By Shamindra Ferdinando
Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivrad Cabraal yesterday (5) said that law enforcement authorities would have to initiate investigations into the Sri Lanka aspect in Pandora Papers revelations.
Cabraal said so when The Island asked him whether CBSL would look into International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) disclosure pertaining to stunning disclosures of clandestine financial transactions by elites across the world.
The ICIJ has named former UPFA Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa, who served as a lawmaker from 1994 to 2000 and again from 2005 to 2015 and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan. The ICIJ mentioned some specific accusations in respect of them while claiming they declined to respond to queries posed by the outfit. However, subsequently, the ICIJ said that in response to questions from the outfit, Nirupama Rajapaksa and Nadesan said that their “private matters are dealt with by the couple properly with their advisers” though they did not comment on their companies and trusts.
Referring to the investigations launched during the yahapalana administration, Nadesan added that the 2016 charges against him were “spurious and politically motivated.”
The ICIJ quoted Piyadasa Edirisuriya, a former Sri Lankan finance ministry official and now a lecturer at Australia’s Monash University as having said that offshore financial service providers could stop illicit money flows by conducting due diligence on clients and monitoring their transactions. “But in international financial centers, many don’t do that,” he was quoted as having said. “That is why people in countries like Sri Lanka can earn money in corrupt ways and easily use these tax havens to send them overseas.”
CBSL Governor Cabraal said: “The inquiries will have to be initiated by the law enforcement authorities. In the course of their investigations, if they require any input from the Central Bank authorities, we would certainly provide such assistance.”
also raised the issue at hand with Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC. The Justice Minister asserted that the CIABOC (The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption) should initiate an inquiry.
Declaring that such a development didn’t directly come within the purview of the Justice Ministry, Minister Sabry said that in case the cabinet decided on this matter, the Justice Ministry could consult the Attorney General. The Minister was responding to query whether his ministry would consult the AG regarding this.
The CIABOC comprises Justice Eva Wanasundera (Chairperson) Justice Deepali Wijesundera and Chandra Nimal Wakishta, one-time head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS). Asked whether the CIABOC would initiate an inquiry into revelations made by the ICIJ, Justice Wijesundera said that they couldn’t act on their own. According to her, the CIABIC could take action only after it received a complaint as the CIABOC Act had stipulated.
As of 2017, the Lankan elite couple’s offshore holdings, which haven’t previously been made public, had a value of about $18 million, according to an ICIJ analysis of a Nadesan trust’s financial statements.
Former Governor of Central, Uva and Southern Provinces and anti-corruption activist Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon questioned the political will of the incumbent government to conduct a proper investigation into the recent revelations.
Referring to the previous exposure of Sri Lankans having ill-gotten money in offshore accounts, Keerthi recalled him lodging a complaint at the CIABOC along with Ven Ulapane Sumangala, the Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Front. “They did nothing. Absolutely nothing happened pertaining to our complaint. Actually, all of us should be ashamed of what is going on,” Tennakoon said.
Responding to another query, Tennakoon said that during a recent conversation with ICIJ he realized there could be further revelations regarding offshore accounts. The former Executive Director of polls monitoring body CAFFE said that the Parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the overall deterioration of public finance. The Parliament as the supreme institution answerable for public finance should inquire into the Sri Lanka aspect as one of those so far named happened to be an MP who served three terms, Tennakoon said.
What would be the response of those in the Opposition as Nirupama Rajapaksa represented the SLFP in the PA/UPFA led governments? he asked.
Authoritative sources said that the Foreign Ministry, too, was inquiring into the matter and a ministerial response to the issue at hand was likely.
In the immediate aftermath of the Pandora Papers’ disclosure, the Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) urged the government to undertake a no holds barred domestic investigation.
Informed sources said that first of all the government should establish whether those named by the ICIJ investigation informed the relevant local authorities of them conducting international financial transactions. It would be important to understand that having offshore accounts was not an offense in terms of Sri Lankan laws, sources said.