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26th March 2000
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The crash site of the fatal flight: A pregnant woman was one 
of the dead when the Russian Antanov plane crashed at 
Kadirana on Friday night. Here her brother Ajith Rohana 
(extreme right) is being helped by volunteers to rescue his sister's 
belongings from the rubble under the wreckage of the plane (above). 
Pic. by Nihal Fernando. 

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Heavy vehicle sham on mystery circular

By M. Ismeth
Hundreds of heavy vehicles for transport of goods were allegedly ordered during a mysterious three-day period when the government suddenly issued and equally suddenly cancelled an import circular.

Dumpers, tankers, bowsers with stainless steel tanks for transport of milk, refrigerated trucks and vans, tippers (dump trucks), lorries and trucks were ordered freely during this period and it is alleged that upto 700 vehicles were ordered, resulting in a duty loss of more than 300 million rupees.

The deal within wheels began on March 1 when the Controller of Imports and Exports issued a circular to all banks saying the government had decided to allow the import of heavy vehicles which were not more than seven years old.

The circular said this special facility would be open till March 31 and such imports would not require a specific licence from the department.

The Controller told banks to inform all their branches to provide necessary facilities required by the prospective importers.

But just three working days later, on March 6, another circular was issued cancelling the March 1 facility with immediate effect. No explanation was given.

It is now alleged that the mysterious three-day facility opened the door for three large importers to make a huge profit while business circles are buzzing with speculation over who benefited and why. It is alleged that one important person is related to a prominent politician.

Imports and Export Controller S. W. Rajapakse told The Sunday Times yesterday he was only implementing a government decision and he was not responsible for any loss of revenue or unfair trade practices.

Ex-Cricket Board chief summoned for probe

The Sports Ministry has summoned former Cricket Board chief Thilanga Sumathipala and the Executive Committee for an inquiry next Saturday, regarding allegations of irregularities in Cricket Board accounts, Ministry Secretary Lalith Ratnayake said. 

Dr. Ratnayake said the four member team of Treasury and Sports Ministry accountants had found a shortfall in the accounts and the matter had been forwarded to the Attorney General for advice. 

He said the Attorney General's position was that the former Cricket Board chief and the members of the executive committee should be interviewed before any legal action was taken. 

Meanwhile, this year's election to the Cricket Board have been postponed indefinitely on the orders of Sports Minister S. B. Dissanayake until the questions regarding accounts are settled.

Freedom for strip victim

Women's rights activist called off a picket campaign at the last minute protesting against the public stripping of a woman along a city street last week as the victim herself returned to her makeshift 'home' in Pettah.

No reasons have been given for the cancelling of the picket which was scheduled for Friday near Liberty Plaza, Kollupitiya.

Meanwhile, the woman identified as M. A. Sriyalatha from Kurunegala was discharged on Wednesday after Kompannaveediya police told courts that she could be set free.

Police told the Fort magistrate that the woman was arrested for her failure to identify herself properly and her detention and arrest had caused a controversy.

The Sunday Times last week published the story about the woman being ordered to strip in public near Muttiah Park in Colombo.

The woman claimed she had lost her identity card and had no birth certificate to obtain a new card.

Meanwhile, Sriyalatha has returned to Pettah where she earns a living by her own admittance, as a sex worker.

(Please see Page 8 for interview and fuller story) 

Kadirana calamity: what went wrong?

By Leon Berenger and Faraza Farook
The Civil Aviation Authority has ordered a top-level probe on Friday's plane crash in which nine people including five Russian crew members were killed.

The probe is to ascertain the intention of the pilot who overshot the BIA runway twice, before crashing into a nearby residential area at Kadirana, a senior official said yesterday.

Civil Aviation Deputy Chairman Maurice Fernando said the pilot who was critically injured had several years of experience behind him and was involved in Colombo operations for a long time.

"There is no question of the pilot being unaware of the terrain since he has landed that plane several times before at the BIA. It was apparently on the third attempt that he lost control of the aircraft and crashed," Mr. Fernando said.

While a search is on for the flight recorder or black box, recordings containing the communications between the crew of the ill-fated airplane and the control tower at the BIA are being studied by investigators.

Mr. Fernando said investigators would see whether there had been any lapses on the part of the control tower. 

"It has however been established that the crew had repeatedly spoken of poor visibility owing to the turbulent weather on Friday evening and that they were finding it difficult to bring the plane down. If that was the case, the pilot could have sought the assistance of the Instrument Landing Instructions (ILI) which is situated in the cockpit. This would have helped them to some extent," Mr. Fernando said.

Investigators will also look into reports that the pilot in desperation had even tried to bring the plane down on the runway at Ratmalana which is now being renovated.

Minister's attack on judges expunged

By Dilrukshi Handunetti
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle has strongly defended his colleague S. B. Dissanayake in a heavily expunged speech where he questioned the conduct of the Supreme Court registrar and asked whether judges had become petitioners. 

Speaking during the debate on the Finance Ministry votes in Parliament on Friday, Mr. Fernandopulle asked why the Registrar wrote to newspaper editors calling for their affidavits relating to Mr. Dissanayake's reported remarks that Parliament and courts would be closed down if the government did not get a two-thirds majority to implement constitutional reforms.

Getting embroiled in a verbal battle with the Opposition UNP and Deputy Chairman of Committees Rauf Hakeem who was presiding at that time Mr. Fernandopulle cited a 1966 case where it was alleged that certain comments made by the then opposition leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike amounted to contempt of court. But, the Supreme Court ruled out the case on the basis that an order could not be issued due to lack of prima facie evidence.

No affidavits or testimonials were called for in that case and the matter was dropped, he said. 

Mr. Fernandopulle said that in the current controversy over Mr. Dissanayake's alleged contempt, eleven Supreme Court judges had called upon the Chief Justice to take action, thereby becoming petitioners themselves. 

Despite opposition protests and repeated warnings by Mr. Hakeem that the Supreme Court should not be criticised, Mr. Fernandopulle said he had a right to defend a ministerial colleague, especially when he feared that double standards being adopted.

Mr. Hakeem said the Registrar of the Supreme Court was only carrying out orders from the Chief Justice, and therefore to question his conduct amounted to a question regarding the conduct of judges. 

But an angry Mr. Fernandopulle refused to give in, claiming that the supremacy of Parliament was being challenged and doors being opened to ridicule and prosecute a senior minister.

Mr. Fernandopulle accused the UNP of wanting to send Mr. Dissanayake to jail and asked whether Mr. Hakeem was helping in the process. 

Mr. Fernandopulle said that if he was prevented from expressing his views in Parliament then it would be best that such a Parliament and a Judiciary be closed down.

"If I can't say this here, I have no other forum. I speak on behalf of a member. What is Parliament if it doesn't defend rights of members? Then, close everything," he said. 

At the end of the heated delivery, Mr. Hakeem ruled the speech out of order and directed that comments relating to the conduct of the judges be expunged provoking Mr. Fernandopulle end with some remarks about an earlier ruling given against him by the Supreme Court.


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