New Maithri-Ranil administration must ensure that all offenders, top to bottom, are brought to justice Major questions over KP’s millions, but Rajapaksa seeks protection for ex-LTTE kingpin also Magnitude of illegal telephone tapping shocking; blatant invasion of privacy by SIS and TID on pretext of national security SLFP trio works out deal with Sirisena; Fonseka [...]


Corruption and abuse of power probes by special tribunals


New Maithri-Ranil administration must ensure that all offenders, top to bottom, are brought to justice
Major questions over KP’s millions, but Rajapaksa seeks protection for ex-LTTE kingpin also
Magnitude of illegal telephone tapping shocking; blatant invasion of privacy by SIS and TID on pretext of national security
SLFP trio works out deal with Sirisena; Fonseka to be Field Marshal for life time

Just a week after the presidential poll, President Maithripala Sirisena crowned himself with another victory. He became the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). This most significant, if not historic, development places him in an unassailable position. Until constitutional changes, whose contours are being worked out by a team of experts, he remains the Executive President of Sri Lanka. He is head of State, head of Government, head of the Cabinet of Ministers and Minister of Defence, among others. Now, under his leadership, the SLFP has become the predominant partner in the “National Unity Government” thus replacing the then main opposition United National Party (UNP). That gives him the two-thirds majority for constitutional reforms.

President Maithripala Sirisena who on Friday was elected SLFP Leader, presiding over the central committee meeting of the Party. All others at the head table opposed him at the Presidential election. Pic by Ranjith Perera

In the camaraderie that has led to a peaking political honeymoon, it is not unusual that there would come a time for serious frictions and disagreements. After all, the NDF partners belong to different political hues and views. President Sirisena has declared publicly, that parliamentary elections will be held after 100 days. Saying that the partners of the NDF would contest separately at that time, he urged ministers in the Cabinet, state ministers and deputy ministers to be exemplary in their conduct or face punitive action, irrespective of the positions they held. An entire nation heard the message broadcast live.

In what seems unique in Sri Lankan politics, Sirisena, as previously agreed, shared the larger slice of his victory at the January 8 poll with the UNP. Its national leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister. His party was handed down 18 ministerial slots. At least two more are to be added. In addition, there are eight deputy ministers and for the first time six ministers of state. In the case of the latter positions, only the nomenclature seems different. The late J.R. Jayewardene, the first Executive President, had introduced non-cabinet Project Ministers earlier. The NDF’s co-main partner in the Government, the SLFP, was content with just four ministerial portfolios, one deputy and three state ministers. The rest went to other partners. Thus, one is not wrong in saying that the majority shareholder in the NDF cabinet, the UNP, is now overshadowed by the SLFP in numbers in Parliament, but has a separate 100 day programme to enforce.

That is to ensure the UNP’s grassroots level organisations are reinvigorated, branch organisations are strengthened, a next set of young leaders are given responsibility and trained for the future tasks ahead. This is if the UNP is to win the parliamentary polls. At the January 8 presidential poll, the UNP’s weakened grassroots level outfits were stimulated by their counterparts in the SLFP joining hands for the campaign to elect Sirisena. Heightening concerns for the UNP would be the difficulty in forming any future alliance with other political parties to ensure its victory. That shows that the task ahead for the UNP is even more challenging. That falls fairly and squarely on the UNP leader and now Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. His ministers will have to deliver. Never before has a government won such an overwhelming support with the two rival factions uniting.

Rajapaksa loses grip on SLFP
With the intention of making a comeback, ousted President Mahinda Rajapaksa hoped to retain the leadership of the SLFP even after his polls defeat. He sought ways and means of entering Parliament as an MP on the SLFP National List. It was pointed out to him that it is not legally possible. Only those names found on a list submitted by a political party before polls were entitled to be nominated. His name is not on such a list since he was President. The week showed how changing events were isolating him increasingly. The shocks mounted after some of Rajapaksa’s one time ministerial colleagues — Sarath Amunugama, Athauda Seneviratne, Reginold Cooray, Piyasena Gamage and Vijith Vijithamuni Soysa — were among those who publicly voiced support for Sirisena. Television stations repeatedly broadcast rather uncharitable remarks by Soysa that even when one’s father dies, the body would be kept only for two days.
The remarks by one of Rajapaksa’s one time trusted Cabinet colleague was to suggest that he should step down from the party leadership. At the Uva Provincial Council, Opposition Leader Harin Fernando became the Chief Minister after the UPFA lost its majority there. More and more provincial and local councillors were quitting the UPFA to join the NDF or support Sirisena. True to form, MP after MP was deserting the sinking ship. The SLFP Central Committee membership, who form the footprint of the party countrywide, was getting increasingly depleted. The SLFP’s National Organiser and former powerful minister Basil Rajapaksa, brother and confidant of Mahinda Rajapaksa, slipped out of the country.

Rajapaksa tried one last shot to revive his position with a meeting at the residence of Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga. The numbers attending were low and the senior SLFP stalwarts were absent. At least for three senior SLFP members – Vice President Nimal Siripala de Silva, General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Susil Premajayantha (UPFA General Secretary) — the issue became a matter of increasing concern. They felt that the party would disintegrate if immediate steps were not taken. Therefore, on Tuesday they had a meeting with Rajapaksa. It was at the Speaker’s official residence where the former President has found temporary residence. Surrounded by a moat, it is located on the main road to Parliament.

There, a detailed discussion ensued. The party triumvirate told Rajapaksa that the Central Committee of the SLFP was diminishing in numbers day by day. They asserted that they would stand by the party and advised that there was a need for it to be rebuilt. The idea behind the trio’s exercise was to ensure Rajapaksa remains on the sidelines without staking claims to leadership or position. Nimal Siripala de Silva, one source said, told Rajapaksa that the party would otherwise disintegrate and its “hand” symbol would become irrelevant. He urged Rajapaksa not to allow the party to split — a view endorsed by both Yapa and Premjayantha. The discussion saw Rajapaksa expressing his wish to have a one-on-one chat with President Sirisena. The trio met Sirisena and arranged for it. Rajapaksa also made a telephone call to Sirisena earlier that day.

The former President arrived at the official residence of Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, his brother, on Wednesday night. President Sirisena also arrived there. Together, the ex-President and the incumbent President went to the upper floor for a detailed chat. Sources privy to the dialogue said Rajapaksa conveyed to Sirisena his decision to allow the SLFP leadership to be passed on to Sirisena. Compared to past events, this seems a meek surrender by someone who was once the most powerful personality in the country.

The SLFP was similarly split in 1981. One faction was led by another Maithri then, viz., Maithripala Senanayake. SLFP Central Committee (CC) members, 13 of them, including late Anura Bandaranaike, P.B.G. Kalugalla, Stanley Tillekeratne, Kumari (the former Southern Province Governor) and husband Jagath Balasuriya were sacked. They were identified as the Anura-Maithri Group. They called themselves the SLFP (M) and held a separate CC meeting at Nittambuwa’s old Sangabodi Vidyalalaya. The late Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s faction labelled it as ‘takaran madu (tin sheet) CC meeting’.

Ms. Bandaranaike did not give up. When the late J.R. Jayewardene sent her an emissary offering a Cabinet post after the UNP’s landslide win at the parliamentary elections in July 1977, she flatly refused. She did not surrender. The party was in shambles, she did not want to give it to anyone until she died in October 2000. She did not give the party even to her children. It was different in the case of Rajapaksa who had during the campaign branded Sirisena as a lame duck, an Eelamist and a Judas betrayer. Nimal Siripala de Silva who last Sunday said Maithripala Sirisena cannot claim leadership because he was a candidate of a rival party to the SLFP, no doubt, had to change position.

Plea to protect family, Douglas and KP
Rajapaksa also discussed with Sirisena other issues like alleged persecution of him and family members. He urged that such actions be stopped. “It looked like the former President was seeking a quid pro quo for ceding the SLFP leadership to Sirisena,” said a former SLFP minister. However, President Sirisena had been firm in his assertion that his Government would not trump up any charges but would investigate matters that were found to be credible by investigating agencies. He made clear he would not interfere.

In fact, many such probes have already got under way. Criminal Investigation Department (CID) detectives have launched an investigation into how several vehicles assigned to the Presidential Secretariat (under Rajapaksa’s presidency) have gone missing. These are said to include many luxury vehicles. Allegations have been made that such vehicles have been issued to then pro Government groups for electioneering work or for continued personal use. The former first lady’s Carlton preschool in Colombo was to be sealed off this week. However, staff there insisted that detectives should come with a court order.

The allegation is that the school drew students on the assurance that they could be placed in a Colombo school of their choice when the preschool course was completed. This has allegedly been done by issuing letters to such leading schools where principals have been advised to give effect to those letters. It is claimed that they obliged out of fear of reprisals. Preliminary investigations have also begun to determine from where millions of rupees came to fund the Carlton Sports Network (CSN) television channel owned by the former President’s children. This channel had begun operations after obtaining free of charge volumes of archival material worth millions of rupees from the national broadcaster, the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC). Efforts are also being made to ascertain whether taxes had been paid and a frequency licence from the Telecom Regulatory Commission had been obtained.

As our revelations today make clear, a complete clampdown on probes into actions by Rajapaksa, his family members and close confidants seemed difficult if not impossible for the new Government. There were NDF partners who were already coming out with a variety of disturbing allegations of bribery, corruption, abuse of state funds, misuse of state resources and nepotism.

Rajapaksa also urged Sirisena during the one-on-one meeting that the protection given to Douglas Devananda, a former minister and leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), be continued. Devananda tried through informal channels to join the NDF but his overtures were turned down. Rajapaksa also wanted protection be continued to Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP, the man who headed the International Procurement Wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It is because of his success in procuring sophisticated weapons that the LTTE took the separatist war to different heights during many phases. This was until the LTTE was militarily defeated in May 2009.

Malaysian intelligence, at the request of its counterpart in Sri Lanka, had arrested KP. A senior Army officer posted to the Sri Lanka High Commission in Kuala Lumpur had arranged for his rendition. He had been flown from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo in a special SriLankan Airlines flight. The man who is on the Interpol watch list for his part in the murder of one time Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi was allowed to roam freely in the Wanni (under security escort). He headed a UPFA Government backed NGO and intelligence officials who handled KP wanted him to build what was described as a “political base” to replace Tamil political parties. Intelligence officials had also arranged for a string of interviews with foreign Tamil websites operated by the Diaspora to win support. Millions were spent on overseas promotional tasks. Efforts were made by intelligence officials to project KP locally as a newly emerging Tamil leader who had a following in the North. For this purpose, a string of interviews were arranged in the state media. Having lived in the shadows for many years, mixing with people was frightful for him. There could still be enemies among them, he felt. On the other hand, unsuspecting residents shied away from him for fear they too would be identified as pro-LTTE.

Funds were also made available for KP for his activities periodically and he reported regularly to selected military officials. Arguably, there may be legitimate grounds to allow KP (though there are a variety of charges against him for weapons procurements that killed hundreds if not thousands) to engage in political activity, what worried righteous sections of the military was forcing their apolitical organisations into politics in the north. This is much the same way, the NDF complains, that some military officials engaged in Rajapaksa’s election campaign and tried to keep him in power though the early vote counts showed he would lose. In other words, the deep concern was over the politicisation of the military. Other aspects included diplomatic postings to selected officers who also got jobs in some Government organisations. Resentment among most military officers was heightened by the fact that KP was the main person responsible for the military sophistication of the LTTE, an act that killed thousands of troops, civilians and maimed others. The fact that the mechanism set up for KP still exists is known.

A lengthy dossier on KP who went by at least 24 different names, compiled by a state intelligence arm just ahead of the military defeat of the LTTE, reveals that he held ten passports. They were Sri Lankan, Indian (six different ones), Swiss, Malaysian and Egyptian. His Thai wife Nathawadee Sudsanoh visited him a number of times since KP’s return to Sri Lanka. Such visits have been facilitated by Government officials and she was taken under armed escort to the Wanni. One revelation shows the enormity of the finances handled by KP. It says, “He held a joint bank account with Anandarajah at the Citi Bank of Singapore where US$ 310,000 was once transferred to Bulgarian Foreign Trade Bank Ltd. for procurement of weaponry.” This transaction showed the enormity of the funds still in the name of the LTTE in some foreign banks besides a fleet of ships owned by the group. Efforts have been made to access those funds. What is not clear is whether the authorities succeeded. If they did, where such funds went remains a critical question. If they were not located, why KP continued to enjoy VIP status has never been told to Sri Lankans and remains a mystery. For fear of reprisals, these actions were not reported.

As the “Chief International Procurement Officer” of the LTTE, KP directed the group’s worldwide shipping network. “He was the Director of Vickram Holdings Ltd. in Malaysia and Point Pedro Incorporated of Panama, which managed the LTTE-owned ships. Their area of operations was Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Romania, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands, Malaysia, France, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United Kingdom.”
Some of KP’s actions then speak of his role. Here are just a few examples:

 In October 1990, KP arranged for the LTTE ship, MV Golden Bird, to carry rocket launchers, Browning medium machine guns, M16 (US made) rifles, Anti-aircraft guns sights and a large quantity of ammunition from Greece to Sri Lanka. n= On June 21, 1994, US$ 50,000 was transferred from another joint account of Shanmugam M. Kumaran (another name for KP) and Chandramohan from the Citi Bank in Singapore to a chemical plant in Ukraine to procure 60 metric tonnes (or 60,000 kilogrammes) of high explosives.

 In August/September 1996, KP visited Cambodia to procure arms and ammunition.

During peace talks, KP handed over to an LTTE delegation whose members visited Ireland 12 radars for Sea Tiger boats, Kenwood VHF communication sets and handheld communication sets. They were carried by delegation members to the Wanni as personal effects that were not checked.

KP moved around in Thailand using a Malaysian travel document disguising himself as an engineer employed by Petronas, the Malaysian petroleum company, under the name of Jusly Ben Jaman. He moved to Singapore in 2000 using an Egyptian passport under the name of Khalid Syed Mohamed.

After his polls defeat, Rajapaksa, now wants security for KP continued. Rajapaksa himself was allowed the use of two helicopters to fly to his ancestral home at Medamulana in the Hambantota District the day the results were announced. There, large crowds thronged his house to express disappointment over his defeat. He told them that the Eelamists (meaning the northern voters) had defeated him. A livid villager, television footage showed, charged “you should have killed them!” During election rallies, Rajapaksa himself accused his rival candidate Sirisena and his supporters of paving the way for Eelam, the name by which the LTTE called its separate state. Here lies the contradiction. At the same time he seeks protection for the man who raised funds, procured weapons and helped Tiger guerrillas in their armed struggle for Eelam. It would be incumbent on the NDF Government to conduct a deeper probe and tell the people of Sri Lanka why KP has been made an exception to the country’s law when others who had little or nothing to do with such acts are called “traitors.” This is while those in the South who were involved in similar acts using crude locally made weapons met with their deaths summarily. Yet others were rounded up in white vans or went missing.

Basil resigns
After Rajapaksa’s meeting, the SLFP triumvirate, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Susil Premajayantha met President Sirisena again. This time it was to assure him that they would extend their fullest support to the NDF Government for the 100-day programme though they would not join the government. Since he was now leader of the SLFP, a source said, they urged Sirisena to ensure that the party is not divided and the tradition of giving the “seniors their due” be followed. Nimal Siripala de Silva was named on Friday as the Leader of the Opposition. The request seemed to underscore that it would thus be de Silva who would be the leader of a future SLFP parliamentary group. Sirisena has declared that he would not contest an election. Named as Chief Opposition Whip is John Seneviratne. The irony is that the main opposition party (SLFP) will have more seats than any other party in Parliament — and one of its members is the head of Government as well.

One of the SLFP top-rungers hinted to Sirisena that, if de Silva is elected at a future election, he should be eligible to be the Prime Minister. The message that it would not be Mahinda Rajapaksa was clear. It also made clear that they are not in favour of former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa or Namal Rajapaksa who was earlier touted as successors to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Basil has come under bitter criticism from many who crossed over to the NDF for being ‘unfriendly’ and ‘unhelpful.’ He, together with Namal is blamed by most sections in the SLFP for the downfall of the UPFA. They alleged that he and other members of the family were largely responsible for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat. One former SLFP Minister, who did not wish to be identified, said, “Several astrologers were consulted. All of them said it was not advisable for (then) President Rajapaksa to contest. Yet, he listened to one astrologer. It was Basil who wanted the elections though the President had two more years and two months to complete his term.” He lamented, “We had little or no say on those matters but have to now face humiliation. We were unable to either give jobs to our voters or help them on many issues. Members of the family helped themselves …”

On Thursday evening, an Executive Committee meeting of the SLFP followed by its Central Committee was scheduled to take place. It was, however, put off for Friday. One of the items at the meeting was to discuss the removal of Basil Rajapaksa as the national organiser. On Thursday, ahead of the meeting, however, Basil Rajapaksa, who is now in his home in Los Angeles sent in his resignation. A statement said, “SLFP National Organiser and former Minister Basil Rajapaksa resigned from the post of SLFP National Organiser on Thursday, January 15 after accepting full responsibility for the defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election held on January 8. Basil Rajapksa led the UPFA Presidential Election campaign. Informing his decision in a letter to SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Basil Rajapaksa has stated that he will continue to function as a UPFA backbencher in Parliament……”

Besides Mahinda Rajapaksa, his son Namal, the Hambantota District parliamentarian also met President Sirisena on Thursday. He explained to the President his role in the past years and sought his help to ensure no harm came his way as a result of proposed investigations. Both Namal and his brother Yoshitha also telephoned several new ministers.
The moves came as measures are afoot to appoint tribunals to probe important issues. One of the prime movers, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) General Secretary, Champika Ranawaka told the Sunday Times, “We are looking at two different aspects. One is to probe all malpractices during the presidential polls including the use of state resources, interference by some persons in the security establishment and attempts at disruption.” He said the next probe would be on various mega projects undertaken by the previous Government. “There are four different persons who resorted to vast malpractices. They included those who manipulated the stock market and these four persons’ names began with the letter “P.” Ranawaka said that new laws would be introduced for the implementation of Prof. Senaka Bibile’s essential medicine concept to provide quality medicinal drugs at affordable prices, a Right to Information Act and a law to further empower Auditors. These were among priority legislation under consideration.

Fonseka as Field Marshal
The Sunday Times has learnt a Bill will also be introduced in Parliament to facilitate the promotion of former General Sarath Fonseka as a Field Marshal. In that elevated rank, he will remain a serving officer for his lifetime with his own staff though he will not enjoy operational responsibilities. Fonseka is to be restored all his medals and his monthly pension. After he fell afoul of UPFA leaders, Fonseka, who led troops to victory against Tiger guerrillas in May 2009, was obliterated from all military records. In what seemed a move at re-writing history, his photographs were also removed from army headquarters and military camps — and ‘official’ books on the war made no mention of him.

One mega project that is to be cancelled is the Northern and Kandy Expressway for which former President Rajapaksa laid the foundation stones during the presidential elections campaign. That was at Galagedera, at Galewala and in Kurunegala. The project was to cost around Rs. 350 billion in loans obtained from China. Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe told the Sunday Times, “We are considering the cancellations because of several complaints of corruption we have received. Whilst probing the allegations, we will consider calling for fresh tenders for the projects concerned.”

Phone surveillance
Amidst these investigations, the Sunday Times can reveal today how telephone records of prominent opposition politicians, media personnel, former UPFA Government’s own ministers, ‘unfriendly’ military, police officers, Colombo-based diplomats and other leading citizens were monitored blatantly violating the law. In terms of the law, a Court order has to be obtained by the Police before intercepting or tampering with the telephone records of subscribers. All mobile phone operators were issued written instructions by an official in the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development. They were directed to make available the monthly telephone bills of these persons to an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) for reasons of “national security.”

Every month, police officers would visit different mobile phone providers to collect these monthly bills. Thereafter, the ASP would supervise a team of police officers examine every bill to determine to whom their targets speak. Under the cover of “national security,” the telephone bills were systematically analysed and a report prepared for scrutiny by the higher-ups. The identification of those who are supporters of the present Government led to surveillance being mounted on them. There have been instances when some have even been threatened.

The Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) of the Police is located on the third floor of the new Secretariat Building. The headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is on the fourth floor of the same building. If “national security” is used as a cover to snoop into the mobile phone records of those considered “national security threats,” like for example a leading member of the opposition, is indeed damning, the fact that this became a regular practice in what was then touted as the ‘Wonder of Asia’ was laughable. When Sri Lankans go on holiday to any tourist hotel, the management there was required to report their name and national identity card numbers to the nearest Police station. The police would forward them to a unit under DIG Chandra Wakista, who headed the State Intelligence Service (SIS). He attended the first National Security Council meeting of the new NDF Government on Friday. Wakista quit his post yesterday.

Earlier, telephone analysis of genuine targets was carried out by either the SIS on grounds of “national security” or the CID in instances where crime is involved. Despite the end of the separatist war, the TID became a convenient cover to spy on the phone records of unsuspecting citizens who had hardly anything to do with terrorism. Even if these bills have been destroyed by those at the TID, the copies of letters issued to mobile phone providers by the MoD official and the copies of bills they issued are available with each one of them. There is no gainsaying that an investigation into this is imperative to lay bare the identities of those who tried to create an authoritarian state.

A senior TID officer who is familiar with the working of this illegal operation said even some Government officials who were considered supporters of the opposition political parties came under scrutiny. “It is only a fuller investigation that will bare this massive operation which invaded the privacy of citizens and outsiders,” the TID officer said. He added that those who violated the law should be prosecuted if the new Government wished to prevent such “anti-democratic” acts recurring under the pretext of “national security.”

The first meeting of the NDF Cabinet of ministers is due to discuss the appointment of tribunals to probe misdeeds of the former Government. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) this week handed over two different complaints to the Commission to Investigate Bribery or Corruption. CID detectives are probing many misdeeds of the previous administration. History has shown that as weeks and months pass by, the findings are forgotten and little happens. Making matters worse is the fact that the current probes are being carried out by those appointed to positions by the previous regime. As one witty political observer cautioned, it should not be a case of the “same bun remains. Only the flies have changed.” It behoves President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to ensure this does not happen.

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