Jaliya Mithran Wickremasuriya, Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to United States, turned up at the Bandaranaike International Airport in the early hours of Thursday. He was bound for the United States of America, where he has lived for many years. Mr. Wickremasuriya was unaware that the previous day, Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) detectives had obtained [...]


Why Jaliya was taken from airport to jail


Jaliya Mithran Wickremasuriya, Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to United States, turned up at the Bandaranaike International Airport in the early hours of Thursday. He was bound for the United States of America, where he has lived for many years.

Mr. Wickremasuriya was unaware that the previous day, Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) detectives had obtained a court order to arrest him. Armed with that order, they had advised the Homagama Police to visit Mr. Wickremasuriya’s residence at Katuwana and request him to report to the FCID headquarters in Fort. When a Police party arrived there, an occupant of the house had said he was not in Sri Lanka. The FCID did not believe it was correct.
Detectives arrested Mr. Wickremasuriya just ahead of his departure. He was produced before a Magistrate and remanded till December 2.

The arrest was the result of an FCID inquiry, assisted by agencies in the United States, over the purchase of a new building for the Sri Lanka Embassy at 3025 White Haven Street, Washington DC. The probe came on a complaint made to the FCID by Upul Jayasuriya, Chairman of the Board of Investment (BOI), on January 25, 2015.

FCID detectives say that in keeping with procedures in the United States, an ESCROW account had been opened by lawyers for the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC for the purchase of the new Embassy building. During a property transaction, the ESCROW officer—usually a lawyer or title company representative—holds all the important documents and deposits them as a show of good faith by both parties while the purchaser and seller negotiate the final purchase price and other details.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development, where property transactions are registered, has made available details. From the ESCROW account, only US$ 5,975,000 had been paid to National Tile Group LLC, the seller of the property. But US$ 322,027.35 had remained in the ESCROW account.

FCID detectives say the then Ambassador Wickremasuriya wrote a letter under his own signature seeking the refund of this remaining amount. The envoy had claimed that of this sum, US$ 250,000 went to PP International, a company in Sri Lanka owned by a Brendon Soza and the remaining US$ 82,027.35 went to Paper Crown LLC in the United States — a firm said to be owned by Vinod Basnayake, who had links with the Sri Lanka embassy in Washington. “We have established that these two parties had no connection whatsoever with the transactions,” one detective said.

The Sri Lanka mission moved into the new premises situated across the road from the private residence of Hilary Clinton last year, while the old mission premises where there are several other embassies remains under-utilised.

Rajapaksa’s 71st birthday: Happy memories and silver tears
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa celebrated his 71st birthday on Friday at his official residence at Wijerama Mawatha with a cake cutting ceremony in the presence of well-wishers.

It was not only November 18, his birthday, that was of significance to him in his personal calendar. November 19 (yesterday), 2016 was also important. It was on this date that he was originally scheduled to end his second six year tenure as President of Sri Lanka.

However, he cut short his own tenure by as much as almost two years and chose to go for a presidential election on January 8, 2015 – the date fixed by his personal astrologer Sumanadasa Abeywickrama. What followed is now history.

Rajapaksa defeated UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe narrowly in 2005, thanks to a Northern voter boycott ordered by the LTTE, engineered by some intermediaries in the south. He won convincingly the January 26, 2010 presidential elections (also called early) contested by the then former Army Commander, General Sarath Fonseka as the opposition’s ‘common candidate’. However, through some constitutional jugglery he put off the date for taking oaths till November 19 of that year in a bid to obtain a prolonged term till yesterday.

Plantations Minister brews I-Tea
From the moment a tea plucker picks two leaves and a bud, the process of manufacturing an invigorating drink has been documented for over a century by the human hand.

Now, Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake wants to introduce what he calls an “IT backbone” to the tea industry. He has placed the cost of the venture at Rs. 220 million and is expecting inputs from experts at the Moratuwa University.

The automation, naturally, is for office-based activity. After all, the Meenachis, the ladies who pluck the tea will not be IT savvy and an era where robot tea plucking machinery will take their place is far, far off.

Haven for leather in Batticaloa
Batticaloa will be home for an industrial park exclusively for leather products, the Government has decided.
The move comes on the recommendation of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Matters (CCEM).

Confusion over Lanka’s envoy to Berlin
Achtung! What’s holding up the departure of the fair lady to Berlin as our envoy? It is almost two months since she became an after-thought to be sent to present her credentials to the Bundesprasident of the Bundesrepublik (Deutschland/Germany), but she seems to be going nowhere.

According to those in the know, Lankaprasident of the Lankarepublik is not amused at first being asked for his imprimatur to send a senior career diplomat and then with a change of heart, the local Foggy Bottom deciding to ask the hapless senior diplomat to stay back and send a relatively junior career officer in his place. And that, after the German Government had already accepted the agremont, the diplomatic exchange of letters, for the former to serve in its capital.

To pacify the senior ambassador designate and get him to unpack his suitcase, they have now offered him a ministry secretary-ship, but the offer is a sop, because it is a ministry that is fast becoming obsolete in this electronic digital age.
So, as of now, the Government of Sri Lanka has appointed two ambassadors to Germany, the German Government has accepted one, and no one has yet gone. Somebody owes an explanation on what’s happening to Sri Lanka’s bi-lateral relations with arguably the most powerful nation of the European Union.


While Hambantota suffers, minister seeks Rs. 2.2 billion for safari park
Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera has sought the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers for a staggering Rs. 2.2 billion.

The reason – he wants to construct a Safari Park in Ridiyagama in the Hambantota District. According to Mr. Jayawickrema Perera, the money he is seeking is for both phases one and two of the proposed project.
Interesting enough, schools and even hospitals in outlying areas of the district are in a poor state for want of funds. Moreover, the Yala National Park is barely an hour’s drive away from Hambantota.


Cashew from who?
Not many Sri Lankans would be aware that the cashew nuts they enjoy are not always from Sri Lanka. Some are imported.
Public Enterprise Development Kabir Hashim Minister has won Government approval to import cashew nuts to meet a production shortfall, something which, he says, occurs every six months.

At present, around 130,000 acres of land are under cashew cultivation. The annual production is placed at anything between 8,000 and 12,000 metric tons. This is dependent on weather conditions.
The imported cashew nuts are processed and some are re-exported too whilst others are sold locally.

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