President orders probe into Pandora duo

  • Cousin Nirupama and Nadesan not named in letter to CIABOC
  • Requests report in month
  • Thirukumar Nadesan proclaims innocence to Prez
  • Sajith calls for Scotland Yard probe
  • Lawyers’ Forum questions President’s instructions

BY Pamodi Waravita

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday (6) instructed the Commission to Investigate into Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) to launch an immediate investigation into the allegations against Sri Lankans implicated in the Pandora Papers file leak in connection with transactions, including the maintenance of large cash deposits. 

The President’s Media Division (PMD) noted that the President has requested a report on the matter from CIABOC within a month. Presidential Secretariat Legal Affairs Director General Attorney-at-Law (AAL) Harigupta Rohanadheera has written in this regard to the CIABOC Director General (DG). However, neither former Water Supply and Drainage Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa, nor her husband Thirukumar Nadesan, have been named in the letter.

Nirupama Rajapaksa – the cousin of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa – and Nadesan have been named in the recent International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) Pandora Papers file leak. The documents allege that the couple were involved in shell companies (inactive companies used as vehicles for various financial manoeuvres or kept dormant for future use in some other capacity) located in tax havens, which obtained lucrative consulting contracts from foreign companies doing business with the Government of Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the main parliamentary Opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) – the latter as confirmed to The Morning by SJB MP Mujibur Rahuman – and the Lawyers’ Forum for the People (LFP) organisation are due to file complaints at CIABOC regarding the allegations raised against the duo in the Pandora Papers today (7).

However, speaking to The Morning yesterday, the Lawyers’ Forum for the People Convenor AAL Senaka Perera questioned how President Rajapaksa can give such instructions to an independent commission that is supposed to function outside of the Executive branch of the Government.

“Even the President cannot give such instructions to an independent commission. What if he suddenly says halt the investigations? By the President issuing such orders to CIABOC, the independence of the commission comes into question. Furthermore, Nirupama Rajapaksa was a former Deputy Minister. Were her assets not declared when she entered the Parliament? If so, why was she not questioned then?” queried Perera.

Perera further criticised members of the Opposition who, when they were in power from 2015 to 2019, he claimed, kept silent on the allegations levelled against the family of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. “They are now commenting on these Pandora Papers, but their quest for justice is only temporary and will only last until they are back in power,” he opined.

Reportedly, Nadesan has written to President Rajapaksa yesterday, proclaiming his innocence as well as that of his wife.

“I request you to appoint an independent investigator (preferably a retired Appellate Court judge) to, without delay, investigate this matter, so that my name and that of my wife would be cleared,” the letter, circulating on social media, noted.

Commenting on the matter in Parliament yesterday, SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that if this is true, corruption and crime of this nature is a black mark.

“While the leaders lament about having no US dollars in the country, two individuals have accumulated millions of dollars amongst themselves. We need an impartial investigation, the due legal process, and the truth. I propose that at least an internationally recognised investigation organisation such as the Scotland Yard must do an independent investigation into the Pandora Papers and reveal the truth. This must be seen as justice to everyone suffering today from the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. While those people receive only Rs. 2,000 or Rs. 5,000, the rich have millions of dollars in their bank accounts. How is that so?” questioned Premadasa.

SJB MP Manusha Nanayakkara claimed in Parliament yesterday: “If one cousin of the Rajapaksa family has so much money in her offshore accounts, then how much money do her cousins, the Rajapaksa brothers, have stowed away? It was Nadesan who gave Basil Rajapaksa Rs. 64 million to buy a villa in Malwana. This money was transferred from his Hong Kong-based investment company Red Ruth Ltd. through another one of his companies. It was that same company which did the Gin Nilwala project in 2015, a few days before the Presidential Election. They got Rs. 4 billion through that project. Another of his companies sent $ 400,000 to the sister of Basil Rajapaksa’s wife, after which they bought land. In 2012, when the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) seized $ 3.5 billion worth of assets from Nadesan, it was then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Foreign Ministry that intervened and freed those assets.”

In 2016, when Basil Rajapaksa was accused of using public funds to build a villa in Malwana, Nadesan was also charged with embezzlement in connection with the incident. Although the pair has since denied any wrongdoing, the legal case into the matter is still ongoing. The ICIJ also revealed that when Nadesan was arrested on embezzlement charges related to this case, he wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe proclaiming his innocence. He had said that he was unaware until he read news reports that Basil Rajapaksa had built a house on his property. He added that the land was then sold to avoid “harm to his name and reputation”. “I request your good self to appreciate that I have not done anything improper or illegal and to therefore do justice by me. My transactions are transparent and a matter of record,” Nadesan wrote, according to the ICIJ.

The ICIJ further said that Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based offshore services provider, which managed some of Nadesan’s offshore accounts, had stated in confidential electronic mails that as of 2011, Nadesan’s overall wealth was $ 160 million. An analysis by the ICIJ has found that the Asiaciti Trust alone managed assets valued at about $ 18 million for Nadesan.

In an initial statement released on Monday (4), Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) urged a domestic investigation to determine if any of the wealth mentioned in the Pandora Papers is a result of the abuse of Sri Lankan public resources. It added that this would require the law enforcement authorities to complete the ICIJ investigations into the implicated individuals without interference.