Sri Lanka Tuesday prevented media from covering the court proceedings when the President’s brother, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapakasa was cross-examined by Lawyer MA Sumanthiran.
Yesterday, the defamation case filed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa against Lasantha Wickrematunge and the Sunday Leader on its reporting on MiG 27 purchase by the Defence Ministry was taken up at the District Court of Mt. Lavinia before Judge Gihan Ranawaka. Earlier Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave evidence-in-chief on the 22nd of May. The Cross Examination was started on the 27th May by Lawyer MA Sumanthiren. In a strange twist the Police debarred media personnel from entering the Courts to cover the proceedings.
On earlier occasions it was evident that an entire media entourage was encouraged and prosecution Counsel Ali Sabri PC was seen and quite openly giving TV and Press interviews to the media within the court premises and these were widely broadcast. Some journalists frustrated by these unlawful orders were curious to know whether the District Judge was aware what was going on within the courthouse.
The controversial MiG 27 deal was first revealed by Sunday Times Defence Correspondent and Senior Journalist Iqbal Athas in December 2006 and further exposed in The Sunday Leader then edited by murdered Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa filed legal action against The Sunday Leader newspaper to prevent further exposure of the corrupt deal. The investigative reports on the MiG deal proved to be one of the last reports on controversial defence purchases under Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s reign in Sri Lanka’s mainstream press.
In a recent article published in the Colombo Telegraph, Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara claimed that the Ministry of Defence calls on academics to sit on Technical Evaluation Committees for defence purchases, gives them less than 24 hours to review documentation and then finally blames academics when things begin to go wrong.
In his article, Dr. Nanayakkara notes that it was very unfortunate that the Ministry of Defence itself took to exposing the names of professionals and the recommendations of those TECs when things went wrong. “It seemed to us that the professionals who were kept in the darkness whole throughout the TEC process were just used as a cleansing shield in the event things go wrong. I am not alone in this concern. One can check with any academic in the University system in Sri Lanka on this,” he explains.
Responding to the fraud said to have taken place when purchasing MIG 27 fighters for Sri Lanka Air Force, the Ministry of Defence exposed the names of the Technical Evaluation Committee.