My association with Avant Garde Maritime Services Limited (AGMSL) began in January this year. They came to see me with another known lawyer. I learnt that the company was providing maritime security, a requirement necessitated by increasing incidence of piracy in the seas in some areas near Sri Lanka. Their vessel MV Mahanuwara was holding [...]


Why I quit the Cabinet


My association with Avant Garde Maritime Services Limited (AGMSL) began in January this year. They came to see me with another known lawyer.

I learnt that the company was providing maritime security, a requirement necessitated by increasing incidence of piracy in the seas in some areas near Sri Lanka.

Their vessel MV Mahanuwara was holding weapons for maritime security and had been raided by the Police. The Police had reported to court on the basis that the weapons on board were illegal.

The last paragraph in the Police ‘B’ report filed for this purpose said it was necessary to obtain a statement from Nissanka Senadipathi, Chairman of AGMSL.

Police said if he was permitted to leave the country, the recording of a statement from him might get delayed. The court was asked to stay his departure.

Mr. Senadipathi told me he had learnt that the Police were to file action to freeze his bank accounts also. This was when he had been doing this business for the past two years with the approval of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of External Affairs at the time.

He had negotiated with the Government of Nigeria to conclude four different projects as part of his collaboration with Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL).

The four projects were:

1. The Nigerian Navy to purchase gunboats manufactured by the Sri Lanka Navy.
2. For Sri Lanka Navy to train the Nigerian Navy.
3. For Sri Lanka Navy to maintain Nigeria’s naval fleet.
4. For Sri Lanka armed forces to train the Nigerian armed forces.

All these projects were in the pipeline. He had convinced the Nigerian Government that Sri Lanka is the only country that defeated a terrorist organisation both on land and at sea.

That too, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was known as a ruthless terrorist organisation in the world. Nigeria also faced threats from a similar terrorist group, Boko Haram, so he convinced the Nigerian authorities, it would be worthwhile for it to seek Sri Lanka’s assistance.

The talks began two years ago and were successful. As a pilot project the Nigerian Government was to purchase 12 gunboats from the Sri Lanka Navy. The contract had been prepared. The only thing that was required was to sign the contract with the Nigerian Government.

The freezing of accounts was a serious issue. There were 6,000 retired armed forces personnel on land based duties. A further 3,000 were serving as Sea Marshals on ships and fishing trawlers at sea. If the bank accounts were frozen, there was no way of paying salaries. There would be enormous uproar both on land and at sea.

Those at sea were with weapons and could hi-jack vessels leading to a major international crisis. I realised the gravity of the situation. Mr. Senadipathi would not have been able to present himself in Nigeria.

All his efforts in relation to the contracts would suffer a loss. There would be a loss of employment for 5,000 ex-military personnel in Sri Lanka. Millions of dollars would be lost to the country in foreign exchange.

I wrote a letter immediately to the Attorney General setting out the position. I was assured that there was no intention to freeze Mr. Senadipathi’s bank accounts.

Relevant documents relating to matters in question were shown and later produced in courts. It was made known that the AG’s Department would not object to court over his intended departure.

Mr. Senadipathi has many business ventures in Sri Lanka and abroad. He has a team of lawyers to look after his legal affairs. This issue was generally of a civil nature involving contractual claims over foreign arbitration.

He had come to me as I am known as a leading law practitioner. The matters being investigated were criminal. After I sorted out this problem for him, Mr. Senadipathi did not seek my assistance any further.

As I know the investigations with regard to this were concluded by the Police and referred to the Attorney General in June 2015, the AG has expressed the opinion that no charges could be maintained in respect of the weapons found on MV Mahanuwara at the Galle Harbour.

I was a practising lawyer at the time, not even a Member of Parliament. I became an MP on the United National Party (UNP) National List in August 2015. After the Attorney General expressed his opinion, many were not satisfied.

They alleged that this opinion was biased. Mr. Senadipathi had sought my legal assistance in late January 2015. He had told me all the matters relevant to MV Mahanuwara – the amount of weapons, ammunition etc., it had in its possession.

He also explained his joint venture partnership with RALL. I was fully satisfied as to the legality of the weapons, the purpose for which they were stored, their use and their legality.

In fact, allegations were levelled against the AG. I was perplexed that it was an attempt to mislead the public both in regard to the case and the dignity of office of the AG. I faced a similar situation 25 years ago when I was Attorney General.

The issue pertaining to AGMSL later became a topic of discussion in Parliament for the first time in the form of an adjournment debate on November 4. I was put down as a speaker by my party. I considered it my duty to inform the public through Parliament of the facts that were within my knowledge.

This I gathered when I gave legal assistance when I met Mr. Senadipathi. This is what I did in my speech. My entire speech related to arms and ammunition that were found after the Police raid in January – not the recent one. When the Police raided in January the arms and ammunition were used legally. It was fully backed in the opinion expressed by the AG.

I have been an Attorney General and I am well aware how the Department works. There are State Counsel, Senior State Counsel, a Solicitor General, Deputy Solicitors General and the Attorney General.

These opinions cannot be given by one person alone. Several senior officials contribute to the final opinion. I am more than confident that in this instance too the same procedure would have been followed.

I have, in my speech in Parliament and subsequent statements to the media, explained details about these weapons and how they were used. For the sake of completeness I may set out this once again.

All the weapons (nearly 2,000) belong to foreign governments. Sixty to seventy per cent are from Britain and the balance from France, Italy, Norway, New Zealand and other countries.

To ensure security and safety, these weapons are packed in boxes and placed inside containers. Even AGMSL cannot have access to them on its own.

Five to six Navy personnel guard the containers round the clock. When ships are sailing in the high seas, as they approach Galle, the companies to whom the weapons belong come to collect them.

They make a request for Sea Marshals too. The sea from Galle to the Suez Canal is a vulnerable area because there are sea pirates. Even the United Nations has focused its attention on sea piracy in this region.

It must be mentioned that when a request is made by the company, its representative is accompanied by representatives of the Navy and RALL. They escort the weapons to the ship in question.

The weapons are accounted for by the Navy, RALL and a representative from the company that owns these weapons. They are handed over to the ships together with the relevant End User Certificates (EUC). Similarly, when the ships return, the same procedure is followed.

My inquiries show that this happens at least 25 times a day depending on the movement of cargo ships.

Furthermore, I am aware that the court has granted permission to conduct these operations without interruption in the same manner they were conducted before.

I might also add that Sri Lanka has entered into bilateral agreements and is a party to international conventions which obligate Sri Lanka to provide maritime security. Should Sri Lanka, abruptly terminate these services, this may lead to serious international issues.

Sri Lanka will have to answer for defaulting on these agreements and conventions. Again, I say that I only provided legal counsel in January to AGMSL and never thereafter.

This notwithstanding, both in the interests of the party and the Government, I decided to tender my resignation after the debate in Parliament earlier this month.

I met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday (November 15) night and informed him of my decision. I said I was doing so in the interests of everyone.

As I see it, there is nothing illegal pertaining to the use of these weapons. We as a country should act cautiously before taking any adverse action.

It appears that the Government now believes the agreement between AGMSL and RALL regarding the use of those weapons is in order. This shows there is legality.

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.