PRECIFAC Report faults Gotabaya, 12 others | Sunday Observer

PRECIFAC Report faults Gotabaya, 12 others

27 January, 2019

The government stepped up its fight against corruption this week by securing wider powers for the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). Constantly criticized by President Maithripala Sirisena for the delay in its enactment since first being presented to parliament in May last year, the Commissions of Inquiry (Amendment) Bill was finally debated and was unanimously approved by members representing all parties in parliament early this week.

The amended law which will have retrospective effect will finally be able to give more relevance to a large number of investigative reports by Commissions of Inquiry such as the Central Bank Bond Commission report which has merely being gathering dust on a shelf since its submission, with authorities unable to take action against those implicated as recommended by the commission reports. The question of the need to amend the Commission of Inquiry Act was raised after legal barriers faced by the CIABOC prevented it from taking action against those responsible for the ‘Bond scam’.

Accordingly, the amendments to the bill will now allow the Director General of the CIABOC, Sarath Jayamanne, to file cases under the Bribery Act or Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law, based on the findings of Commissions of Inquiry appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena.

As a result one case report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry appointed to investigate Serious Acts of Fraud and Corruption (PRECIFAC) which is likely to be taken up now by the CIABOC, is the controversial ‘Avant-Garde Floating Armoury Case’ relating to the alleged illegal firearms handling by Avant Garde Maritime Security Services (AGMSS) – (a subsidiary of Avant-Garde Security Services (Pvt.) Ltd) - and the illegal establishment of a floating armory in the Port of Galle, sans any authorization, especially Cabinet authorisation.

The case was among 34 complaints taken up by the PRECIFAC, led by Justice Padman Surasena, for investigation, out of nearly 400 complaints it had decided to look into after being appointed by President Sirisena in 2015.

The fraud committed which is said to have caused a loss of Rs. 124. 9 million to the Sri Lanka Navy and a total of Rs. 11.4 Billion to the State as revealed during the PRECIFAC investigations, is likely to land the younger brother of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa - ( Former Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa) - once again in the hot seat.

According to the report submitted to President Maithripala Sirisena by the PRECIFAC which looked into the large scale acts of fraud and corruption between the years of 2010 - 2015, it has concluded that Gotabaya Rajapaksa and 12 others including former Navy Commanders Admiral Jayanath Colombage, Admiral Jayantha Perera as well as the Chairman of Avant-Garde Nissanka Senadhipathi, had committed the offense of corruption, conspiracy to commit corruption and other offenses under Section 70. Of the Bribery Act.

Others implicated in the case are Former Additional Defense Secretary Damayanthi Jayaratne, Major General K.B.Egodawela, Former Chairman of Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Major General Palitha Fernando, Former Eastern province Governor Rohitha Bogollagama, Former Mayor of Dehiwala Mount Lavinia Dhanasiri Amaratunga, Former Mayor of Kotte Janaka Ranawaka, Former MP Duminda Silva, Maharagama Provincial Councillor Upali Kodikara and Rohanaweera de Soysa.

While recently the Special High Court served indictments on Gotabaya Rajapaksa and six others over the D.A Rajapaksa Memorial Museum case, where he is accused of misappropriating State funds amounting to nearly Rs. 34 million to construct the D.A Rajapaksa Commemorative Museum at Weeraketiya in Medamulana, the recent amendment to the law will likely add yet another worry to the controversial Rajapaksa’s legal problems.

In its final report the PRECIFAC states in relation to the case -

“The Commission has considered the evidence led and submissions made by the parties noticed and as per analysis done, concludes that evidence has revealed that K.B. Egodawela, Palitha Fernando, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Damayanthi Jayaratne, J.S. Colombage, Jayantha Perera, and Nissanka Yapa Senadhipathi have committed the offence of corruption, conspiracy to commit the same offense and other relevant offenses or offenses under section 70 of the Bribery Act”.

While AGMSS had entered into a joint venture with Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Ltd. (RALL) a government-owned company in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense, was to provide infrastructure facilities for international maritime security services, the main allegation is that Avant-Garde and Rakna Arakshaka Lanka had entered in to various agreements, thereby costing the government a considerable amount of revenue that would have been raised from the Maritime Security Services provided by the Sri Lanka Navy.

The Commission therefore claimed it was appropriate to frame charges under sections 113 A and 102 of the Penal Code against Rajapaksa and several others Noticed, for conspiring to entrust the Sea Marshals’ weapon storage of floating armories run by the Sri Lanka Navy, to Avant Garde Maritime Services company and for causing the Navy to lose income, while also saying the charge of corruption should be brought against Rajapaksa for divesting the weapons storage from the Sri Lanka Navy and transferring it to the Avant-Garde Maritime service company.

It also proposed that it is necessary to frame charges against Rajapaksa for conspiracy under Section 70 of the Bribery Act, read with section 113A and 10 of the Penal code charges separately against him, noticed under section 70 of the Bribery Act, for causing the reduction of revenue.

The Commission also found that Rakna Arakshaka Lanka (RAL) was in possession of 3,473 automatic rifles with no valid licenses and only held a permit issued by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa which had been granted to the then Chairman of RAL, Major General Palitha Fernando for the ‘sale and transfer’ of these weapons in question.

In its report, the commission has concluded that evidence had revealed that both Damayanthi Jayaratne and Gotabaya Rajapaksa had given permission to the Avant-Garde company for weapon training, and issue of competency certificates, which is, in fact, the legitimate duty of Sea Marshals.

The commission also revealed that letters had been exchanged between former Additional Defense Secretary Damayanthi Jayaratne and Palitha Fernando in relation to these weapons.

While Avant Garde had used 17 imported firearms for the purpose of training Maritime Security Officers, these too had lacked a valid firearms license. Regarding this allegation, the Commission noted that it was Jayaratne who had given permission to use 17 weapons without issuing permits under the Firearms ordinance. During investigations, former Additional Defence Secretary Damayanthi Jayaratne admitted that firearms to RAL have been issued by violating accepted legal procedures.

But the allegations against the accused including Gotabaya Rajapaksa only, continued. According to the report former Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL) CEO, Major General K.B. Egodawela had ordered the employees of the company to carry of publicity campaigns using company funds on behalf of former President Maithripala Sirisena.

While the commission noted it was clear that the former Defense Secretary had provided employment in RAL to his supporters, they and the assets of the government company were, in turn, misused to promote the political ideology of the Rajapaksa’s.

The PRECIFAC following extensive investigations most importantly noted that both Egodawela and Fernando had been Rajapaksa’s contemporaries in the Sri Lanka Army which proves through their appointments to RAL, Rajapaksa was able to exercise direct influence on the company proving his connection to the allegations of corruption.

While the commission’s main recommendation was to prosecute Rajapaksa and others, the Avant-Garde experience moved them to go further by making two recommendations to prevent a similar situation in the future.

The commission proposing a new mechanism be evolved for a cabinet appointed Board of officials to make appointments to state-owned businesses, it also recommended that provisions should be made for the Auditor General to audit the accounts of institutions with government stakes and other state enterprises and a system needs to be devised to make these institutions accountable to Parliament.

Though authorities have struggled in their legal battle to bring Rajapaksa and other accused to book, often blocked by various obstacles thrown their way, the new amendment is likely to finally make Rajapaksa answerable.