The Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) has hit the brakes on a proposed US$ 250m Horton Square mixed-development project in Horton Place, saying the buildings — two towers of 75 storeys each — were too high for the exclusive residential area. But the Urban Development Authority (UDA) maintains that it falls within limits allowed [...]


CCEM holds US$ 250m project for two 75-storey towers at Horton Place

Controversy over background of directors and Rajapaksa connections

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) has hit the brakes on a proposed US$ 250m Horton Square mixed-development project in Horton Place, saying the buildings — two towers of 75 storeys each — were too high for the exclusive residential area. But the Urban Development Authority (UDA) maintains that it falls within limits allowed for ‘special primary residential zones’ in the City of Colombo Development Plan (Amendment) 2008. Preliminary construction clearance has been granted.

Horton Place is a special primary residential zone. Among other things, the Development Plan stipulates the width between building lines, minimum width of private roads and maximum permissible floor area ratios. It also defines building categories, number of floors, minimum site frontage and open spaces around buildings. “The Horton Square application was approved under guidelines set for project sites of more than 2,500 square metres in special primary residential zones.

These are specified in the City of Colombo Development Plan,” UDA Chairman Jagath Nandana Munasinghe said.The project was launched in April with the participation of Megapolis Minister Champika Ranawaka. It remains unclear when, or if, the CCEM will give the go-ahead. The Board of Investment (BOI) turned down the application when it was submitted for approval. One reason, the Sunday Times learns, was concern over the venture’s main players.

The Horton Square (Pvt) Ltd directors are Ramasamy Muthusamy Manivannan of SupremeSAT fame; Renuka Shanmuganathan; Alberto de Simone, an Italian with Belgian and Dehiwala addresses; and Jaya Sudhir Jayaram, a Malaysian businessman. Among its initial shareholders is an entity called Paradise Island Holdings Ltd. registered to P.O. Box 33582, Ras al Khaimah, the United Arab Emirates. Interestingly, that address is of RAK Company Administration FZ LLC or RAKCA which calls itself “the largest Registered Agent for incorporation Offshore & Onshore Company [sic] regulated under Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority”. Its services include management and administration of offshore companies and establishment of accounts with prime banks in the UAE.

This is not the only offshore connection Horton Square has. Mr Sudhir’s address is entered in the company registration form as P.O. Box 957, Road Town, Offshore Incorporations Centre at Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. That address common to hundreds of other entities from around the world. In the 2016 International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Panama Papers leak, the British Virgin Islands emerged as the most commonly used tax haven by clients of Panamanian offshore financials provider Mossack Fonseca.

Mr Sudhir, meanwhile, has a significant internet footprint. He is best known for being the Malaysian businessman named in the United Nations investigation into the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal. The Sunday Times read the Independent Inquiry Committee report online. Mr Sudhir is alleged, along with two others, to have revived Mastek Sdn Bhd (a long-dormant Malaysian company) to pay the regime of Saddam Hussein up to US$ 10mn in illegal surcharges to clinch Iraqi oil contracts for another company Mastek was intermediary to. He is said to have been a key player, something he rejected by heaping blame on another partner.

The report cites bank records as showing that, at one time, Mr Sudhir formed a ‘shelf company’ called Keppel Oil to avoid currency restrictions imposed in Malaysia. It was used to transfer 2.3 million Euros to an account of Iraq’s State Organisation for Marketing Oil between April and July 2001. A shelf company (in contrast to a shell company) is “a business entity that has been formed and properly maintained, but which has never conducted any business”.

The 46-year-old Mr. Manivannan became widely known under the former administration for his forays into satellite technology. He claimed to have launched Sri Lanka’s first satellite with Chinese collaboration. It turned out to be a joint-branding of a Chinese satellite where SupremeSAT leased part of its “communications payload”.

Mr Manivannan provided office space to Rohitha Rajapaksa. The youngest son of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was also given a shareholding in SupremeSAT through a company named Dycer International . Rohitha Rajpaksa was 100 percent owner of Dycer International. Mr Sudhir owns a company called Al-Rafidian Holdings (Pvt) Ltd. This is confirmed by Singaporean court papers. Mr Manivannan has stated on record that Al-Rafidian provided satellite acquisition financing to SupremeSAT, in which Mr Sudhir also had a stake.

Mr. Sudhir and Mr. de Simone are longstanding business partners of Mr Manivannan. Mr de Simone held the position of foreign director in Mr Manivannan’s Supreme Global Holdings (Pvt) Ltd and SupremeSAT (Pvt) Ltd.

Mr de Simone’s whereabouts are a mystery. In initial filings with the Registrar of Companies, his local address is listed as No 4/3, Gamini Ms, Kawdana, Broadway, Dehiwala. But his most recent address is given as 99/314, Quarry Road, Dehiwala. There is a difference of just two characters from the address Mr Manivannan provided the Registrar of Companies in his early filings: 99/3H, Quarry Road, Dehiwala.

Mr de Simone’s foreign location has remained consistent at St Denjjsl 128-9000, Gent, Belgium. It is not traceable on the internet or on Google maps. Mr Manivannan’s current address is in Bauddhaloka Mw, Colombo 7.

The Horton Square company’s third director, Renuka Shanmuganathan, is the wife of Sudharshan (Shan) Shanmuganathan, a reputed accountant. He is also a long-time business partner of Mr Manivannan. They are resident at Ward Place, Colombo 7. Renuka is the sister of Thirukumar Nadesan, who is married to former President Rajapaksa’s cousin Nirupama Rajapaksa.

Among the entities set up by Mr Manivannan are Supreme Global Holdings (Pvt) Ltd, formerly known as Lanka Consult Holdings (Pvt) Ltd; SupremeSAT (Pvt) Ltd; SupremeSAT Investments (Pvt) Ltd; Supreme Solutions (Pvt) Ltd; Singha Lanka Investment (Pvt) Ltd; and, now, Horton Square (Pvt) Ltd. Supreme Global Holdings is also registered to the Middle East. An examination of the group’s activities points to the creation of multiple companies, opaque financial transactions, poor reporting, frequent share transfers and labyrinthine business practices.

Mr Manivannan started off as a freight clerk at Roton Vander, a shipping company. In mid-1980, Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake was a director of this company and, eventually, Chief Executive Officer. He was succeeded to this post by Mr Manivannan when, in 2006, he entered full-time politics. That same year, Roton Vander was bought by a foreign logistics provider named IJS Global. Mr Manivannan continued to be its CEO. He subsequently teamed up with Vijith Peiris, the original CEO of SupremeSAT to form a freight forwarding company of their own. It was called UF Lanka Ltd.

Horton Square (Pvt) Ltd is Mr Manivannan’s latest commercial foray. Its CEO is Paul Kelly, who said he was an investment banker for more than 20 years in London, ran hedge funds and now has an office in Singapore. Mr Kelly telephoned this writer. He confirmed that preliminary building permission was obtained for the project at Horton Place and that BOI approval is pending. “We are managing one outstanding issue with UDA before the final construction permit is granted,” he said.

The UDA said that, from around 12 different conditions the company has to meet, two still needed to be fulfilled. One related to having to gift part of the property towards road widening; another related to parking arrangements. The Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) has passed muster.
Mr Kelly did not name the directors of the company (when asked), stating that he needed to pull out the records. Some, he said, were “nominee directors”. He said funds for the development would be raised from overseas investors while the construction company, Zhongtian Group, would underwrite the project. “We raised equity capital and the project will be funded through pre-sales and we are close to pre-selling 50 percent of available stock,” he said.

It was also revealed that Horton Square paid in excess of US$ 20mn to acquire possession of the Horton Place property from Purni Edwards, its last owner. The 291-perch prime block once housed Asha Central Hospital. Purni is the wife of Rienzie Edwards who, in December 2016, was indicted along with five others by the US Attorney’s Office for allegedly defrauding victims of more than US$50 million.

The 22-page court filing gave insight into an elaborate scheme involving shell companies as well as domestic and international bank accounts. An unspecified percentage of the money allegedly stolen by Rienzi [sic] Edwards, Michael Jacobs, Ruby Handler-Jacobs, F K Ho, Lawrence Lester and Rachel Gendreau is said to have been sent to bank accounts in Sri Lanka.

The Sunday Times obtained documentary evidence that neither of the Edwards now holds ownership of the Horton Place land. The transfer of title took place around three months ago. “They do not have any involvement in the project, going forward,” Mr Kelly said.

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