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Investigation reveals Nimal Perera’s alleged links to multi-million dollar corruption in Hambantota hospital project

An investigation conducted by Four Corners of ABC Australia has established that Aspen Medical, an Australian Health Services provider has been embroiled in an international criminal probe into corruption and money laundering, including its involvement in a multi-million-dollar hospital project in Hambantota. Nimal Perera has been identified with an alleged involvement in the deal.

It was a 2012 project for which the company had obtained formal Australian government support through an $18.8 million insurance guarantee from the then-Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC — now Export Finance Australia).

In a report to parliament, EFIC said it made the commitment on the basis that the company had been hired to “supply equipment and associated medical design and infrastructure for the hospital”.

Aspen declined to answer questions from Four Corners as to whether it ever did supply any equipment or medical design.

The company’s statement said its subcontract with EN-Projects, a Dutch company running the project, “covered the provision of a range of hospital engineering services” and that it had “engaged over 20 suppliers”.

However, Aspen Medical’s first transaction in Sri Lanka — the payment of 1.4 million euros ($2.1 million) to a mysterious British-Virgin Islands-domiciled company called Sabre Vision Holdings — is what caught the attention of Colombo police.

It was part of 4.3 million euros and $US537,000 ($759,000) remitted, in total, to the offshore company by Aspen Medical, EN-Projects and German company Juga Bau GmbH, which police “suspected … is a derivative or a result of an illegal activity”.

The company was secretly owned by a middleman, Nimal Perera, notorious for his links to the Rajapaksa family which has dominated Sri Lankan politics for decades.

In 2016, he confessed to collecting money for the prime minister’s son, Namal Rajapaksa, which led to Mr Rajapaksa’s arrest.

When police investigating the hospital deal first questioned Mr Perera about the source of unexplained funds that had arrived in his personal bank accounts, he told them it was an Italian businessman whose identity he could not substantiate with an address or a phone number.  

Asked further about Sabre Vision Holdings, he told the police he did not “know anything about” the company, and added that he believed “the company could be related to his Italian friend”. 

It was only when police received corporate documents from the British Virgin Islands that they learned the company was not owned by an anonymous Italian businessman, but by Mr Perera himself.

Pressed by Four Corners about why he had lied to the police, Mr Perera said: “No, I don’t want to answer, sorry.” 

Mr Perera confirmed he had never worked in the health sector and said that he had nothing to do with Aspen Medical. He had worked as an agent for EN-Projects, he said. 

In 2013, Sabre Vision Holdings received hundreds of thousands of US dollars that had been paid out in a global bribery scheme orchestrated by EADS, the parent company of aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

Airbus’s campaign of kickbacks in Sri Lanka, and around the world, became the subject of a deferred prosecution agreement between Airbus and Britain’s Serious Fraud Office and, in January 2020, Airbus paid $US4 billion to settle the corruption investigation with French, British and US authorities.

Aspen Medical said it had not received “any requests from any government agency or court of law anywhere in the world” regarding the hospital project but would support any such inquiries.

It added that the Airbus scandal only became public in 2019, years after its payments to Sabre Vision Holdings.

Aspen Medical said: “We have a strong set of values that would preclude us working with organisations involved in corrupt practices.” 

Source: ABC News