Some 40 Sri Lankans stashed away around US$ 50 million in secret Swiss bank accounts, according to details made available exclusively to the Sunday Times by the US based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The details were obtained by the ICIJ from the French newspaper Le Monde and led to many collaborative projects by the ICIJ in what came to be known as Swiss Leaks. The Sri Lankans are among 100,000 clients of the HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) worldwide. The names and account details are in a trove of 60,000 leaked files covering up to 2007. The highest amounts remaining in the accounts during 2006-2007 under different Sri Lankan names are available.
The largest amount is in the name of Edmund Wijenaike Balasuriya and members of his family. Mr. Balasuriya is described in bank documents as the “owner of a shop of games” with an address in Colombo north. The Balasuriya family amounts listed in the balances add up to US$ 16,325,742 which at today’s exchange rate works out at more than two billion rupees. Together with his wife, his account balance is shown as US$ 10,668,094. The balance in the name of his daughter Lakshmi Fernando is listed as US$ 1,989,370. His son Rohan Balasuriya, the records show, has a balance of US$ 1,975,594. Three other sons – Mahendra, Lakshman and Asoka – reflect the same balance of US$ 1,975,319 each in accounts under their names.
Documents from the HSBC describe the Balasuriya family as being “good clients of ours for many years and retain an account in Barclays Bank Suisse holding several million dollars.” Among some 17 Sri Lankans whose names appear as having closed their accounts are Jeevaka Lalith Bhupendra Kotelawala, the holder of the country’s highest national honour – Deshamanya — and head of the beleaguered Ceylinco Consolidated. His Golden Key Credit Card Company collapsed in 2008 owing millions of rupees to clients who are still fighting court action.
Mr. Kotelawala opened his account on December 21, 1988 and closed it on March 3, 1997. Also opened and closed on the same dates was an account in the name of Daya Ranjit Senanayake, described in Colombo business circles as Mr. Kotelawala’s deputy at one time. The Sunday Times is in possession of all details related to the Sri Lankan secret account holders. They include their IBAN (International Bank Account Numbers), dates of birth, listed addresses, dates of opening of account, dates of closure and other related details. Whilst some operated accounts giving Sri Lankan addresses, they were found to be residents in countries including Australia, Britain and Canada. At least one was an attorney representing a ‘client.’
Exchange Controller D.M. Rupasinghe declined to comment when the Sunday Times asked whether Sri Lankans were allowed to open bank accounts overseas, particularly secret offshore accounts. He only cited the Exchange Control Act which requires the permission of the Central Bank (CB). Another high ranking CB official who spoke on grounds of anonymity said no clearance was given for any Sri Lankan to operate offshore “secret” accounts since they were illegal and a mechanism to avoid tax payments.
The HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) was accused of knowingly aiding thousands of individuals to evade taxes and break other financial laws of a number of countries. The bank’s Chief Executive Officer, Stuart Gulliver, extended his “sincerest apologies” after his bank was charged with helping clients conceal their identities to avoid taxes on deposits. The apology was printed as large advertisements in British and other foreign newspapers.
The second highest amount in the secret accounts is held in the name of Subramaniam Surendran, a Colombo businessman and his wife. He is described in local trade circles as one who did a large volume of business with the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB). They are shown together in two separate accounts as holding US$ 13,129,904. While his balance is reflected as US$ 6,564,952 in two accounts, his wife Charlotte Ranjitha, described as a ‘housewife’ held a balance of US$ 6,495,287.
The names of others who are listed as holding large sums are Anura Leslie Perera (Bandarawela) US$ 1,692,959. He is described as an attorney and was reportedly representing an account holder. Others are Aruna Rajendran Vasvani (Colombo) US$ 1,384,149, Nikhil Kishore Hirdaramani (Colombo) US$ 817,446, Vinod Kishore Hirdaramani (Colombo) together with Leena Vinod Hirdaramani US$ 646,243.