ECONOMYNEXT –A Chinese company paid $7.6 million for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s relection bid in 2015, the New York Times reported this week raising the possibe payments to more than six times what was originally thought.
The NYT said it found evidence showing that the $7.6 million had been paid from the China Harbour’s account at Standard Chartered Bank to affiliates of Rajapaksa’s campaign, much more than the $1.14 million reported by the state-run Daily News in July 2015.
The Daily News had reported that 149 million rupees was given by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to the Rajapaksa campaign and also named some of the people who accepted cheques. The local newspaper also gave details of the Standard Chartered Bank account that was used to transfer the cash.
In its report, the NYT said it had seen documents from an internal governmental investigation the details of payments and verified them through intelligence sources as well as questioning people to whom some of the cheques had been made.
“With 10 days to go before polls opened, around $3.7 million was distributed in checks: $678,000 to print campaign T-shirts and other promotional material and $297,000 to buy supporters gifts, including women’s saris.
“Another $38,000 was paid to a popular Buddhist monk who was supporting Mr. Rajapaksa’s electoral bid, while two checks totalling $1.7 million were delivered by volunteers to Temple Trees, his official residence,” the NYT said in the report published on its print edition on June 26.
Most of the payments were from a subaccount controlled by China Harbor, named “HPDP Phase 2,” shorthand for Hambantota Port Development Project. The Daily News gave the bank account number as 02 013359190/19.
In the final months of the 2015 election, China’s ambassador broke with diplomatic norms and lobbied voters, even caddies at Colombo’s premier golf course, to support Mr. Rajapaksa over the opposition, the NYT said.
The NYT investigation suggests that even through the new administration of President Maithripala Sirisena wanted to reduce the country’s reliance, it was locked into a debt trap with China.
In the story headlined “How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port,” the NYT said the Hambantota port deal was one of the most vivid examples of China’s ambitious use of loans and aid to gain influence around the world — and of its willingness to play hardball to collect.
There was no immediate comment from the company.
Mr. Rajapaksa and his aides did not respond to multiple requests for comment, made over several months, for the article, the NYT said adding that officials for China Harbour also would not comment.
However, in July 2015 when the allegations were first made, CHEC had issued a statement deny they funded Rajapaksa’s re-election bid.
“The CHEC calls on all the relevant Sri Lankan officials and parties not to misunderstand their responsible and cooperative partner, and not to send a wrong signal to the investors from China and all other countries,” the CHEC said in a statement at the time. (COLOMBO, June 27, 2018)