Strong undercurrents are once again rocking the shaky relations between the two coalition partners — the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP). This is notwithstanding a deceptive lull and momentary distractions. They were caused first by the ethnic violence in the central hills. Though the violence is now under control, [...]


No-confidence motion against Prime Minister: Another political crisis waiting to happen

'Joint Opposition' and SLFP in fresh move as Sirisena returns to discuss this and other issues - Influential sections of 'JO' leadership wary but say will support motion

Strong undercurrents are once again rocking the shaky relations between the two coalition partners — the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP).

This is notwithstanding a deceptive lull and momentary distractions. They were caused first by the ethnic violence in the central hills. Though the violence is now under control, despite solemn pledges to end it in a week, the State of Emergency continues creating confusion in world capitals, spawning in its wake the worst publicity in recent times for Sri Lanka and its rulers.

They are also still limping after shooting themselves in the foot over the ill-advised ban on the social media. The same leaders vowed when in Opposition not to destroy the ‘post office’ or ‘kill the postman’ merely because a man commits suicide after receiving a letter from an estranged girlfriend. Yet, the heat from the bad publicity was far too much to bear. Lost on them, is a possible overload of bad information in the weeks and months to come, swallowed either by arrogance of power or the ignorance of good governance.

The other was the absence of President Maithripala Sirisena from Sri Lanka. He was in New Delhi for the first international solar summit and then on a six-day state visit to Japan. There were paradoxes in his sojourn abroad. The political heat generated by the first phase of the ministerial reshuffle of UNP Ministers, as tame as it could be, drew public attention. The focus was on the next phase, the changes in portfolios of those in the SLFP. The deadline of two weeks passed. There was no word on it. In Japan, a highlight of the visit was a forum for investment where at least some of the movers and shakers of that country’s commerce and industry were present.

If those in the Sri Lankan side wished that would simply open the floodgates for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), there is little doubt those on the opposite side also would have had their own wishes. That sure would have included hope that the ethnic violence did not occur in the Kandy District leading to the declaration of a State of Emergency. It did cast doubts on the country’s stability and how badly the law and order machinery worked. It also would have included hopes there was no quarrelling among coalition partners thus creating a conducive climate for investment. Alas, this was not to be. What would remain are memories of the social niceties extended to the Sri Lankan delegation and the colourful parades by the defence forces. Thus, another chapter would end. Sirisena was due in Colombo last night and will no doubt face a string of newer issues.

Last Tuesday, at the Borella residence of Tiran Alles, a former MP and businessman, a group of politicians met. They were representatives of the 'Joint Opposition' and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which is led by President Sirisena. Among those representing the 'JO' were: Dullas Allahapperuma, Namal Rajapaksa, Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Vasudeva Nanayakkara. Those representing the SLFP included Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Minister Susil Premjayantha, State Minister Dilan Perera and Lakshman Wasantha Perera.

Moves to oust PM
The subject of discussion was on moving a Vote of No Confidence on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It was not lost on those who took part that the move was an uphill task and required a majority vote. That was to clear the first hurdle, in ousting the Premier. If it was the formation of a new Government thereafter, they had to demonstrate the support of 113 MPs in Parliament. In an apparent bid to ensure there was no egg on their face if the motion was defeated in Parliament, those present agreed that the motion should be sponsored jointly by the ‘JO’ and the SLFP. They also chose to explore whether even “two or three” UNP parliamentarians could be called upon to sign the motion. Some claimed that a handful had voiced support but their identities were being kept a secret. One of the backers of the motion declared that it was to keep the news away from a ‘Mr Money Bags’ who was closely watching possible UNP defections. There were fears he may thwart them.

The gathering decided that signatories to the motion both from the ‘JO’ and the SLFP should first be prominent persons on both sides. Another move agreed upon is for the SLFP parliamentarians including Ministers to sign a letter to be handed over to President Sirisena upon his return. The letter is to convey that they would together support the Vote of No Confidence in Parliament since it was difficult for them to work with Premier Wickremesinghe in a Government. Though the sponsors argued their move would strengthen the hand of Sirisena, some ministers have so far shied away saying they would consult Sirisena first. That included Mahinda Samarasinghe and Sarath Amunugama.

Assuming some significance is the decision by the ‘JO’ leadership which met on Wednesday to endorse decisions made at the Alles residence. The de facto ‘JO’ leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, contrary to previous reports that he was not in favour of the motion, was supporting it. He told the Sunday Times “we will go ahead with the Vote of No Confidence against the Premier. Though it was originally planned by the Joint Opposition, we will now get the support of Government MPs too. We (SLPP) have only 52 MPs and we will require broad based support.” Asked whether any UNPers were among the signatories, Rajapaksa replied, “I am not sure. I have heard that there were three but I cannot confirm.”

President Rajapaksa said the collection of signatures from MPs had already begun. For the SLFP, the move, one of the sponsors said, was being spearheaded by Ministers S.B. Dissanayake, Susil Premajayantha, Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala and State Minister Dilan Perera. At least seven SLFP parliamentarians were told this week that their signatures would strengthen the hands of President Sirisena to ask Premier Wickremesinghe to step down.

The collection of signatures notwithstanding, the Vote of No Confidence is an uphill task. At the ‘JO’ leaders meeting, one source said, ‘minor’ changes were made to the proposed motion. In a bid to draw support from as many sections as possible, including those who are functioning as independents in Parliament, the catalogue of complaints against Wickremesinghe centres entirely on the Central Bank bond scam except for two issues — mismanagemen ot the economy and inaction over the ethnic violence in the Kandy District. They include:

  • For removing the Central Bank of Sri Lanka from the Ministry of Finance and bringing it under his purview.
  • For appointing Arjuna Mahendran, a non-citizen of Sri Lanka with a questionable reputation, as the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.
  • For being openly associated with the bond scam which is the world’s biggest scam.
  • For making an attempt by appointing a Committee (Pitipana Committee) of political supporters to save wrong doers in the Central Bank bond scam.
  • For protecting wrong doers in the Central Bank bond scam by suppressing facts and making a misleading statement in Parliament on March 17, 2015.
  • For initiating moves to urge a member to resign and replacing him with another when the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) was probing the Central Bank bond scam.
  • For bringing pressure on members of the COPE that was probing the Central Bank bond scam.
  • For recommending to the Cabinet of Ministers the appointment of P. Samarasiri of the Central Bank for a post of advisor in the Ministry of Finance when there were indictments against him by the Commission of Inquiry that probed the bond scam.
  • For attempting to foist Arjuna Mahendran as the Governor of the Central Bank when the President was trying to appoint another.
  • For finding Arjuna Mahendran a post of Advisor when he was not re-appointed as Governor of the Central Bank.
  • For not taking action to prevent Arjuna Mahendran from leaving Sri Lanka and thus becoming a fugitive from justice.

What’s next?
Within the ‘JO’ itself, the signature campaign notwithstanding, there are reservations in some influential sections. If the motion is defeated, their share of the blame would be deflected since the motion is being projected as a collective effort. In the currently unlikely event of the motion being passed by a majority of just one vote, it raises new questions. No doubt, the passage of the motion would empower Sirisena to remove Premier Wickremesinghe from office on the basis that he no longer commands the confidence of the majority of the House. Who will be in a position to demonstrate that he or she has a majority of 113 in the 225-seat Parliament to form a new Government? Therein lies the rub. None of the key players – the ‘Joint Opposition,’ the SLFP or for that matter even the UNP — will be in a position to produce 113. Of course, the UNP is the largest party to win the parliamentary elections. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is likely to back the UNP if push comes to shove.

Moreover, unlike the previously spoken no-faith votes, the new motion does not seek to foist any person in the office of the Premier. Earlier, senior SLFP Vice President Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva was named. Would that pave the way for a fragile minority Government? Those entertaining reservations ask whether their support for a motion would fritter away the victory they achieved at the local polls on February 10, should they lose a vote in Parliament. Protagonists, however, argue they should not miss the opportunity of educating the people on the dire straits the country has been placed in. Continued silence, they argued, would worsen the country’s economy and make people suffer more.

Those entertaining reservations about the Vote of No-Confidence also argue that the move, if it fails, would only strengthen the UNP. They say that if the UNP chooses to sit in the Opposition, a new leader could take over and infuse new blood into the party. They would then have a stronger political foe. One of those who holds such a view is ‘JO’ Parliamentary leader Dinesh Gunawardena. He feels the UNP could close ranks to counter the motion and consolidate itself. Although the exact rationale behind the reasons to move the motion has not been spelt out, it is abundantly clear that the motion would lead to further instability in the Government as well as the country. Rajapaksa has made clear to Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) followers that the party would contest the upcoming Provincial Council elections under the Pohottuwa or budding flower symbol.

That by itself is a message that it was not willing to be a part of the governing apparatus, yet. Creating the right atmosphere appears to have been the reason for the recent one-on-one between Sirisena and Rajapaksa at the residence of a close relative of the former. Though it did not entail a detailed discourse on political issues, the cordial atmosphere, made clear that degollo athara vairyak nehe or there was no acrimony between the two. That spoke volumes, the source familiar with details of the meeting said, adding that one has to be not naïve not to realise their respective political positions.

Beginning this week, Sirisena has a catalogue of unfinished tasks. One is to decide whether he would go ahead with the re-shuffle of his SLFP Ministers. Another is to decide whether or not to allow the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM), which is chaired by Premier Wickremesinghe, to continue to function. He has already directed that all decisions of the CCEM be routed through the newly set up National Economic Council (NEC). This matter is expected to come up before the weekly ministerial meeting on Tuesday.

It is in this backdrop that he would have to view the letter from his own SLFP parliamentarians and ministers informing him that they would support the Vote of No-Confidence against Premier Wickremesinghe. Sirisena has made no secret of the fact that he is unable to work with the present Premier. He, in fact, called upon Wickremesinghe to step down only to be reminded that the Premier cannot be removed under the (19th Amendment to the) Constitution except by Parliament.

Senior SLFPers believe that Sirisena was likely to discuss with Wickremesinghe the new developments if he is convinced that a No-Confidence Vote will be carried through in Parliament by majority vote. This is to determine his position and whether he would step down. Otherwise, they say, it was likely that the motion would be put to test in Parliament. Whichever way it plays out, another political crisis is now waiting to happen.

Multimillion dollar MiG deal: Focus on fake contract but real story emerges nowFCID launches all-out search for Weeratunga, obtains court orders on his properties and accounts

On a bitterly chilly wintry morning in the Ukranian capital of Kiev last year, an investigation team from the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) sat down to a conference with officials. Present were the country’s Prosecutor General and top officials of Ukrinmarsh, the state agency that exports military products and related equipment.

The FCID team leader, Senior DIG Ravi Waidyalankara, who is the head of the FCID, asked a senior official of Ukrinmarsh about the sale to Sri Lanka of MiG 27 fighter jets and a trainer to the Sri Lanka Air Force. “What sale?” he asked and exhorted “there has been no sale of any MiG-27 aircraft to Sri Lanka from us. There never was.”


The answer – the so called contract of July 26, 2006 is fictitious and was not the real one. So is the reference in the fake contract to a Designated Party – Bellimissa Holdings Ltd., 2nd Floor, 145-157 St. John Street, London. This was just an office with a desk and a table and fund remittances ended up in a secret bank account in British Virgin Islands (BIV).

These are the startling findings made during a near three-year long investigation into the reported procurement by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) of four MiG-27 aircraft (costing US$ 9.848 million), overhauling three more MiG-27s and one 23 UB trainer (costing US$ 4.128 million) plus a transport cost of US$ 700,000.

The fake agreement listed the Commander of the Air Force as the buyer and the seller as Ukrinmarsh. Not only did Ukrinmarsh deny selling any MiG 27s to the SLAF at anytime, but the FCID investigations have now revealed that they did so to Bellimissa Holdings Ltd. which ran from a dead letter address in London. Confirming this fact was official documentation forwarded by BVI Financial Investigation Agency’s Dirk Walters regarding Bellimissa Holdings (Pvt.) Ltd. Their report to the FCID has also been authenticated by BVI Attorney General Department’s, Sarah Potter-Washington. Bellimissa Holdings have been registered at the Offshore Incorporation Centre, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
The Directors of this company are named as Lee Thian Soo (Singapore National Registration Identity Card No 1180208 G) and NG Lay Kim Soo (NRIC No 1426375). The company secretary has been named as Lymkim Lark (NRIC No 80079880 F).

On May 23, 2006 the two directors have moved amendments to the Memorandum of the Company to include sale and repairs of military and security equipment, explosives, firearms, ammunition, aircraft, warships and electronic equipment. Who are these Singaporean nationals involved in the MiG-27 deal? Lee Thian Soo has been the Managing Director of D.S. Alliance, Singapore – the company which had previously supplied MiG-27s under a contract with the SLAF.

The FCID has found that the Ukrainian authorities had signed two different agreements with D.S. Alliance (through Bellimissa Holdings) to which the Sri Lanka Air Force has made payments. Bellimissa Holdings had in fact been a front company of D.S. Alliance. An FCID report said, “it has been observed that the Director of Ukrinmarsh Dmitry Alexandrovich Perugodov, Sri Lanka’s Former Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga, the Singaporean company D.S. Alliance Pvt Lte Managing Director Lee Thian Soo (T.S. Lee), Bellimissa Holdings Ltd. representative Kykola Kuldyrkaive and Sri Lanka Air Force officers have been involved in the financial misappropriation and conspiracy and aiding and abetting in misappropriation.”

Investigations have revealed that “a total payment of US$ 15,665,437.24 has been paid by the Sri Lanka Air Force under agreement SLAF/2006/07/AIR to Bellimissa Holdings Ltd. The agreements between D.S. Alliance Pvt Lte and Ukrinmarsh (certified copies of which have been obtained by the FCID), has been for US$ 7,833,000. Accordingly, FCID investigations have revealed that Udayanga Weeratunga, together with the others who have been identified by them, have caused a loss to the Sri Lanka Government amounting to US$ 6,831,344.24 due to financial misappropriation.

On Friday, the Fort Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne issued an open warrant for the arrest of Udayanga Weeratunga. Whilst trying to travel from Dubai to the United States of America, using Sri Lankan Passport No D 3643585 which has been blacklisted by the Controller of Immigration, he was detained at the Dubai Airport. The passport was taken into custody. Details of this passport were revealed exclusively in the Sunday Times (political commentary) of May 8, 2017

At that time, only an Interpol ‘blue notice’ had been issued. He had been released on the grounds that he presents himself when required. His fingerprints, address and telephone numbers had been obtained and the passport confiscated. In the meantime on February 12, Weeratunga had been asked to report to the Criminal Investigation Department in Dubai. He had not done so. His phone number had been disconnected and no one had been present at the address given.

D.A. Perugudov, who signed the agreement on behalf of Ukrinmarsh had later disappeared from Ukraine. After a worldwide search, Ukranian authorities located him at an address in Paris. He has since been arrested by the Ukranian authorities. The FCID has obtained a string of court orders to prevent Weeratunga from selling or transferring of property in the Gampaha District, an apartment complex in Colombo and is awaiting details of a remittance of over Rs 20 million to a local bank account. Among the countries in which searches for his foreign bank accounts are now under way are the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore and Latvia.

The ‘original’ fake agreement (SLAF/2006/07/Air) has gone missing from Air Force Headquarters. The FCID has already fixed responsibility on an officer who has been identified. The FCID is now in consultation with the Attorney General’s Department on the action that has to be taken with regard to this particular officer. The FCID has, however, obtained another certified copy of the same fictitious agreement which has been filed in court as a production.

It was the Sunday Times that exclusively revealed the MiG-27 deal during a series of exposures starting in 2006.

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