing, next minimising the catastrophe and
promising swift and complete redress, he has followed
all this grandstanding with a singular lack of
significant action. The mass media construction of the
selfless soft-spoken giver has been transformed into an
arrogant unrepentant old man. One can hardly avoid
seeing that this shedding of masks is an apt
dramatization of De La Rochefoucauld's cynical wisdom
that "We frequently do good to enable us with impunity
to do evil."
Kotelawala has influence in high places and must have
earned himself a lot of favours. While such friends and
favours may assist doing good, they certainly come in
handy in times like this. In a country in which impunity
takes a myriad shapes and forms - military, political,
bureaucratic, judicial, financial - this is exactly par
for the course. How can we expect accountability and
transparency in a case that involves one of the richest
and most influential citizens of this country, when no
significant prosecutions have been undertaken against
human rights abuses or corruption even by minor military
or political functionaries?
Whether, like De La Rochefoucauld, we are cynics or not,
impunity is certainly the core problem affecting our
society today. It is impunity that has fuelled
corruption and cronyism, that has exacerbated human
rights violations, that has destroyed transparency and
accountability all round. Impunity stalks this country
like a cancer, infecting even the smallest interstices
of everyday life and contaminating the very fabric of
our collective ethics.
this country today it would seem that the only criminals
who are brought to book are those who are too poor to
bribe or influence their way out of retribution. All the
others, from Sakviti Ranasinghe and Lalith Kotelawala to
pyramid scammers, from ransom-seekers to goon squads,
share an impunity that is mind-boggling.
is on trial then is not only Mr. Kotelawala and his
cronies, but the filigreed overlapping systems of
impunity in this land. Not that successful prosecution
and swift redress will signal the end of corruption and
killing, but if nothing tangible happens, this failure
will mock even the pretence that the rule of law
If Mr. Kotelawala really goes down we may cherish a ray
of hope for our future, but if he doesn't we're beyond
may well be our national prognosis, but for Kotelawala
the man there is perhaps less at stake. He has lived the
good life, and what matter that it may have been upon
the back of others? Unlike Macbeth, he has had his
share of "honour, obedience, troops of friends." What's
a few years of solitary comfort after all that glory?
Too bad, Hannah Arendt's warning comes to us too late:
"Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us
with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the
hypocrite is really rotten to the core."