Startling revelations have come to light that Gowers International, also known as NR Associates, a law firm owned by Hambantota District MP Lakshman Namal Rajapaksa, had allegedly earned millions of rupees from government departments and semi-government institutions by providing legal consulting during the former Rajapaksa regime.
Namal Rajapaksa took oaths as an Attorney-at-Law in December 2012 after a much controversial law examination and established his own law firm one month after he became a lawyer – in January 2013. Although all junior lawyers gain experience under senior lawyers before commencing their own practice, Namal Rajapaksa has reportedly not worked under any senior lawyer but had immediately established his own law firm to which most of the government institutions and certain private establishments entrusted all their legal matters knowing very well that cases this particular law firm handled could never be defeated.
One of Namal Rajapaksa’s law offices had allegedly operated from Level 27, West Tower, World Trade Center to provide legal consulting to most of the Board of Investment (BOI) projects. It is BOI that owns Level 27of the West Tower, and part of this floor had allegedly been taken over by Namal Rajapaksa for free to operate Gowers International.
According to reliable sources from the Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID), NR Associates had not only provided legal consulting work for BOI projects but also for many government and private institutions and to the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) as well.
Therefore, questions have been raised as to how Namal Rajapaksa who even did not work under a senior lawyer and who has never appeared in court for a case was able to start a law firm with some other junior lawyers who too do not have much experience to act as legal consultants to major companies. “Without any experience, how could this company act as legal consultants and charged fees more than senior law firms charge,” the sources queried.
The sources further said Namal Rajapaksa had allegedly got all the investment projects that were to start in the Southern Province to go through him. “When these projects go through him, he gets a commission. Also one of his representatives who was at this office from morning till evening went through BOI investment documents that did not get approvals and got them implemented and got all their legal work through NR Associates,” the sources claimed.
According to the sources, there was a rumour not only in the government sector but also amongst many private institutions that any case given to NR Associates could be won easily as all cases handled by Namal Rajapaksa’s firm got high priority in courts and were settled easily.
“Even it is alleged that former Chief Justice Mohan Peiris was highly involved in NR Associate’s work and had supported cases when they were taken up in courts,” the sources said.
Sri Lankan Cricket
Meanwhile, reliable sources at Sri Lanka Cricket who wished to remain anonymous told The Sunday Leader that Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) had allegedly paid Rs. 38 million to NR Associates over the past two years (2013 and 2014) as consulting fees. The sources further said that another Rs. 3.36 million was paid as legal fees for the same company for formulating television, radio, internet mobile and sponsorship rights between SLC and TAJ TV for the period between 2013 and 2020.
SLC Board Paper No: AOB 14 dated February 17, 2014 sought the Executive Committee approval to release Rs. 3.36 million for drafting the final MOU between SLC and TAJ Television Limited, in respect of the South African Tour of Sri Lanka and drafting the agreement between SLC and TAJ TV for the period between 2013 and 2020 for the sale of television, radio, internet mobile and sponsorship rights.
The board paper further states, “Sri Lanka Cricket published advertisements in Daily Mirror and Sunday Times newspapers on February 14 and February 17, 2013 calling for worldwide tenders for the international cricket broadcast, radio broadcast, internet, mobile and sponsorship rights and international cricket TV production. Also we published the advertisements on Google AdWords.
“Drafting of the final MOU between SLC and TAJ TV in respect of the South African Tour of Sri Lanka and the agreement between SLC and TAJ TV for a the period of 2013 and 2020 for the sale of television, radio, internet, mobile and sponsorship rights were done by Gowers International (NR Associates) Legal Consultants and Corporate Lawyers.
“The services rendered by Gowers International (NR Associates) to Sri Lanka Cricket were satisfactory”.
Rs. 3 million
Hence, Executive Committee approval was sought to release Rs.3 million plus taxes for the professional services rendered by the Gowers International (NR Associates) Legal Consultants and Corporate Lawyers. The total amount was Rs. 3.36 million.”
This proposal had been forwarded to the Board by Head of Marketing Vijita Dassanayake and CEO Ashley de Silva.
Although Rs. 3.36 million was paid to Gowers International by SLC, it was not known whether SLC called for tenders to award telecasting rights.
“How did SLC select Gowers International to draft the agreement? Why couldn’t they call for bidders to offer that contract as well to get the service for a lesser amount? These are the questions SLC should answer. They cannot say they have followed the proper procedure. All our attempts to get answers to these questions were unanswered. At a time when SLC was facing a financial crisis, what made them to give the contract to Namal Rajapaksa’s firm for a higher price? Was it because they were asked to do so by the former Sports Minister or even top government officials?” the sources questioned.
The sources further said it was a surprise for the SLC employees when they learnt that millions of rupees had been paid to the law firm owned by Namal Rajapaksa when there are many instances where such consultancy work had been obtained from well reputed law firms in the country.
“Namal Rajapaksa may be a politician and son of former President of the country, but that does not mean that all legal work should go to his law firm. Neither Rajapaksa nor any one of the other partners is well reputed in the country. So what made SLC to get legal consulting work done through a law firm that does not have any experience or hardly handled any legal cases,” the sources queried.
When Chief Executive Officer, Sri Lanka Cricket Ashley de Silva was contacted to find out on what basis NR Associates were chosen as SLC Legal Consultants and Corporate Lawyers, De Silva said he was busy at a meeting with the Sports Minister and asked to contact him in one hours’ time.
All attempts made by this newspaper thereafter to contact De Silva failed.
Several attempts made to contact MP Namal Rajapaksa for a comment in this regard also failed.