12th October 1997


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Roll out the barrel: Harry complains

Excise man put in place for raiding Distillery

By Frederica Jansz

The Assistant Excise Commissioner in Ratnapura has been sent on compulsory leave by Finance Ministry Secretary B. C. Perera after he received a written complaint from the Distilleries Company’s Managing Director Harry Jayawardena.

In a letter dated September 24 Excise Chief B. Wijeyratne has informed Assistant Commissioner W. H. De Alwis that with regard to an inspection carried out on Warehouse No 1 at Kalutara, the Managing Director of the Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka on July 23 made a complaint that Mr. Alwis had acted maliciously on the instigation of outsiders.

ExciseThe excise duty paid by the DCSL

On July 16 this year the Avissawella Resthouse had made a complaint to the Excise Department in Colombo that some liquor bought from the DCSL was not of the required standard. The Department asked that a few bottles be sent to Colombo for inspection. Three bottles of arrack were brought to the department’s office in Colombo. In the presence of an official from the Avissawella Resthouse, Excise Dept. officials and representatives of the DCSL, the bottles of liquor were tested. One bottle of Extra Special Arrack was found to be below the normal level of alcohol volume. The accepted requirement is 33.5%.

The Avissawella Resthouse said the low strength liquor was not sold to customers but had been detected by the barman who got a peculiar smell. The resthouse had then informed the Stores Manager of DCSL warehouse at Dehiowita where the liquor had been originally purchased. The stores manager is reported to have asked that the entire consignment be brought back to Dehiowita. The Resthouse had refused to do this and was told by the Stores Manager to inform the Excise Dept.

The Dept. seized some 85 bottles of low-strength liquor at the Avissawella Resthouse. The Resthouse meanwhile has not been reimbursed by DCSL for the initial purchase of some 85 bottles of Extra Special Arrack. Acting on an order from the Distilleries Company Head Office the Stores Manager DCSL, at Dehiowita is reported to have informed the Resthouse that he cannot in future continue supplies. The Resthouse it is claimed usually makes a monthly purchase of some Rs 250,000 worth of liquor from the DCSL.

The Commissioner General of Excise is reported to have then instructed the Excise Assistant Commissioner of Ratnapura to proceed to the Dehiowita Distilleries Company outlet and check the storage for any signs of substandard liquor items. On July 16 this year Mr. Alwis, tested 15 bottles of Extra Special Arrack at Dehiowita and found all to be of low-strength. He immediately informed the Excise Dept. in Colombo. However it is alleged that no action was taken by the Excise Commissioner (Revenue) Elmo Fernando.

LetterThe letter received by the Assistant Excise Commissioner

The DCSL Dehiowita outlet is supplied by Kalutara Warehouse Complex No. 1. On July 17, Mr. Alwis together with about 12 officers checked warehouse No. 1 at Kalutara which belongs to the DCSL. He checked 2 vats. A register giving information on quantities and strengths maintained at the Warehouse, indicated that Vat no 5 and 6 were of the required strength of 33.5% alcohol by volume. However the Excise Dept. officials discovered the strength to be 33.2 %. The quantity was about 23,000 litres. The head office was informed and Mr. Alwis is reported to have begun sealing the two Vats in question. He had then allegedly received instructions not to seal the Vats but to instruct Excise officials to fortify and strengthen the two Vats to the required 33.5% and to allow bottling to continue. As a result the 2 vats were not sealed by Mr. Alwis. It is alleged that the Excise Commissioner (Revenue) Elmo Fernando gave instructions not to seal the two vats in question.

Mr. Fernando when contacted by The Sunday Times said, “I do not want somebody else to know what I have done. I have reported to my Commissioner General and this matter is confidential.”

On July 20 Mr. Alwis had given a written report to Mr. Fernando recommending that the Kalutara warehouse be inspected before opening hours on July 21 - three days after the previous inspection. This was not done, instead Excise officials returned to the Kalutara Warehouse No. 1 on July 22. The Excise Commissioner General reportedly asked Mr. Fernando to inspect Kalutara Warehouse No. 1 belonging to DCSL together with Mr. Alwis.

The Excise team had reached Kalutara by about noon on July 22 where it was suggested being lunch time that the raiding party wait until staff at the DCSL warehouse returned after lunch. Despite this Mr. Fernando however is reported to have walked into the warehouse and informed the Regional Manager that they would return at 1.30 pm. When the Excise party returned and re-tested Vat no 5 and the arrack was found to be of the correct strength.

At the initial inspection on July 17 samples had not been sealed by DCSL officials and no statement recorded. An Excise Dept. official says DCSL officers at Kalutara had refused to provide facilities to seal the samples. A receipt prepared by Mr. Alwis on July 17 was also allegedly not signed by DCSL officials.

When The Sunday Times contacted Maj. Gen. V. D. Lankathilaka Regional Manager of the DCSL Kalutara Warehouse No. 1 he refused to comment saying he did not wish to get involved in this matter. He however maintained that if so desired the Excise Dept. officials could have well sealed the samples themselves. The Excise Dept. officials it is alleged did place their own seals on the samples but normal practice requires that both parties place respective seals on the samples.

Finance Ministry Secretary, B. C. Perera has decided to hold an inquiry against the Excise official by authority outside the Excise Dept.

The Sunday Times learns initial suspicion had been aroused when the Excise Chief is reported to have discovered a significant drop in duty paid by the Distilleries Company to the Excise Dept. and had ordered a probe. Excise Dept. statistics show a loss of millions in duty in 1996 and 1997.

Excise Commissioner General B. Wijeyratne told The Sunday Times he did not want to comment on this particular case and told us to contact the person concerned at the Finance Ministry who has sent Mr. Alwis on compulsory leave.

But the Ministry Secretary was too busy to answer the phone each time The Sunday Times tried to speak with him.

Customs, CID probes continue

The CID raid on the Customs has nothing to do with the Customs raid on Stassen House, DIG CID T.V. Sumanasekera insists in a letter to ‘The Sunday TImes’.

Mr. Sumanasekera says that the CID raid was initiated consequent to The Sunday Times news report on the evasion of payments of Customs duties. The amount so defrauded was reported to be billions of rupees, thereby depriving the government of its due revenue.

Asked what progress the CID investigations had made into this alleged billion rupee fraud, Mr. Sumanasekera said it involved business tycoons but it was too early to comment because investigations are continuing.

Customs raided Stassen House, a leading import export firm on September3. Investigations are continuing, The CID raided Customs House on September 25. Here too investigations are continuing.

HDL Director can’t leave

By Shyamal A. Collure


Representatives of the Japanese company walking into courts

In a new development of the Hilton Hotel saga, the Court of Appeal last week refused to grant permission for T. Ishibashi, a Director of HDL, the owning company of Colombo Hilton, to leave the the island.

Cornel & Co. Ltd. in its application to the court charged, inter alia, that the respondents, Mitsui & Co. Ltd., Taisei Corporation, T. Ishibashi and D. Kondo representatives of the two Japanese companies respectively, Secretary to the Treasury B.C. Perera and his deputies Daya Liyanage and Dr. P. B. Jayasundera had acted contrary to or in disobedience of an interim injunction issued by the Colombo District Court in a connected case.

The District Court earlier issued an interim injunction restraining Mitsui & Co. Ltd., Taisei Corporation, their representatives and agents, among other things, from acting in any manner with regard to certain resolutions which were allegedly sought to be moved at a meeting of HDL. The order restrained the Japanese companies, their nominees, nominee directors in the Board of Directors of HDL, their servants or agents, among other things, from attending, participating or voting at an Extraordinary General Meeting or any other meeting of HDL at which a resolution was to be moved to remove Cornel L. Perera from the post of Managing Director or Director of HDL, to remove any nominee Directors of Cornel & Co. Ltd. from the HDL directorate and also from acting in any manner which would jeopardise the plaintiff’s right to 25,388,463 shares in HDL.

In the application to the Court of Appeal, the petitioner Cornel & Co. Ltd. alleged that the respondent Treasury officials being aware of the interim injunction knowingly interfered with the administration of justice by court and directly or indirectly made a payment of Japanese Yen 926, 153,236 to the two Japanese companies. Moreover it was pointed out that in view of the interim injunction, the respondent companies had been restrained from receiving the said money.

Cornel’s removal valid, court holds

The District Court of Colombo has dismissed with costs, the application for interim injunctions made by Cornel L. Perera seeking to remain as Managing Director of Hotel Developers (Lanka) Ltd. [HDL], the owning company of Colombo Hilton, after he had been removed as the Chairman & Managing Director of HDL by its Board of Directors in June1995.

The Supreme Court had held previously that his removal as the Chairman was valid.

In his action, Mr. Cornel Perera, has sued HDL and its Directors for orders, inter-alia, that his removal was null and void and compelling the directors to retain him as Chairman & Managing Director. Mr. P. Wimalachandra, High Court Judge of Colombo, who made the said order, has held that there is no merit in the Cornel L. Perera’s claim that the convening of the said Board meeting and holding of the said meeting and the decisions made thereat are null and void and of no force or avail in law.

Accordingly the convening of the Board Meeting on June 28 1995 and the decisions made thereat, including, inter-alia, the removal of Cornel L. Perera as Chairman & Managing Director and the execution of the Settlement Agreements are valid.

Tamil parties: don’t bang door on peace over ban

By S.S.Selvanayagam

In the wake of the US ban on the LTTE, several Tamil parties yesterday appealed to the govt. to keep the door open for talks with the rebel group while asking the US to exert more pressure on the Kumaratunga administration also.

TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam said the US decision was an internal matter for the Clinton administration and he did not wish to comment on it. But Sri Lanka should not be influenced by the American decision. Most parties here still felt that talks with the LTTE were necessary if the country wished to find an effective solution to the ethnic conflict.

PLOTE leader Dharmalingam Siddharthan, expressing similar views said he hoped Sri Lanka also would not impose an official ban on the LTTE because that would shut the door on any talks and eventually be counterproductive.

Citing the atrocities of the LTTE, PLOTE leader said the US ban would severely affect the rebel group in its international operations but there would be little or no significance on the local scene. While appreciating the US move, he called on Washington to put more pressure on the Sri Lanka government to find an acceptable political solution to the ethnic conflict. He said the US must also ensure that the ban did not affect innocent Tamils in America or elsewhere.

TELO leader M. K. Sivajilingam said he felt the US ban would have little effect on the LTTE worldwide as it could operate under different names.

EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandra said the US ban should make the LTTE rethink its strategy and do some soul-searching. India had already banned the LTTE, now with the US ban Canada and western European countries are likely to do the same soon. He appealed to the LTTE to begin talks without preconditions or pre-conceived notions.

EROS General Secretary K. Suthakaran took a hard line on the issue. Attacking the US decision, he said keeping the LTTE out of the negotiation process would prevent any viable resolution of the conflict.

ACTC leader Kumar Ponnambalam also hit out hard at the US, describing the ban as being “queer.” Defending the LTTE , Mr. Ponnambalam said he felt the ban would be largely ineffective and won’t reduce the material support the LTTE is getting.

The revolutionary NSSP leader, Wickremabahu Karunaratne took an ideological line on the issue. He said the LTTE would now stop seeking support from the imperialist west and get it instead from socialist and revolutionary forces. He also suggested that in exchange for the ban, Sri Lanka might have to give preference to US firms in business deals.

Don’t play politics with LTTE ban: Ranil

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned the govt. against playing party politics over the US decision to ban the LTTE.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the US ban on what was regarded as the world’s deadliest terrorist group should be exploited fully in the national interest and not for narrow party propaganda as he saw after the first Riviresa operation. The PA govt. then had blown up the military achievement for personal or party glory by proclaiming that the whole of Jaffna had been liberated, but the reality was seen much later.

The UNP leader said the US decision was significant but not surprising as such a ban had been an underactive consideration by Washington after the killing of Rajiv Gandhi.

Mr Wickremesinghe however said it was widely known that the LTTE operated in the US and the West under different front organisations. Thus the ban on the LTTE, which prohibits any connection or contribution to the LTTE, would have little practical effect unless action was taken against the other front organisations also.

Asked about growing calls here for Sri Lanka also to ban the LTTE now, Mr Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka had a legal framework to effectively deal with the LTTE and those who were aiding it. “While emergency and other necessary laws are already there, it is only the symbolic act to ban the LTTE which is missing now,” he said.

Evans seeks US$450mn as compensation

By Imran Vittachi

Evans International, Texas-based specialists in post-disaster construction, is seeking up to $450mn in compensation for the government’s defaulting on a 1996 deal to rebuild bombed sections of Colombo Fort, according to the US Embassy.

“Evans International is in negotiations with the government of Sri Lanka,” an embassy spokesperson told The Sunday Times. “Evans is making a claim for what it had put into the project — Evans had initially put around $450mn of it own money into it.”

In spite of such tangles that may have arisen between Sri Lanka and American companies looking to invest here, relations between Washington and Colombo were steady, but the Embassy was adopting a “wait-and-see” approach to a resolution of the Evans case.

The spokesperson said: “As far as the US Embassy is concerned, we would like to facilitate a fair and prompt resolution of the question. We think that relations between the US and the Sri Lankan government are good at this time. We recognise there have been commercial disputes, but these are being handled through the appropriate channels. Beyond that we don’t want to comment any further.”

Dismissing recent reports that US-Lanka relations were at an ebb — prompted specifically by the government’s turning down Evans’ “unsolicited offer” in April, plus its walking away from an alleged $110mn loan from the American Ex-Im bank — the spokesperson added that US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright had not declined an invitation from the Foreign Ministry to visit Colombo during a scheduled tour of South Asia next year.

“It is still under consideration, but given her tight schedule, it is unlikely she will have time to visit another country on that trip,” the spokesperson said.

Ms. Albright had been invited by several countries in the region, and although her itinerary had yet to be fixed, it was likely she would be only able to visit the Sub-Continent’s giants, India and Pakistan, the spokesperson said.

Asked whether Wednesday’s blacklisting of the LTTE by Washington was conditional on Colombo’s honouring its investment commitments, she stressed that the Evans case was in no way linked to it.

“We want to make it clear that there is no connection,” she said. “These are completely separate issues — the timing is purely coincidental.”

The US was merely aiming to root out the activities on American soil of groups classified as terrorist organisations, in the aftermath of bombings at Manhattan’s World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, and the Atlanta Centennial Olympics.

At press time, officials from the Presidential Secretariat and the Finance Ministry — said to be prominent players in the Evans affair — declined comment.

But Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, upon his return to Colombo from Washington on Friday, gave his views on the subject. Describing recent reports as “a lot of hot air”, he said he had reassured Ms. Albright that he would see to it that the government settled the Evans case amicably.

“People write strong letters, and then they sort it out,” Mr. Kadirgamar told The Sudnay Times. “There is no problem at all. America is here and they are very welcome today.”


Findings absurd, says Duli

Dulanjalee Jayakody, daughter of the slain President R. Premadasa, has dismissed the Special Presidential Commission’s findings on her father as unjustified, absurd and an insult to the intelligence of the people.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times yesterday, Ms. Jayakody who had just flown back from Singapore strongly defended the values, principles and morals of her father, saying no President before or after him would ever reach the heights he did. Excerpts:

By Roshan Peiris

Q: The Prsidential Commission says your father, the late President Premadasa was directly involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Lalith Athulathmudali and Denzil Kobbekaduwa through others who did his bidding. Your comments?

A: I arrived only last night from Singapore and so I am going by what I have read in the newspapers. I want to ask how this Commission report differs from other Commission reports of the recent past which have unjustifiably accused my father of being directly or indirectly involved in the death of certain persons. I think these conclusions are an insult to the intelligence of Sri Lankans. Let’s look at it this way. First my father did not need to get rid of people to stay in office or win elections. He had natural god-given talents of being a fine orator with an intelligent mind.

His achievements for this country surpassed what other politicians who had so many educational qualifications after their names, had done. Jansaviya, Gam Udawa, free uniforms and free food for school children are some of his projects which are being continued by this Government under different names. My father won the Presidential election in 1988 competing with Sirimavo Bandaranaike of the SLFP and Ossie Abeygoonesekera of the SLMP who later became a loyal supporter of my father at a time when there were two terrorist groups operating in the South and North East.


Dulanjalee defends her father's image

Even under these difficult circumstances, it never occurred to my father to resort to any kind of underhand tactics. He believed in the power of the people. When Lalith died, for example, he was in a different political party. And so were many people. This was never a problem for my father. He thrived under challenge. My father, therefore had nothing to gain in being involved in Lalitha’s death. He did not believe in violence.

My father believed strongly that the best will win a principle he thought his children. Moreover, he had a healthy regard for the intelligence of the people. In retrospect, I am very sad when I think that in the last few weeks of my father’s life, he was in great pain of mind, when certain rival politicians accused him of being involved in Lalith’s death. Even though he knew that they were making mischief as usual to try to get political mileage by character assassination, he thought that this time they had gone too far.

Q: It is said that President Premadasa had the strongest possible motives to get rid of Lalith as he was becoming an increasing challenge to his political life. What have you to say?

A: My father has always had political rivalries which he accepted as part of being in politics. The more popular he became with the people and the more success he achieved, his political rivals became more perturbed.

“My father believed that if you had the will there is always a way. His only method of overcoming his so called political rivals was to work harder for the benefit of the people. It is beyond reasonable imagination to come to the conclusion that my father would gain political mileage out of Lalith’s death. No one can accuse my father of being a fool. He was one of the most astute and intelligent leaders this country has ever had or I might say will ever have.

Q: It is also alleged that Mr.Premadasa had dealings with notorious underground figures such as gunmen and outlaws whose services had been procured by him to undermine his many political rivals. As his daughter what have you to say?

A: I can say that my father was a politician with direct links to seventy percent of the rural and under-privileged people. I can assure you he was not in the mafia business. Persons who make these allegations would have simply got the two professions mixed up. I suppose there are still people who smart at being outdone by him. It was my father who has proved that one does not have to come from any particular class or race to reach the highest position in the land through of course the power of the people.

Q: There are imputations that Mr. Premadasa had a hand in the death of Lt. Gen. Kobbekaduwa. Your comments?

A: Lt General Kobbekaduwa was fighting the terrorists in the North under my father’s command and he was doing a good job. So what possible motive would he have in being involved in killing of one of his most able commanders? When you fight for your country politics does not matter. I cannot fathom what threat was there for my father from Lt. General Kobbekaduwa. I find this absurd. For a country which is struggling to fight a war and build up its scattered strength politically and economically, spending millions of the tax payers’ money why should anyone seek to harm those fighting to end the war?

After 1993 that is after the death of my father, no new development projects have come into being to help the country advance further. Only what he has started is being carried out.

I think it is time that we put an end to all these petty political differences and appreciate leaders who have achieved so much for the country. We should learn from them in all humility and strive together for a better tomorrow for this country.

Depositors duped?

By Chamintha Thilakaratna

In another alleged major rip off similar to finance companies scandals some years ago, some 12,000 people who have deposited millions in a private investments and credit fund are facing heavy losses.

Depositors at the Workers Investment and Credit Fund have besieged its Union Place office during the past few days, accusing the company of taking them for a ride.

Some of them said they had invested all their life’s savings on trust and they hoped the government and the CID would intervene to help them obtain their money with the interest.

A government official however clarified that this private fund had nothing to do with the popular Lady Lochore Fund though it was a former administrator of the LLF who had set up the Fund. Some years ago there were allegations of a swindle of the LLF also and a file was sent to the Colombo Fraud Bureau for investigations. The depositors said they were unable to contact the private loan company’s directors or its Chairman and his phone seemed to be disconnected. They feared some of the directors might have fled the country.

In a letter, the Board of Directors of the fund has stated, “it is difficult for us to pay back the money for depositors when they make a sudden request as we depend on the interests of the long term loan that we have given to public servants and on their interests. Since we are not a monetary organisation we are unable to repay money that easily for we do not have deposited amount to do this. Now we are facing quite a dilemma and we hope to encourage new depositors by means of advertisements in order to overcome the situation.

But the depositors are not satisfied. “I have deposited more than rupees 200,000 for me and my wife. But when I went to collect my dues the Chairman told me they were unable to pay it as they could not collect the money they had given out as loans,” depositor S. Balasuriya said.

According to a company official SLBC employees have taken loans amounting to Rs. 4 million and much of it has not been repaid. Asked whether this could not be officially deducted from salaries, by the SLBC a legal official at the corporation said this could not be done as the loan takers had objected to any deduction from their salaries. An official at the Registrar of Companies said they found the company had not submitted balance sheets as required by law.

Action to control cholera

By Shelani de Silva

More than 18 persons have been treated for cholera in the last two weeks since September 30 when the first case was detected in the Chilaw area.

In the last two weeks 63 patients were treated for diarrhoea. Chilaw MOH. Dr. A Tissera said the spread of the disease was due mainly to unhygienic living conditions. Dr. Tissera said: “The first case was reported from a slum area and the people from the same area.

We sent medical officers to these areas to educate the people on the importance of hygienic living and we are doing our best to stop the spread of the disease.”

Media SC to meet soon

The Speaker will ask Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera to summon immediately the Select Committee on the media as the UNP refuted the minister’s claim that the party had not submitted the names of the members who would attend the meeting.

UNP’s Tyronne Feranando in a press release said on the directions of the Leader of the Opposition his secretary by letter dated Sept. 11 addressed to the Secretary General of Parliament named the nominees of the UNP along with the nominees of the other parties in the Opposition.

This was reported in certain sections of the media. Mr. Fernando stated that when he took up the matter of the Committee not meeting for nearly a month since then with the Speaker on October 7, he did not intimate to him that the Committee was unable to meet because the UNP had not submitted its nominees.

Death of Bishop Ambalavanar

The Bishop Emeritus of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, Rt. Rev. Dr. D. J. Ambalavanar passed away on October 10 at the Jaffna Hospital after a brief illness.

Bishop Ambalavanar was born on February 28, 1928 and joined the ministry in 1954; became the second Bishop of the Diocese on June 30, 1971 and retired on February 28, 1993. At the time of his death he was serving as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Jaffna College.

SLBC Director quits in row

Veteran broadcaster and the SLBC’s Sinhala National Services Director Palitha Perera has resigned after an angry row over plans by the Director General to restructure the service and make the programmes more people oriented to promote a South-North dialogue.

Mr. Perera who counts more than 30 years service said he had objected to the reforms at discussions he had with SLBC Chief Janadasa Peiris and later with Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, but his voice was not heard.

Mr. Perera said he felt the reforms would bring down the standard of the Corporation.

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