Sri Pada trustee faces Rs. 2.3 M fraud charge over ‘glass dagoba’ project

By L. B. Senaratne

A Sri Pada (Saman Giri) trustee has been ordered to appear in court this week to face a charge of alleged fraud involving a sum of Rs. 2.3 million. The case centres on the unauthorised collection of monies for the construction of a proposed glass dagoba or relics shrine, on top of the sacred mountain.
The Kandy Special Crimes Investigation Bureau took up the enquiry after the Venerable Panditha Kollanawe Shri Shanthi Vijaya Thera lodged a complaint.

The Thera is president of the Purana Saman Giri Surakeemaya Eksath Sanvidana, of Sabaragamuwa Province. The organisation oversees all religious and religion-related activities conducted on Saman Giri, or Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak).

A monk and two others, including a woman, were arrested in connection with the charge. Two of the suspects – Anura Bandara Dissanayake and Lakmali Wilamunne alias Nirosha Lakmali – were released on bail, while Rohan Dissanayake, previously known as Angulane Saddhatissa, was remanded till November 18.

The Thera claims that the three suspects had been collecting monies from members of the public to purchase glass from Malaysia on the promise of building a glass dagoba on the sacred mountain, but not a single piece of glass had been shipped so far. The complaint adds that the money collection was not authorised, nor was there any feasibility study conducted for such a project.

The Thera said that any such money collecting should have the official approval of the Buddhist Commissioner General, under the Buddhist Temporalities Act.

The Kandy Police have found that Rs. 2.3 million collected for the project had been deposited in two banks, one in Kandy, the other in Colombo, and that a sum of Rs. 300,000 or more of this money has been spent, with no accounting given to explain the expenditure.

At the Additional Magistrate’s Court hearing, the judge was told that no state organisation or agency, including the Wild Life Department, Forest Department, Archaeological Department, and Central Environment Authority, had been notified of any plan to build a glass dagoba on Sri Pada.

In the meantime, in reply to a letter from the Ven. Panditha Kollanawe Shri Shanthi Vijaya Thera to the President, the President’s Additional Secretary had said that the Presidential Secretariat had given no permission for any such project, and that a proposal for such an undertaking had to be first scrutinised by the relevant authorities.

The Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs has also written to the Thera to say his department had not given permission for any such construction project. Attorney-at-law Supun Ratnayake, instructed by A. M. B. Handapangoda, is appearing for the complainant, the Ven. Panditha Kollanawe Shri Shanthi Vijaya Thera.

The investigation is being headed by Chief Inspector Atulathmudali, instructed by Senior Superintendent of Police, H, N. B. Arambewela.

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