Flight path of SriLankan-Airbus dirty money
• Global trail covers Australia, Singapore, US, Europe
• CID intel good enough for UK but not for Sri Lanka
• Chandrasena caught through ‘Barnes Place’
By The Sunday Morning News Desk
Following the recent arrest of former SriLankan Airlines Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kapila Chandrasena and his wife Priyanka Niyomali Wijenayake, after investigations revealed their alleged involvement in the corrupt deal with European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, fresh details of the financial trail as well as the complex banking and corporate web that had been spun to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities have been discovered by The Sunday Morning.
Through extensive investigations and the study of a set of highly confidential documents, we have produced a point-to-point illustration of this network and the financial trail which implicates Chandrasena and his wife.
The investigation jumpstarted with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) team led by former CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera discovering an email exchanged within SriLankan Airlines several years ago.
The suspicious email, seen by The Sunday Morning, had been sent to Chandrasena by then SriLankan Airlines Chief Operating Officer (COO) Druvi Perera on 28 November 2012 at 9.13 a.m., with the subject “Weekly Seabury-SriLankan update call” along with an “FYI” (for your information) note in the body of the email.
The email had then been forwarded to Somas Appavou on 29 November 2012 at 10.05 a.m., with an attachment titled “121127 UL Fleet Campaign- Project Update.pdf”. Appavou was the Senior Sales Director for the Middle East and Africa at Airbus at the time and is the current CEO of Air Mauritius Ltd.
The attachment contained the initial financial findings of the SriLankan Airlines fleet replacement assessment carried out in November 2012.
This document was marked confidential and not for third-party distribution by Seabury Group. Seabury Group operates a number of finance, investment banking, technology, and software companies focusing on aviation, aerospace, defence, and maritime.
Seabury had recommended to SriLankan Airlines four key wide-body fleet plans. Plans #1 and #2, which were exclusively for Airbus, include six leased A330 and seven purchased A350 aircraft in Plan #1, and six leased A330 and 13 purchased A350 aircraft in Plan #2.
The next two plans, Plans #3 and #4, are exclusively for Boeing, which include six leased A330 and seven purchased 787 aircraft in Plan #3, and six leased A330 and 13 purchased 787 aircraft in Plan #4. Of these, Plan #1 was to be completed by or beyond 2020, Plan #2 by 2024, Plan #3 by 2020, and Plan #4 by 2021.
In addition to the recommended fleet plans, the assessment indicated a comparison of Boeing and Airbus with regard to fuel guarantee value, engine selection, steady operating results, operating performances, net performances, etc.
Consultant in Sri Lanka
In March 2013, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) acquired the services of BizSolutions, Inc. – a computer consulting and development firm headed by Priyanka Niyomali Wijenayake, wife of then SriLankan CEO Chandrasena.
EADS is a part of EADS Group – the European leader in the aeronautic, defence, and space industries – and provides support to Airbus with regard to its commercial campaigns.
A consultant agreement was signed between EADS and BizSolutions on 29 March 2013 to secure and successfully complete Airbus’ project with SriLankan Airlines. EADS Corporate Vice President Jean-Pierre Talamoni and BizSolutions’ legal representative Wijenayake had signed the agreement on behalf of the two entities.
BizSolutions was incorporated in Negara Brunei Darussalam on 9 October 2012, and Wijenayake had been appointed as the first Director of the company. The registered office of the company is situated at Britannia House, No. 22, second floor, Cartor Road, Brander Seri Begawan BS 8811, Brunei Darussalam. According to documents seen by The Sunday Morning, any legal connection between SriLankan Airlines and BizSolutions, beyond the marital relationship between Chandrasena and Wijenayake, had never existed.
The Sunday Morning reliably learnt that the CID investigations had uncovered that aforementioned Air Mauritius CEO Appavou had helped Wijenayake form the new company on a request made by Chandrasena. The emails shared between Chandrasena and Airbus had clearly indicated that the money had been transferred to Wijenayake’s BizSolutions account as consultation fees.
On 13 November 2013, the first lump sum payment of $ 1 million, as per the consultation agreement between EADS France and BizSolution, had been paid to BizSolutions while the second payment of $ 1 million had been made on 2 December 2013.
These payments were “for supporting the development of a sales strategy for the sale of six new A330 aircraft, four new A350 aircraft, and lease of three new aircraft in the territory of Sri Lanka to SriLankan Airlines by Airbus SAS,” according to the relevant invoices sent by BizSolutions to EADS France SAS.
The money had been transferred by EADS to three bank accounts in Singapore, maintained by BizSolutions.
Documents seen by The Sunday Morning also indicate that the money had then been transferred from all three accounts to Chandrasena’s Australian bank account bearing number 06323610119179.
Accordingly, on 23 September 2013, a transfer of SGD 25,000 (Singapore dollars) had been made from the account bearing number 0102798125 at Singapore Standard Chartered bank to Chandrasena’s account at Commonwealth Bank (CommBank) in Australia.
A total of five transfers had been made from the account bearing number 0170807045 at Standard Chartered Bank in New York to Chandrasena’s Australian bank account between 2013 and 2014. These transfers were $ 100,000 on 3 April 2014, $ 100,000 on 28 February 2014, $ 100,000 on 17 January 2014, $ 30,000 on 23 October 2013, and AUD 100,000 (Australian dollars) on 16 August 2013.
A further four transfers had been made from the account bearing number 0107130602 in the same bank to Chandrasena’s Australian bank account. The transfer amounts were € 199,965 on 18 September 2014, AUD 200,000 on 7 August 2014, € 100,000 on 8 July 2014, and € 100,000 on 9 May 2014.
Barnes Place giveaway
Chandrasena’s Australian bank account (06323610119179) had listed Kapila Chandrasena as its beneficiary customer, and 47, Barnes Place, Colombo 7 as its beneficiary address.
Therefore, while the investigators had not found any evidence to prove that any of these monies had come to Sri Lanka, they ascertained that Chandrasena could not say that he was not aware of the money transfers as both ordering and beneficiary customer addresses are identical to the address given by Chandrasena at Barnes Place.
Once the investigations by the CID reached a peak in July 2019, CID Director SSP Abeysekera had sought legal advice of the Attorney General (AG) to advise the investigators to proceed with the probe.
However, the AG had not issued the required advice to the CID, though the investigators had nevertheless continued with the probe.
CID on the hunt
During the investigation, the issue of jurisdiction had arisen since both SriLankan Airlines and Airbus were not co-operating with the CID, leaving the CID with a jurisdiction conundrum.
The CID team had earlier approached both SriLankan Airlines and Airbus for assistance in instituting legal action against Chandrasena for criminal breach of trust. However, neither company had been willing to co-operate with the investigation and provide details to the CID.
Having hit a dead end, the CID had adopted a new strategy and filed charges against Chandrasena over the offence of money laundering from Sri Lanka, which would eliminate the jurisdictional barrier.
According to the AG’s Department, the ultimate decision to obtain an arrest warrant was based on investigative material submitted by the CID to the AG’s Department which revealed the earlier mentioned Standard Chartered bank account maintained in the name of BizSolutions in Singapore.
These details were released by the AG’s Department after it had directed the CID Director to obtain an arrest warrant from the magistrate’s court to produce Chandrasena and Wijenayake as suspects on charges of money laundering in the SriLankan Airlines-Airbus re-fleeting deal.
Accordingly, it was reported that the details of the Singaporean bank account were obtained by the CID last year after former Minister of Justice Thalatha Atukorale had written to the Singapore Central Authority, which comes under the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), making a formal request for assistance in connection with investigations into the Airbus transaction under the provisions of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.
The Sunday Morning investigations also uncovered that the AG’s Department had delayed instituting legal action against Chandrasena for six months after the CID submitted the concluded case file of the investigation into the alleged Airbus deal to the AG last November.
The CID had sought the AG’s advice in July last year. However, despite continuous reminders sent to the Department, the AG had failed to institute legal action up until 31 January.
This action too appeared to have been instituted only due to judges in a UK court approving a record $ 3.9 billion settlement to be paid by Airbus, and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed an immediate probe and action into the incident in Sri Lanka. This settlement was over allegations that consultants, whose services had been obtained by the company, paid bribes in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Ghana between 2011 and 2015.
The Sunday Morning reliably learnt that the investigations conducted by the CID led by SSP Abeysekera had enabled the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to uncover the massive corruption in the Airbus-SriLankan deal and led to the court decision.
The SFO is a non-ministerial government department of the UK Government that investigates and prosecutes serious or complex fraud and corruption in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The CID had entered into an intelligence sharing agreement with the SFO in 2018 as its investigations in Sri Lanka were proceeding at a snail’s pace due to the above mentioned issues. The CID provided substantial information and documentation to the SFO to propel the investigation forward.
This intelligence sharing had allowed the SFO to exert pressure on Airbus officials. Thereafter, the aircraft manufacturer had finally agreed to co-operate with the SFO investigation after witnessing the documents in the SFO’s hands that were made available by the CID in Sri Lanka.
The documents and information released by Airbus to SFO, which in turn SFO shared with the CID, had been instrumental in the apprehension of Chandrasena and his wife in Sri Lanka.
It is interesting to note that the investigation into the alleged corruption in the SriLankan-Airbus deal was concluded by the CID last November and submitted to the AG for action, where the file lay until the whole Airbus ordeal surfaced in a UK court and President Rajapaksa demanded immediate action.
Following instructions given by the President, AG Dappula de Livera ordered the new CID Director W. Thilakaratne to arrest Chandrasena and his wife on 1 February.