By Prasad Gunewardene

Some controversial issues surfaced at last Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting. The two main issues were the secret bank accounts which had millions of US dollars in the names of sons of a former VVIP and the latest arrest of a ship in Galle belonging to the controversial Avant Garde arms deals Company set up during the previous regime. As the detection of the ship was made public, several ministers prepared themselves to raise it at the Cabinet as a southern minister was attempting to cover or dilute the issue.

When the Cabinet met, the issue of plundered money deposited in a Dubai Bank was taken up. A minister told the meeting that investigations were continuing with regard those huge deposits. He further said, “Last Sunday an English newspaper carried a story that a Court judgment was to be delivered in another country regarding these deposits and I must say that news story is false. There’s no such case being heard and judgment pending. I must say that the newspaper carried false news”.

Thereafter, he disclosed that seven individuals have maintained accounts in Dubai banks according to investigations. “We have received those details. Of the seven, two are relatives of a politician of the previous regime.

The other five are close officials of that politician. The total amount lying to their credit is a staggering Rs 470, 000 million”, the minister claimed. At that point Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe interjected to warn not to disclose too much information as it would hinder the ongoing probe.
The Premier said, “Let’s not discuss that probe at length here as it could be detrimental to the progress of the ongoing probe. The international investigators involved in the probe have instructed us not to disclose full details at this critical juncture of their probe”.
Another minister sought permission to interrupt the Prime Minister to say, “Why should we not make it public? We have not mentioned names involved in the probe.

Namal Rajapaksa has rejected such allegations and had made a statement to the BBC which is very damaging to the government. Therefore, we must issue a statement to the public. Otherwise the people will not believe us. We told the people that money had been plundered and deposited in overseas banks. We promised to name them and bring those monies here. So we must tell the country about the progress of the probes”.

However, the Prime Minister did not endorse that view. Instead he said, “This is a major issue. We have received names of eight persons involved in this issue. A number of investigating teams, from America, have extended their support. Some of them visited Colombo and later flew to Dubai.
They met the political authority here to discuss the issue. We must act with caution. We could issue a brief statement to the public”.

A SLFP minister from Kandy endorsed the Premier’s views and said, “Yes, we must obtain full details, arrest those persons and then tell the country. Let’s issue a brief statement as the Premier said causing no harm to the probe”.

Another minister then brought up the issue of Avant Garde and said the Navy had arrested another ship belonging to Avant Garde. He added, “There is an issue whether that investigation would be carried out in a proper and transparent manner.
It is already established that the ship carried arms. I think some are trying to play with the government having arms in their possession. We cannot leave room for such things.

We have come to know that a Cabinet Minister in this government is trying to sweep the Avant Garde issue under the carpet. It is learnt that some are trying to sweep it under the carpet stating the Avant Garde issue is over to start it under another name. We hear that some ‘big shots’ are involved in kick backs on Avant Garde”. When this minister made these serious allegations against a Cabinet Minister, all ministers looked at a minister hailing from the South seated in a corner at the meeting. The minister in question chose to ignore all eyes set on him in the Cabinet.

However, President Maithripala Sirisena said all investigations regarding Avant Garde were now under his direct purview. “Don’t have suspicion.
I have taken control of the probe. The investigations will head in the right direction and correct decisions will be taken”. The ministers looked satisfied with the President’s assurance.

In the aftermath of the Sil Redi scandal involving the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC), the TRC is back in the news over its involvement in a Rs 7.9 million controversy connected to funding a tele-drama under the present government.

President Sirisena last Wednesday dispatched a letter to the TRC Director General M.M. Zuhair whom he appointed last February after he won the January presidential poll stating that he was reconstituting all State enterprises and the incumbent politically appointed top officials should resign.
Accordingly Zuhair sent in his resignation and the President immediately appointed Sunil Sirisena as his successor. It is learnt that Zuhair was offered a post at the upcoming Police Commission, but he had shown reluctance to accept that post.

Contrary to the position of Zuhair who claimed he was resigning on a general circular from the President, well informed sources revealed that a controversy of TRC sponsoring a tele-drama at a huge amount of Rs 62 million violating financial regulations of the State was a cause for the President to immediately reconstitute the TRC.

TRC sources said the institution had agreed to sponsor the tele- drama which was based on a script regarding national reconciliation which was of national importance at the present juncture. However, the quantum of sponsorship had come in for questioning though Zuhair claims the decision was not unanimous, but taken after three meetings held with the stakeholders.
While the process was taking place, parties opposed to the tele-drama deal within the TRC had petitioned the President.

The President who had been closely monitoring the activities of the TRC which is under his purview is also reported to have uncovered a ‘deal’ that was being negotiated between the TRC and private mobile telecommunication company contrary to the interest of a partly State-owned mobile telecommunication enterprise.

In the backdrop of a Cabinet Minister reportedly involved in the Avant Garde controversy and the TRC tele-drama issue, President Sirisena is likely to make more firm decisions in the coming days over these two issues. It is learnt that the President would meet that southern minister reported to be backing Avant Garde and the former TRC Chief Zuhair this week.

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