Change of govt. aimed at derailing high-profile probes

Civil Society activist: Change of govt. aimed at derailing high-profile probes … accepts Prez criticism of UNP over bond scams

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Purawesi Balaya co-convenor Gamini Viyangoda alleges that what he calls the illegally constituted Sirisena-Rajapaksa government wants to sabotage investigations into several high profile accountability and mega corruption cases.

Dismissing President Maithripala Sirisena’s claims that he had invited his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa to take over premiership due to alleged conspiracy targeting him, Viyangoda insisted that both parties wanted to derail investigations.

Viyangoda alleged that President Sirisena had conveniently forgotten why he had been fielded as common candidate at the January 2015 presidential polls by a coalition comprising the UNP, the JVP, the SLMC and a collective of civil society organizations.

The civil society activist alleged that President Sirisena repeatedly interfered with investigations launched following the 2015 change of government. Viyangoda cited the case of President Sirisena thrice preventing the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) from arresting a former lawmaker (The Island withheld the name) close to the Rajapaksas for obvious reasons.

Responding to another query, Viyangoda said that those now illegally holding power should owe an explanation as to how investigations into major cases were to be handled, the status of the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) responsible for major investigations and the prosecution of those found guilty of waste, irregularities and corruption at SriLankan Airlines and now defunct Mihin Lanka.

Viyangoda said that at the time the change of government took place in January 2015, several major investigations had been deliberately delayed and stymied by the Rajapaksa administration.

When The Island pointed out that those who had campaigned on a platform of good governance and accountability brazenly perpetrated Central Bank treasury bond scams twice in 2015 and 2016, Viyangoda admitted criticism directed at the UNP. Pointing out that the matter was now before court, Viyangoda said that it should never have happened.

Viyangoda said that the government and the police should explain the status of investigations into wartime (2007-2008) abductions and disappearance of 11 Tamil youth, the abduction and assault on The Nation Deputy Editor Keith Noyahr on May 22, 2008, alleged attempt to kill Rivira editor Upali Tennakoon on January 23, 2009, assassination of The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga on January 8, 2009, abduction and disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of January 26, 2010 presidential polls, killing of national rugger player Wasim Thajudeen on May 17, 2012, Rathupasswella shooting on Aug 1, 2013 et al.

Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to put on hold investigations to above mentioned cases under any circumstances, Viyangoda said, underscoring the country was under international scrutiny. According to Viyangoda, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), too, had referred to some of those cases in addition to large scale accountability issues relating to war against the LTTE.

Viyangoda emphasized that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for ensuring continuation of investigations. Referring to the abduction and disappearance of 11 youth allegedly by the Navy, Viyangoda pointed out the CID was yet to record the statement of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne though the Fort Magistrate court several weeks ago gave the police the go ahead. Some officers of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), too, had been allegedly implicated in some cases, including the disappearance of Ekneligoda, attack on Tennakoon and the assassination of Wickrematunga.

Viyangoda warned that the truth couldn’t be concealed by illegal transfer of political power.

Purawesi Balaya spokesman said that there were many cases of corruption over the past three years. President Sirisena couldn’t turn a blind eye to shocking revelations made at the Sri Lankan Airlines Commission as to massive waste, corruption and irregularities during the Rajapaksa administration. In addition to that the public were aware of large scale misappropriation of funds in state enterprises during the same period as well as controversial weapons transactions such as the wartime procurement of MiG 27s and overhauling of the same type of aircraft, Viyangoda said.

Referring to the setting up of Permanent Special High Courts to hear what he called major corruption cases, Viyangoda said that the country expected the continuation of the D A Rajapaksa Memorial and Museum’ at Medamulana case in which former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and former Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was a suspect.

Viyangoda also referred to the Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS) case as well as the one involving Gamini Sedara Senarath, the then Chief of Staff of President Mahinda Rajapaksa as regards the alleged illegal transfer of Rs.500 million from Litro Gas to Canwill Holdings Pvt Limited.

Responding to another query, Viyangoda urged the public to be mindful of the number of cases pending against lawmakers representing current parliament. Hambantota District MP Namal Rajapaksa was among them and the civil society would be closely watching the situation.

Viyangoda asserted that no government could entirely suppress mainstream print and electronic media as well as the social media through intimidation and other means. The UNP-SLFP coalition failed for want of cohesive action and its failure to address public concerns over many issues ranging from corruption to cost of living.

Viyangoda alleged that President Sirisena had forgotten why some 6.2 mn voters exercised their franchise for him nearly four years ago. The dismissal of UNP leader Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister meant that the President, for his benefit and those now near and dear to him acted contrary to the 19th Amendment enacted in April 2015, Viyangoda said.

Viyangoda challenged President Sirisena to explain as to when he realized the 19th Amendment wasn’t an obstacle for him to dismiss Prime Minister.

Two former Sri Lankan non-career diplomats, Udayanga Weeratunga and Jaliya Wickremasuriya, too, had been embroiled in legal action in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the US, respectively for different reasons, Viyangoda said. Sri Lanka had been trying to extradite Weeratunga, former Ambassador to Moscow for some time, Viyangoda said adding that Wickremasuriya case was far more complex. “We’ll be closely watching the developments.”

Referring to major investigations pending both here and overseas, Viyangoda said that there hadn’t been so many high profile cases at one particular time since the country gained independence. Viyangoda claimed that former security forces commanders, intelligence officers, members of parliament, top administrative officials, police officers and spouses of those influential persons were embroiled in some cases.

The NGO activist said that those now in authority owed an explanation as regards status of major cases. The civil society was seriously concerned about those under investigation receiving posts, perks and privileges following Oct. 26 change of premiership. The SLFP-led UPFA couldn’t be absolved of large scale corruption perpetrated during the Rajapaksa administration, Viyangoda said, urging the electorate to be watchful of thieves masquerading as people’s representatives.

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