The Sunday TimesFront Page

25th February 1996




Japan, Malaysia missions face death threats

The Japanese and Malaysian Embassies in Colombo have received death threats this week from a group calling itself the Ellalan Force, widely believed to be an arm of the LTTE, The Sunday Times learns.

The embassies have been targeted for different reasons, but it was clear that the group was now aiming at foreign missions here as international pressure against the LTTE mounts overseas.

The Japanese embassy has been warned not to issue a visa to TULF MP Neelan Thiruchelvam to visit that country for a seminar. The embassy's First Secretary E. Suzuki said however that Dr. Thiruchelvam had not applied so far for a visa.

Two DIGs were immediatley despatched by the government to ensure the safety of the Japanese Embassy and inquire into the matter.

The Malaysian High Commission which was closed over most of the week in view of the Ramazan festival received threats after news broke that the Malaysian government had outlawed support for the LTTE.

The Malaysian government said it would revoke the permanent status of foreigners involved in supporting the LTTE. Malaya was the first country to do so, after a long global campaign by the Sri Lankan government urging world governments to cut off the support the LTTE received from those capitals.

The LTTE is known to have a wide network of offices in both Asia and Europe and receives substantial financial and other support from Sri Lankan expatriates living in those countries.

The Ellalan Force, political observers believe, is an arm of the LTTE which operates mainly through telephone calls, fax messages and press statements issued from Colombo.

In a release earlier this month, the Ellalan Force had threatened to target foreign investments and tourist spots.

Such threats are not new. In the past too, the group has been regularly issuing similar warnings. They were also responsible for the 'cyanide in tea' scare in the mid-1980's that was aimed at crippling the economy.

Last week the LTTE conceded that the recent European Union (EU) statement condemning the Central Bank bomb blast and terrorist activity in Sri Lanka has badly damaged its image abroad.

Tawakkals removed from Puttalam Cement Company

The Tawakkal Group of Companies has been ousted from the Board of the Puttalam Cement Company Ltd., (PCCL) following an Extraordinary General Meeting held last Tuesday.

Four Directors representing the Tawakkal Group were removed from office and Vanik Corporate Services Ltd., was also removed from the office of Secretary and Corporate Services Ltd., appointed in its place.

At an emergency Board Meeting held shortly after Mr. V. Manila Fernando was appointed Chairman of the company, while M.C.M. Hamza, Ascanio Martinotti, Adrain Collins were appointed Directors. A.N. Subasinghe himself appointed by Court at an earlier date to represent certain foreign investment funds was authorised to take steps to takeover the management of PCCL.

A bid to prevent the EGM by the Tawakkal Group of Companies failed earlier on Tuesday when the Colombo District Court dismissed an application by Director Jawaid Tawakkal, to refrain holding of the meeting.

The takeover of the company is the climax of a bitter court battle in which allegations of corruption and mismanagement were levelled against the Tawakkals.

PCCL was privatised in late 1993 under the then government's privatization programme in which a 90 per cent stake was sold to the Tawakkal group of Pakistan, for a purchase consideration of US $ 41.1mn (over Rs. 2000bn). A majority of the shares were then placed among several foreign investment funds.

After the PA government took office a planned public listing of the company was halted by the Securities and Exchange Commission due to questions being raised about the legality of a controversial leveraging strategy used to raise a part of the purchase consideration. Shortly thereafter a group of foreign investment funds went to court alleging mismanagement by the Tawakkals.

The Cabinet later approved a plan submitted by the Public Enterprise Reform Commission to regularise the transaction. The court battle for control however continued with allegations of bribery and corruption being made.

Aritha offers to quit over cement row

In a snowballing saga of corporate sleaze involving the privatisation of the Puttalam Cement Corporation, Aritha Wickramanayake, the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has offered his resignation to President Chandrika Kumaratunga, The Sunday Times learns.

Mr. Wickramanayake's offer comes in a 6 page letter to the President over allegations made between waring factions that a Cabinet Minister had been offered a bribe in the whole sordid deal and that the SEC had acted improperly.

Mr. Wickramanayake who is also a member of PERC, the body in charge of the government's privatisation programme has offered to resign from that commission unless the President clears the air on issues raised by him.

Last night Mr. Wickramanayake told The Sunday Times that he had offered his resignation effective from February 29, but declined to elaborate saying that he had promised not to talk about it.

Last week The Sunday Times published extracts of the transcript of a telephone conversation where two business investors discussed how to bribe Sri Lankan politicians in the multi-million rupee Puttalam cement case, now before the District Court of Colombo.

The Watergate style tape conversation had been between Jaward Tawakkal of the Tawakkal Group of Pakistan and Ascanio Martinotti of Regent Pacific in Hong Kong. Excerpt of the conversation between them went like this:

SEC chief offers to quit over cement row

Ascanio Martinotti (AM): And they told me that the rumours in Colombo.

Jaward Tawakkal (JT): Yes.

AM: Are that you... you paid much more... for getting that approval of the Cabinet...

JT: No, no.. that's what it is.

AM: You paid twenty million?

JT: Thirty!

AM: Thirty. I had heard... no because you know. I mean, we were discussing and this one.. .said...ah... no... because the rumours is that... but that is incredible anyway... they asked like this?

JT: You know.... the English people say that... "Money works, bullshit talks..."

AM: Yes... money works, bullshit talks...

JT: It is like that... in Sri Lanka... we can... everywhere, not in Sri Lanka, you can do, anything if you have....

AM: No... but in any event you know... because I played down the thing. I think it is in our interest now to say that nothing has happened and no money was paid to the government at all and... and... and is the middle man... the person you said you gave the money to.... a person you trust or someone who can go around... and...?

JT: No... we know the person and I have the contacts of upper (...) that... top person also... I have met several times... and I know all of them, all Cabinet people... I am talking to... because it is two years that I am there and I know each of them very well... all top level and (...) secretary... every week, you know, we get together. They know me and I know them now... basically you know... the thing is "friend".... everybody is your friend... that is the thing now... and now they say... "Mr. Jawaid, you want anything in Sri Lanka?..... just let us know... if you have somebody... that bothers you... "Even you, you know your case (i.e. the court action and the EGM requisition)... they said... "Ok! If you want we intervene... we'll sort it out... this is our problem, we'll sort it out..." Because I know... if I tell them something they will ask for more..."

AM: They will ask for more money?.....

JT: Yes... you know... if I tell the government... it will take me... "Ok, give us our side... 10 percent..." ...they will ask for something... and they will give this our side... you know....

AM: I understand...

JT: Because these (....) having vested interested, they are defeated now... I do not think they had to overcome me and Tawakkal, but... unfortunately it defeated them... they were aware that we are foreigners and they will threaten us... but they do not have much to... and we have...

AM: When... when was this?

JT: This year... you know.... last year... sorry....

AM: 1995!

JT: 1995.... that is why this Cabinet has got to give the approval and everything...

AM: Ah yes... that is for the famous Cabinet approval decision, that you gave me (i.e. the Cabinet Decision No. 95/0551/121/012 of 23 March)... it was to reverse that decision?....

Snap polls if package fails in House

The Government may go in for a snap General Election if it fails to get the support of the main opposition for the proposed devolution package which requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament, political sources said yesterday. Before deciding on elections the government will go all out to get the support of the opposition with two more rounds of talks between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Opposition leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, The Sunday Times learns.

In a move to work the Tamil political parties, Justice Minister, G. L. Peiris will also be meeting representatives of five parties this week. The decision to continue the talks with the Tamil parties came in the wake of these parties taking a strong stand that the package should offer at least a permanent merger of the north and eastern provinces.

The possibility of snap elections had surfaced during the talks between the President and the Opposition Leader which took place last Wednesday at Temple Trees, the sources said.

The draft Constitution which includes the devolution package needs a two-thirds majority in Parliament before being placed for a referendum. But with the slender majority of the PA in Parliament and Tamil parties taking a tough stand on the package, the possibility of getting a two-thirds majority is in doubt.

The UNP working committee which met on Thursday had taken up the issue about the party position on the political package, but no final decision was reached. However, views were expressed that the UNP should insist on the unitary status of the country.

Earlier, representatives of five Tamil parties which met a delegation of the UNP also wanted the UNP to support their appeal for a permanently merged north-east.

However at the working committee meeting a number of members had expressed their views against a merged north-east.

The legal draft of the package is to be placed before the Parliamentary Select Committee and taken up for discussion on March 7 and 8.

Full probe on prison assault

Tamil prisoners released from the Magazine Prison will be handed over to the ICRC in future, the Justice Ministry has assured following an alleged prison assault last Monday. The assurance was given by Justice Ministry Secretary, Dhara Wijethilaka to TULF MP Joseph Pararajasingham when he visited the prison to discuss the incident where five Tamil prisoners were allegedly assaulted by prison officials. Mr. Pararajasingham said the assurance to hand over Tamil prisoners to the ICRC was given after the issue about three prisoners being assaulted after they were released had been raised. Meanwhile the Justice Ministry's Additional Secretary M. S. Jayasinghe yesterday began an official inquiry on last Monday's incident. On Friday the Justice Ministry in a statement said, "Anyone could testify at the inquiry and action would be taken against any persons responsible for improper and unwarranted conduct." Court lifted travel ban on rival The Fort Magistrate on Friday lifted a travel ban on a foreign investor connected with a multi-million rupee cement company controversy after he fulfilled a court requirement that he should make a statement to the CID. The ban on Ascanio Martinotti was composed following an application filed by the Counsel for Jawaid Tawakkal of the Tawakkal Group, which owns 33% of shares in Puttalam Cement Company Limited. The Tawakkals alleged that Mr. Martinotti had not been authorised to authenticate any document on behalf of Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation as regards the transfer of shares of the cement company. The Criminal Investigations Department told Fort Magistrate Manilal Waidyatillake on Friday that Mr. Martinotti, who owns 48% of shares of the cement company, had met Chief Inspector Mevan Silva and made a statement. The Magistrate then cancelled the restraining order.

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