Authorities silent on how he came to possess so much foreign currency

By Damith Wickremesekera and Wasantha Ramanayake

In addition to eight police teams, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) detectives have been called in to probe the multi-million rupee housebreaking and theft at the residence of SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha Wickremasinghe.

More than a week after the incident, over which some 70 persons have been questioned, no arrests have been made so far, Police spokesperson Ajith Rohana told the Sunday Times. In other major robberies, including the theft at the Colombo Museum where invaluable historic items were lost, Police sources said, no large teams had been deployed for a probe.

Mr. Wickremasinghe, brother of first lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, complained to the Mount Lavinia Police that robbers had taken away US$ 11,500 (Rs 1,495,000), Sterling Pounds 10,850 (Rs 2,170,000) and other foreign currency worth more than one million rupees.

The foreign currency, according to the complaint, had been kept in a travel bag. Also lost was a diamond-studded Rolex gold watch worth four million rupees, which he claims was a gift. The total loss is said to be more than Rs 8.5 million.

Police believe the robber or robbers gained entry into the Wickremasinghe household at Inner de Saram Road, Mount Lavinia by climbing over the five-foot wall. They had later gained entry through the window of a bathroom.

The SriLankan Airlines Chairman has said he had planned to take the travel bag with the foreign currency to China where there was a major travel event. Repeated attempts by the Sunday Times to contact Mr. Wickremasinghe were not successful. It is not clear why he was planning to take a large sum of money to China.

The loss, Mr. Wickremasinghe has told the Mount Lavinia Police, was discovered only after they returned from a holiday in Nuwara Eliya. His household does not employ domestic aides. There had been no other inmates either in the two-storied house when the robbery is reported to have taken place. Until he was appointed chairman of SriLankan Airlines, Mr. Wickremasinghe was a tea planter.

It is not clear whether Mr. Wickremasinghe held the foreign currency with the permission of the Exchange Control Department or other relevant government agencies. In terms of the Exchange Control Act, a person is entitled to retain in his possession only a maximum of US$ 2,000 or its equivalent in foreign currency. Any amount in excess will have to be declared to the Department of Exchange Control.

The penalty for any violation is three times the amount retained by any person. Police declined to comment when asked whether they would question Mr. Wickremasinghe about this aspect.

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