President Mahinda Rajapaksa has directed the Attorney General's Department to take over with immediate effect all “important cases” now in the custody of the Bribery and Corruption Commission and ensure their successful prosecution.
Attorney General C.R. De Silva, PC confirmed the setting up of a special Bribery Unit in his Department on the directive of President Rajapaksa, and said they had already had discussions on Friday with the Bribery and Corruption Commissioners on how work would be allocated and prosecutions done.
Government sources said that the move to bring in the Attorney General's Department to handle what they called a 'stockpile' of bribery and corruption cases came in the wake of a string of incomplete investigations and failed prosecutions by the Commission in recent years.
Recently, a former high-profile Deputy Minister's case was dismissed on a 'technical point' as were several other cases previously involving well-known politicians and public servants who got away scot-free due to faulty handling of cases usually on simple procedural matters.
The independence of the Bribery and Corruption Commission was strengthened by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, but it has been riddled with problems from its very inception. At one time the Commission was bogged down in in-fighting between its senior officials and sometimes between officials and the Commissioners themselves. They had lost the public's confidence in their ability to nail those involved in bribery and corruption.
Deputy Solicitor General Kapila Waidyaratne will head the special Bribery Unit under the direct supervision of the Attorney General himself. Four Senior State Counsel and one State Counsel have been picked to man the unit.
Prosecutions will be handled at the request of the Commission, Mr.
De Silva said. "We will undertake only important prosecutions,” he added.
Following the Presidential directive, the Attorney General has written to the Secretary to the Treasury Dr. P.B. Jayasundera requesting additional funds for the working of the newly set-up special Bribery Unit.
The new unit in the Attorney General's Department will however not entertain complaints, and will only assist in prosecutions where it feels intervention is required. State prosecutors will also appear on behalf of the Commission in the lower courts, like the Magistrate's Courts as well as in the High Courts and in all cases before the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
On Friday, a team from the Attorney General's Department headed by Additional Solicitor General Palitha Fernando met Bribery and Corruption Commissioners Ameer Ismail (Chairman), Indra de Silva and P. Edussuriya to work out the modalities of how to share the work in accordance with the Presidential directive. The Police was not present at the meeting. Another meeting has been scheduled in the coming week.
They are reported to have discussed suggestions to overhaul the workings of the Commission and how to improve detections and prosecutions as well as supervise investigations.