The search for hidden assets of leaders of the previous Government has gone into high gear ahead of parliamentary elections. According to the Sunday Times the probe is gathering momentum. In Colombo this week to assist the local investigative agencies there were officials of the US Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Their visit is the direct outcome of the May visit to Sri Lanka by Secretary of State John Kerry. During his talks with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Kerry assured Sri Lanka the US Government’s fullest support to trace foreign assets and assist local agencies in ongoing investigations.
The visiting US team met senior investigators in the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). They learned from the local investigators details of ongoing high profile investigations and offered help in finding answers to issues outside Sri Lanka, particularly in the US. In one discussion, besides issues related to assets, the Sunday Times said that the focus was on the role of a Sri Lankan diplomat in the US. They are to hand over details of certain financial transactions by him in contravention of diplomatic conventions. That is for authorities in Colombo to initiate legal action over large sums of monies he has earned brokering deals outside his professional duties.
The FCID has also learnt of a local politician, who wielded unbridled power under the previous administration. He had purchased condominium apartments in Los Angeles, Arlington, Virginia in Washington DC. The controversial man, known for his many projects in the US to promote Sri Lanka, is also under investigation for other ‘investments’ and how he raised funds for them.
These developments came as local investigations, particularly by the FCID, laid bare more facts. One such instance is the ongoing probe into the procurement of MiG-27 fighter jets to the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF). Documents on the deal described it as a Government-to-Government transaction. However, the agreement was for payments to be made to a company called Bellimissa Holdings Limited with a London address. Until a few weeks ago, the firm was found to be non-existent. Investigations have now revealed an offshore (secret) bank account in the name of this company in a bank in the British Virgin Islands. Interesting enough, the account has been opened in 2006, just days ahead of the signing of the agreement for the MiG-27 deal on July 26, 2006. According to records made available, the company itself has been formed just days before the account was opened. FCID officials remained tightlipped when asked for details, saying investigations were still ongoing.
However, other sources said a four-member team headed for the Ukranian capital of Kiev will investigate the details, including when this company was formed, who its directors were and their links. The team comprises an official from the Foreign Ministry, senior FCID and CID officials. In this regard, these sources said, detectives also want to question the man who put through the MiG-27 deal — former Sri Lanka Ambassador to Russia, Udayanga Weeratunga. SLAF officers who were questioned have confirmed his direct role.
His presence in Iran came to the notice of the FCID after he had telephoned the Sri Lanka Embassy there last month to ask that the Foreign Ministry be advised on the arrival in Colombo of a container load of his personal effects. This week, FCID detectives learned that Weeratunga was in Dubai and was staying at the Marriot Hotel there. He has been making numerous calls to persons in Colombo. The detectives want to determine how the former envoy is travelling since a diplomatic passport issued to him has been withdrawn. It is possible he is using a regular Sri Lankan passport. He is unable to travel to Ukraine, where he owns a restaurant serving Sri Lankan cuisine and property because the Public Prosecutor there is seeking his arrest.
banking accounts are allowed in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). The country’s economy is one of the most stable in the Caribbean; islanders enjoy one of the highest GDP per capita incomes in the entire region. This is due in part to their close ties to the U.S. Virgin Islands and thus the United States, and its use of the US dollar, despite being an overseas territory of Great Britain. FCID detectives believe Weeratunga will be able to throw more light on the role of this company which they suspect is only a front.
Whether the outcomes of the many investigations now under way will see the light of day remains a key question. Firstly, the legality of the FCID is being challenged before the Supreme Court. One sore point is the Gazette notification setting up the FCID. While the establishment of the division itself is a prerogative of the Inspector General of Police, what is at issue is a paragraph which states that complaints are forwarded to the Police Chief “for investigation by the Secretariat established by the Cabinet Sub Committee under the patronage of the Hon. Prime Minister set up in accordance with the Cabinet decision and, in addition to that, the special complaints are forwarded by the Cabinet Sub Committee directly to the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of the Division.” This led to accusations that investigations were ordered selectively. This requirement was to be rescinded on the orders of President Maithripala Sirisena. However, Government’s legal advisors have opined it should not be done since that would amount to an admission that the inclusion of the provision in question was wrong. Secondly, even if it does not slow down the pace, the future of such investigations will be in the balance.