What made Vass Gunawardena use fake number plates for government vehicles?

Sajin In Remand Mastermind At Large

By Nirmala Kannangara

Questions have emerged as to why only former Galle District parliamentarian Sajin de Vass Gunawardena was brought before the law for misusing public property, whilst the alleged mastermind VVIP who gave blessings to carry out the alleged frauds is still at large.

Although Vass Gunawardena is now languishing in remand custody over the past two months for the alleged misuse of a fleet of vehicles from the Presidential Secretariat, questions have been raised why his boss and the main suspect, who allowed Vass Gunawardena to misuse Presidential Secretariat vehicles for personal benefit, has been permitted to go scot free.

The Sunday Leader therefore presents to its readers details on how vehicles that belonged to the Presidential Secretariat had been used. The report is presented for the public to decide.

According to Lalith Chandrakumar Weeratunga, former Secretary to the former President and Director Transport, Presidential Secretariat Nimal Dharmapriya, they were unaware of how Vass Gunawardena got this fleet of vehicles released as neither of them had given any approval.

But reliable inside sources, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Sunday Leader that these two officers were in fact ‘innocent’ and knew Vass Gunawardena was  allegedly using Secretariat vehicles allegedly with the blessings of a former VVIP. According to the sources, approval was ‘granted’ not only to use (or misuse?) the Presidential Secretariat vehicles but also to use (or misuse?) any public property according to Gunawardena’s wish, because of their friendship. Vass Gunawardena has a longstanding friendship with the respective VVIP from the time the former was working in Dubai attached to Trico International as a wharf clerk handling VIP formalities.

It was only after the fall of the former regime on January 8, 2015, instructions were received by the Presidential Secretariat Transport Division to take an inventory of its vehicles in order to ascertain the status of its fleet and to determine how many have been misused by the previous regime as it was a public secret how these vehicles were blatantly used for the January 8 election campaign.

After an in-depth investigation it was found that there were 707 vehicles in the Presidential vehicle pool, out of which, 152 had been assigned to the President’s Guard of the Sri Lanka Army. From the remaining 555 vehicles, 309 have been returned to the Transport Division by those who used them before the election and the remaining 246 were to be returned.

It was only later that the investigation unit was able to find out more details of the status of another 211 vehicles which were not accounted for in Presidential Secretariat records and as a result the total number of vehicles owned by the Presidential Secretariat rose up to 958.

Missing vehicles

sri-lankaAs the investigation unit was not able to trace 21 vehicles out of the total 958, after further investigation only it was revealed that these vehicles had been used by the then External Affairs Monitoring MP Sajin de Vass Gunawardeana.

The vehicles that were used by Vass Gunawardena were PA 7094 and PA 7086 (Bolero cabs), KC 2280 and KX 2457 and JD 2362 (Defender Jeeps), KE 0610 (Land Cruiser Jeep), KJ 0642 Rexton SUV, KB 9240 (High Security Benz Car), LP 8731, LP 8738, LP 8739, LP 8729 and LP 8732 (Toyota Hilux Cabs), PC 2000 (Nissan Cab), four unregistered Rexton SUV and KC 2283 and KH 1157 (Defender Jeeps) as Vass Gunawardena’s back up vehicles. According to records, these vehicles have been used from 2005 to January 2015.

“LP 8732 and LP 8729 Hilux Cabs have been given to Cosmos Security and Investigation Company owned by Vaas Gunawardena for its work. Although LP 8732 Toyota Hilux cab was missing initially, the Thalangama Police later found it at Wickremasinghepura in Battaramulla which is now an exhibit in Case No: M/C B.9235/15. This vehicle had been used by Sudath Abeysinghe the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Cosmos Security and Investigation Company (purportedly owned by Gunawardena) who was arrested on April 12, 2015,” sources added.

According to sources, out of the vehicles Vass Gunawardena was using, LP 8731, LP 8738, LP 8739, LP 8729, LP 8737 and LP 8732 (Toyota Hilux Cabs) and PC 2000 (Nissan Cab) had been purchased on a lease from a leasing company and the Presidential Secretariat has so far paid Rs. 106.490 million.

“Although the lease is being paid by the Presidential Secretariat, details of these vehicles have not been documented in the Secretariat Transport Division. It is surprising as to how the Transport Division failed to document the details of these vehicles when the Presidential Secretariat was paying the lease,” sources said.

However, according to sources, Police Constable Shaminda Vass  of the Ministerial Security Division who has worked for Vass Gunawardena from 2006 till the fall of the previous regime has told the investigation unit that he handed over PA 7094, PA 7086, KC 2280 and KX 2457 and PC 37410 vehicles to Chaminda Vaidyaratne and LP 8738, LP 8729, KJ 6257 and KB 9240 vehicles and the four unregistered Rexton SUVs  bearing engine numbers  335628 LAK,  319756 LAK, 328693 LAK and 288218 LAK to J.A.D. Wimalaratne of the Presidential Secretariat Transport Division on January 9, 2015.

“According to the investigations, PC 2000 which had been used by Vass Gunawardena has been handed over to leasing company’s Gothatuwa yard on January 14, 2015 for repairs,” sources said.

Meanwhile, Lalith Weeratunga in his statement issued in his capacity as the former Secretary to the President from 2005 to 2015, stated that the vehicles in question have been obtained on lease from the leasing company.

According to him, Vass Gunawardena was a Coordinating Secretary to the then President and was entitled to an official vehicle but needed to obtain a special permission from him in order get more vehicles allocated to him.

However, the former MP had never obtained any permission to use more than one vehicle. The former Secretary has also stated that it is illegal for Vass Gunawardena to use Presidential Secretariat vehicles for private purposes.

Former Additional Secretary Sisira Gunaratne while confirming Weeratunga’s stand has stated that since the President’s Secretary is the Chief Accounting Officer (for the Secretariat) every vehicle belonging to the Secretariat has to be given by the Director Transport on the approval of the Secretary, as  he is accountable to all movable and immovable property belonging the Presidential Secretariat.

According to him, Vass Gunawardena was later appointed as a Coordinating Secretary for Foreign Affairs on October 15, 2009 and after the 2010 Presidential Election the contract was further extended. His statement further stated, “As per his appointment, he was entitled for an official vehicle, fuel allowance and a driver. If he wanted more vehicles, a written permission had to be obtained from Lalith Weeratunge as he was liable under Establishment Code, Administrative Regulations, Financial Regulations and other Government Regulations”.

Meanwhile, C. Jagath, the former Accountant of Presidential Secretariat has stated that it was Vass Gunawardena who came to an agreement (bearing agreement number LI /09/ 07/ JO) with the a leasing company to obtain 35 vehicles on lease which also included LP 8731, LP 8732, LP 8739 and LP 8738 vehicles as well.

According to Jagath, the value of these vehicles was Rs.247.927 million and Rs.106.490 million had been paid by the Presidential Secretariat to the company.

Director Transport, Presidential Secretariat Nimal Dharmapriya meanwhile claims that there were no records to say that these vehicles have been issued to Vass Gunawardena and was surprised how JD 2362 Defender Jeep had not been documented in Transport Division records.

It was Priyangalal Aponsu, Assistant Manager, Transport Division, Presidential Secretariat, who revealed how Vass Gunawardena was using PA 7094, PA 7086, KC 2280, KX 2457, KJ 0642, KC 2283, KH 1157 vehicles without the revenue license- which is mandatory for all vehicles used within Sri Lanka.

“Although the Presidential Secretariat obtained the revenue licenses for 2014 they were not in his possession, which means these vehicles have run without the revenue licenses which are illegal. In addition the Presidential Secretariat was unable to obtain the revenue licenses for KD 9240, JD 2362, LG 8731, LG 8738, LG 8939, LG 8729, PC 2000, KJ 6257, LG 8733 and LG 8737 as the respective vehicle registration certificates have gone missing,” Aponsu has stated.

Meanwhile, General Manager Ideal Automobile (Pvt) Ltd, Union Place, Colombo, Bandara Seneviratne, had told the investigation team that four Rexton SUV vehicles bearing engine numbers- 335628 L.A.K, 319756 L.A.K., 328693 L.A.K, 288218 L.A.K. was ordered by the Presidential Secretariat but except for one all others were delivered to Vass Gunawardena’s drivers.

“The vehicle bearing engine no: 335628 LAK was delivered to Indika Asanka Priyantha on December 11, 2014, while 319756 LAK had been delivered to I. G. Priyantha Kumara on July 31, 2013. It was Wijerathna who had taken delivery of the vehicle bearing engine number 328693 LAK on September 17, 2014. It was only 288218 LAK had been handed over to the Presidential Secretariat in 2011,” Seneviratne has stated.

 

Defender jeep colours changed 

 

Accusing the Cosmos CEO Sudath Abeysinghe who used KX 2457 and KC 2280, the sources said how he had got changed the colours of these two Defender Jeeps from white to black without informing the Department of Motor Traffic, which too was in contravention of the Motor Traffic Act.

Meanwhile Priyalal Botheju and Kosala de Alwis, employees attached to Cosmos Plantations and Cosmos Security Services respectively confirmed that the two Hilux cabs LG 8732 and LG 8729 had been used and maintained by Cosmos Security and Investigations Company.

Indika Asanka Priyantha – an army driver said how Land Cruiser bearing registration number KE 0610 met with an accident near the Parliament in 2014. “Because the vehicle was running with a fake number plate – KD 8211 at the time of the accident, we could not claim insurance,” Priyantha said.

Meanwhile, R. Shanmugaratnam of Astra Enterprises confirmed that on the request of Vantage Company purportedly owned by Vass Gunawardena, he changed the colours of two Defender Jeeps KC 2280 on December 23, 2013 for Rs. 95, 000 and KX 2457 on December 5, 2013 for Rs. 80, 000.

D. Chandrasiri of Chandrasiri Motors, 125, Rajagiriya Road, Rajagiriya revealed that the vehicle bearing registration number KE 0610 is idling in his garage from July 16, 2014.

“After this vehicle met with an accident on Parliament Road with a fake number plate it was brought to my garage and although I have sent an estimate to the value of Rs. 738,145/ to the Director Transport PS there wasn’t any response and as such is yet to be repaired,” Chandrasiri added.

Meanwhile, according to Nimal Gunaratne of S.L.M. Fonteir of 65, Kirula Road, Narahenpita, on January 10, 2014, High Security Defender Jeep JD 2362 had been brought to them for repairs and was found that it was a fake number plate and had been registered as KD 3218 which belongs to the Presidential Secretariat.

“What made Vass Gunawardena use fake number plates for these government vehicles? Who knows what these vehicles have been used for? To commit crimes? This has to be thoroughly investigated,” sources said.

Investigations into the vehicles that belonged to the Presidential Secretariat are still ongoing.